It’s a tale that’s common in design circles—you’ve designed a beautiful website with lots of features. You and your client are quite pleased with the finished product, until that dreadful day when the customer feedback starts pouring in. In your haste to build something aesthetically pleasing and packed with features, you neglected to take the most important variable into consideration: functionality.
We’ve all struggled with it—striking the delicate balance between aesthetics and usability, features and functionality. What impresses us may not impress your average web surfer. We do, after all, work with software and websites for a living. They, on the other hand, want something that just works, first and foremost. The elegance and extra features are an added bonus. So, how do we ensure we’re not sacrificing functionality for jam-packed features?
A Website’s Audience Doesn’t Read…Much
It’s become something of a well-known fact that typical web users rarely read through a site’s text content. In fact, many only scroll about a quarter down a page before deciding whether to stay or go. That first glimpse of a site needs to entice the visitor to read more, or offer them the service they came for straight away.
A good indicator that your site is too complex is how much text a user must read before grasping how the site works. Sure, you may have a navigation menu, but if it contains too many links you’ll inevitably resort to directing users through text. If a user has to read through a paragraph just to understand what the site is and how to use it, you may be missing out on a lot of traffic.
Use big, bold headers or vividly colored images to direct users to the most important parts of your site right away. You have about six seconds to capture their attention, otherwise they may continue browsing elsewhere.
Simple Still Needs to Work
You may be thinking ‘This isn’t a problem with simple websites’, and you’re right—to an extent. The general trend in web design has swung toward simple, “elegant” style layouts that direct visitors to the most pertinent pieces of information straight away. While this is effective, there is also a hidden pitfall: these sites can be too vague to sway visitors into staying.
Sites like this are visually appealing, but if the message isn’t communicated clearly, it doesn’t really matter that much. Some designers like to play with the concept of being “intriguing” the user, attempting to entice the visitor to click around and explore the “mystery”. These high-concept designs may work for some niches, but they’re a major turnoff to general audiences. They typically rank low in the usability department, because users don’t even have a firm grasp of what the site is about.
Especially with platforms like WordPress, there’s a lot of diversity to provide fresh ideas—but don’t get too wrapped up in what’s trendy among designers. Remember that the users’ needs should be met before aesthetic considerations are made. If you need fresh ideas, companies like WSI Digital Web can help design aesthetically pleasing websites that are also responsive and functional.
Don’t Overwhelm the Frontend
If you’re working on a particularly complex project, don’t let all the website’s features be a turn-off to first time visitors. People may feel overwhelmed or confused if every feature is trotted out in front of them on the home page. Instead, create a landing page that is clear, concise, and entices visitors to learn more. Facebook does a great job with this. If their landing page was something resembling a News Feed, it would appear too complex and confusing for new visitors—turning away a lot of potential users.
Instead, Facebook’s landing page simply states what the website is all about and offers new visitors a place to sign up and see more. The Likes, Poking, and Profile Settings aren’t on display, but can be read about through a conveniently linked FAQ page.
In conclusion, striking a balance between features and functionality isn’t always easy—especially if you have a lot of ambition wrapped up in a particular project. But the benefit is great when you design with your future visitors in mind. So remember, if your design can’t be figured out within the first few seconds, you may be missing out on a lot of traffic.