One of the most dangerous tendencies in business is to believe that one's own habits and practices are the norm. Fortunately, with a few years of the internet behind us, there are actually research studies that explain a lot about user preferences.
Never underestimate clean, uncluttered design, straightforward navigation and up to date content. Style is helpful, substance is primary. Keeping the purpose of your site in mind, and your priorities straight, will always be a winning formula.
One of the more interesting books on web site design and construction is "Web Sites That Suck" (yes, that's really the name). The authors take the position that you can learn a lot about good design by seeing and understanding some bad design. Many of their recommendations and conclusions are born out in the latest research from various sources.
What Doesn't Work?
In no specific order, some of the top irritants in web design and construction are:
- Slow loading time: It is recommended that a screen load in 8 seconds or fewer. That is a maximum, not an average. People move on to something else faster than one changes radio stations when commercials run too long. The major reasons for slow loading time are images that are unnecessarily large and screens that contain too much information overall.
- Poor navigation: You should not need a guide dog to navigate a web site. Again, different people have different patterns of thinking and association. Navigation should be offered in clear, and even redundant ways, to make finding information simple.
- Broken Links: Clicking on a link (internal or external) that has become a dead end is frustrating.
- Too Many Layers: The expression in web-speak is 'drilling down' . It should not take more than three clicks to reach what a user is looking for.
- Stale Content: If one expects people to use a site as an ongoing resource, regular updating is a must.
- Lack of White Space: More.... is just that.... more. Leaving the user some visual breathing room makes your site more successful.
- Browser Compatibility/Operating System: Looks fine on your computer? Guess what... there are PCs, MACs.... there is AOL, Internet Explorer and Netscape (and different versions of each). It is very difficult to construct sites that are viewed exactly the same in all formats... actually it's virtually impossible. However, failure to do basic cross checking can lead to all kinds of weirdness when viewing in different formats.
- Monitors, Screen Sizes and Unnecessary Scrolling: People have different size monitors and different resolution settings (dimension of the screen, measured in pixels). Also, browser button short cuts eat up some of the screen space. There is no way to create a 'one-size-fits-all' site; however, it is important to know how most of your audience is/will be viewing your site, and design with that in mind. At the same time, take into account other configurations. Scrolling down the screen to read text may be fine, but a photo should be able to be seen fully, without having to scroll up or down, left or right.
- Missing Plug-ins: Plug-ins are accessory programs that assist a browser in showing cool stuff..... animations, video, audio.... for example. Some plug-ins come standard with browsers, so many people don't even realize they exist. Unless you have an appropriately sophisticated audience, you should not assume that they have all the software to view that cool animation..... or that they will take the time to download the plug-in.... or that they will know how to activate it.... or that their office even allows downloading of anything.
These are some (but not all) of the parameters taken into account when designing, building or remodeling a site.