The easier your site is to use, the longer your potential leads will stay there and the more knowledge they will soak up on your brand and offer. This is key to getting in the customers mind and being added to their mental shortlist.
Earlier, I mentioned that it was best to leave the website as a minimal viable product and pursue getting some traffic. Now we have addressed our traffic, we can go back and refine the design. This refinement should be an ongoing process; build, test, measure, tweak and refine.
With modern day web design tools and platforms like WordPress you can have the basic site up relatively quickly. Web design is particularly suited to a lean and agile methodology, especially using open source solutions like WordPress that have almost limitless community support and very cheap, if not free, features and add-ons.
Web Design is an Iterative Process
On the flip side, the technology is changing so quickly and the web design industry is attracting talent that likes to live on the cutting edge. Your new website is going to be an old website in 18 to 24 months. The good news is that if built properly in the first place with the mindset that things will change and what we are doing here is not set in stone, it will not be too disruptive or expensive to update.
To add to that, your architecture brand and service offer is unique and needs to be tested and tweaked as necessary so that you can get higher optimisation, more engagement and ultimately more projects or sales. The layout and order of your content, your colour schemes and how these contrast against each other, and the way these all flow and guide the users eye around the page will play a large role in how long they stay on your site and consume the information you want them to and turn these leads into customers.
The Japanese term “Kaizen” meaning ever improving process is used in manufacturing theory and is very suitable for such a dynamic discipline as web-design. When changes can be made, as often and regularly as they can be on a website, if you do not take this opportunity to leverage one of the strongest attributes of the web then you can be sure some of your competitors will. Web sites are like shops or showrooms, they need to be cleaned, repaired and re-merchandised weekly.
Web design is not only about creating something of beauty, but more importantly, making something that is useful to the people that are using it.
There is some debate about what is the highest priority between customers to find and do what they want and customers to find and do what the company wants them to. I don’t believe it is one or the other, I think both perspectives need to be looked at and a common ground found.
This goes back to the primary reason you have website, or architectural industry business, for that matter. List the top 3-5 business objectives for the site. Ask the questions; Who are you? What do you do? And how do you make money? These should at least give you the first three objectives and spark a couple more.
Who Are You. What Do You Do and How Do You Make money?
What is your core focus and what are the most profitable products and services that you offer and would like to sell more of? Where is the direction of the business going in the next few years?
These are some deep questions and the good news is that if your site is built to be a nimble ship then as circumstances change so to can the products you wish to promote the most.
Name your top 2-4 core architectural services or products and the target market that purchases those, then break that target market down into 2-3 personas, give these personas a name and biography and make a story about how they found you and what they want to do when they get to your site.
We did a very simplified version of this for our redesign of IOTA Planters site-navigation-wire-framing. For a much more extensive example, Mailchimp, the email marketing campaign service interviewed various industry professionals who use their service and from this data created posters of these personas. To go even one step further they then decorated the Mailchimp offices with these posters. blog.mailchimp.com/new-mailchimp-user-persona-research
From here we can create a hierarchy of tasks and rate them on priority. It then becomes a bit easier to identify what should go where. Generally the higher the priority the higher up the page it should be.
People will find it easier to find what they want if you stick within the framework of general convention. A navigation bar with drop down menus is one of those conventions. Most of the time they will be baked into the Content Management Systems (CMS) or whatever framework your site runs on, however you still have enough flexibility to muck it up, so still need to follow some simple guidelines.
Less is more.
If you have only three choices they will be given greater weight each by your customer than if you have ten choices for them, it will also be easier for them to make a one choice out of three than one out of ten. Ideally keep the main navigation menu items to 5 or under.
The sub-navigation are the menu items that are viewable when the mouse hovers over the main navigation and you should be able to group most other links into these five or less buckets.
Navigation can be repeated in various sections of the site and formats. Your core architecture expertise might be in you main navigation bar and then also in as a visual representation below in either a slider or individual blocks of content. They can even be repeated again in the footer of the page where real estate is less of a premium.
Call to Action
Next, we want to coerce our customer to do what we want while keeping in mind they have their own objectives and have come to your site for a specific reason. Gone are the days of browsing the web because it is a novelty and the user wants to see what sites are available. Today’s internet user is a person on a mission with a problem they want solved or a task they want to complete. The blinkers are on and you have a few seconds to deliver or they will find someone else that will.
Next we are going to look at content as a design element and how words and images and the comprehension and interest in these will get you top of the clients mind.