Once the strategy and structure is in place we can use visual design to help guide the user through your site by making it an easier and a more enjoyable experience. There are many design techniques including the correct use of white space and strategic use of decorative elements such as background images, borders, drop shadows and colour contrast.
These will give a flow to your content and guide the users eyes so that they can distinguish the sections and content chunks at a glance, and feel a sense of control, and be more willing to investigate further.
If done correctly this leads to higher engagement, conversion and profit.
Are Your Digital Assets Up To Scratch?
There are many visual cues that give your brand its identity such as colour scheme, typography, and the images and background textures used. It’s now time to do an audit on these.
Are any of your images not up to scratch? Do any of them look grainy or pixelated? Or are they out of proportion with their surroundings on the page? Are there any elements that stand out too much like a bright orange button on something that really doesn’t need that much attention?
Or are some areas too dull and need more colour or white space to distinguish them from their neighbours on the page? The big thing to avoid is a big blob of content that doesn’t differentiate between the sections. It just looks like hard work to the user.
New Blood. This Might Ruffle Some Feathers – Good!
At this stage it will be worth getting in a completely new professional designer to run a fresh pair of eyes over the site and offer their feedback. This might be challenging for your initial designer that built the site, but they will just have to suck it up.
If you have a strong working relationship with the person that designed your site then it is important to keep them on and have them lead any design iterations. But as a business owner or manager it is your job to get the most out of this project. By getting in some new design eyes it may be possible to identify elements that were overlooked.
You can insist to your design lead in a diplomatic and respectful manner that someone review their work . You can even give them the option to choose a designer they highly respect and look up to. If you allow enough budget for this then you might even get a couple hours from a leading “industry famous” figure that your designer would be thrilled to work with.
This will be a great opportunity for your designer and the site in general. If you have chosen well and have good experience thus far from your designer and approached them with this proposition in a respectful and empowering way, then you shouldn’t get any real resistance.
If you do and hit a wall here then I would be suspect of your designer’s character and this will continue to be an issue for the life of the site. It is either time for your design lead to toughen up and become more open minded and willing to learn or time for you to get a new designer. Yes it is costly but not as costly as a site inhibited by such a limited design approach.
Optimisation – Firstly why optimise?
By this stage you have invested significantly getting customers to your site and making your site as fundamentally sound and as good as your team are able to do with the knowledge they have.
But the knowledge they had was not complete. It takes time and user feed-back from real website visitors to refine the design.
Think, think, think. Test and measure. Notice I wrote think three times. The human mind is blind to so many of the most basic “doh” moments. “How could I have missed that?” Just be prepared to make mistakes and miss the most basic of business premises regarding your website. The good news is that if built properly and with flexibility in mind then everything will work out in the wash, just not on the first round.
To give you an example. I beat on about the fundamental objectives of; when a visitor reaches your site they need to know straight away “Who are you and what you do?”
Recently I re-built a site and made a beautiful home page that covered all the bases. There was a transparency over the image slider that offered the tag line and contact details all positioned below the logo very clearly and the user knew exactly “who we are and what we do”
I then had another look at the analytics data and only 40% of visitors were entering the site from the home page, which meant the balance of visitors were not getting the full story in a split second. I had to add the tagline and contact details to below the logo in top navigation so that it was present on all pages.
I could have kept the home page the same and only updated all other pages, but after adding the tagline and contact details to the other pages and then testing the home page with 2 versions.
1. Beautiful transparency.
2. Boring text under logo and top navigation.
It turned out that the boring text was easier for the users to read and quicker to comprehend. Artistic flair is great but it has to add functionality not take away from it. I knew this so well, yet was able to make this simple mistake yet again.
Measure Twice Cut Once. Then Measure Twice and Cut Again…….And Again. And Again
Web Design is not like building a house. Design oversights and unexpected visitor behaviour can be remedied much easier. If visitors don’t like the kitchen adjoining the lounge room you can make it adjoin the dining room, or make it open plan. Or better still try all these ideas and see which ones they like the best.
There are many other ways to test and measure, but here a few of the more popular methods.
- A/B Split Testing
- Heat maps
- Scroll maps
- Eye tracking maps
The tools and methods are just that. The philosophy and business approach from all stakeholders behind these tools and methods is far more important. It takes ongoing commitment and investment from dedicated representatives of the company to achieve ongoing success.
This process needs the internal stakeholders experience and understanding of the business. No matter how good your developer, designer and content writer is they can only go so far without the input from experienced internal team members.
Monthly meetings are ideal with some real data to analyse. These monthly meetings need to be focused, structured and acted upon over the next month before the next meeting. Most importantly they need to be user centric, some companies have posters of their persona avatars on the wall during these meetings and base these meetings around real users.
Keep it focused
Some props will go along way to keeping the meeting on track, 5-6 laminated documents that sit on the table and are viewable to everyone will help. These can include things like:
- business goals and objectives
- bullet point strategy document
- digital policies
- company principles
- company values
- mission statement
Read a one page summary at the start of meeting of the most important points and takes no longer than 2 minutes to read. Some old school meeting techniques like “old business” and “new business” will help stop these meetings turn into discussing the same thing every month or allow a dominant personality in senior management to take control of the meeting.
The cost of meetings is very expensive when you add up the opportunity cost of each staff member present. They need to be highly efficient if they are going to be of any value.
Test on Real People
User testing is crucial to this process and all decisions and assumptions need to be tested. You will be regularly surprised at how intelligent people struggle to do even the most simple of tasks on your site. This can be both frustrating and heartbreaking, but ignoring or being ignorant about these issues is probably what your competitors are doing so here you have a great opportunity.
There are a host of solutions for user testing. You can mix it up and see what gets the best results for $ spent. Here are a few options to get you started.
- Online services like whatusersdo.com/ and www.usertesting.com/
- Real People – friends, family, customers (bribe them with products, pizza, or love). Here is a good link to describe a summary of the process design by Steve Krug. blog.codingoutloud.com/steve-krug-rocket-surgery-made-easy-bostonchi/
If you don’t feel confident in instigating it in house an agency will be able to offer you a professional user testing service. I would be cautious giving them carte blanche and handing the whole thing over to them. Your website traffic are your users and ultimately the information you receive from user testing needs to filter through your organisation so it can be understood at a deep level and acted on.
Next week we will look at management and how it relates to digital.