Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Web Design Basics And Achieving Your Goals

Many of us, in our early days of website building, encountered various studies and sites which helped to educate us in the art and science of building websites. These may have improved our knowledge base and abilities by giving us information with which to think about and approach the planning, design and building of more effective, usable, and ultimately successful websites.

I started out by revamping our first website in 1997; I didn't know how to do it, didn't know anyone who did, and had to get this done fast. It's tough: we are designing, we are writing ad copy, we are coding, we are facing search engines. I, too, ended up at the usual places where I benefited from the data, and so did our website.

Somewhere along the line, though, I realized that some of what I was reading or had read in the past was not true, or certainly not true in all cases. Being a marketer at heart as well as by profession, recognizing some of these inaccuracies was easy; for others — particularly those I had encountered early on — I simply had had no frame of reference against which to judge their accuracy, and yet there they were, in the foundation of my education.

And that is one of my points here: when you are entering a sphere for which you haven't much data, especially one as complex, confusing and technical as the Web, it is easy to adopt concepts without examining them in depth. Thereafter, you have unexamined concepts — "fixed ideas" if you will — in your skill and knowledge base.

A good example is the "you must get them to the page they're looking for within three clicks" rule. Did it sound good? Sure. No doubt it helped a lot of designers to reevaluate paths through websites. But who knows how many web designers followed this dictum for years, or repeated it to others, before new survey data emerged to disprove it. (Gotta make you wonder about that original survey, doesn't it?)

So, some time ago I realized that it was time: time to examine some of these basic ideas included in the foundation of my knowledge. Now, this doesn't mean that I suddenly concluded that everything I knew was invalid; our sites are generally successful, some wildly so, and all have increased the visibility and income of their owners. Nor was I advocating invalidating knowledge and experience out of hand; just simply that it was time to re-examine the basis of my knowledge, and particularly those items that had not been evaluated then, or lately. Keep what's good, toss what's not, etc.

And I come up with this: a thing is only true if it's true. And often, what is true may not always be true in a vacuum without considering the precise circumstances within which we're trying to apply a particular datum.

Planning projects and designing sites in the absence of fixed ideas and uninspected "shoulds" frees you to address the projects before you and to devise solutions unencumbered by "stuck" ideas. Armed with your knowledge and skill, you can more easily evaluate when to utilize concepts, when to break the rules, and when something else entirely might be needed.

Because the bottom line, and the one thing that all these "shoulds" is meant to solve, is that any website you build is being built for a purpose. It's just easier to do if you don't place uninspected roadblocks in your way.

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