Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ten Ways Web Designers Can Fail

As a member of Linked In and other social networking websites, I often get emails that point to other websites, particularly those that offer web design and development services. Rivals. Well you'd think that in such a competitive business environment, they would make an effort to present themselves in the best way possible. Here are ten ways they get it wrong.

1. Dark and dull

Designing with black is problematic: you can either get it right and it looks fantastic or get it wrong and it's hard to read and hurts the eye. Suffice it to say that I think the one who did it got it wrong because the blackness swallows everything and the bright yellow and red text gives the reader a headache after a while. 

For Manchester Towbars (a dummy website I made to pitch to them) I used a light background for the dark text and used the black background as a frame to add impact. A black theme can be made to look good, but as the best designers will tell you, it's hard to get right.

The panel beneath the navigation bar uses white on black, but I've done that sparingly because it would be jarring if I did that all the way through.

2. Sloppy presentation

Make sure your images are of the highest quality. Many people don't, or just use snaps taken from their mobile phones. Don't use fuzzy or misshapen images. And for Heaven's sake, check your grammar and spelling. Even the smallest typo can make you look bad. One client had a heading that went, "Get your free guild here!" Guild? She meant "guide."

I've seen websites offering design advice that are lurched to the left of the web page. This is probably because they're using a HTML table to frame the content and have forgotten to set the alignment to "center." Why are they building on tables? Use divs on the 960 grid (or similar), or better still, use a decent CMS like WordPress. If you don't know what "CMS" or "the 960 grid" means, get a professional to do your website for you.

The number of people offering design services who use old-fashioned Kubrick or other templates — if they're not stuck with a website-builder default — is astonishing. I've got a callous under my chin from dropping my jaw so often. If you can't design worth a damn, admit it to yourself and don't offer to do so for others. Sub the work to someone else, and get that person to sort your site out.

3. No images

I'm astounded by the number of websites offering professional services that do this. When the only flourish is a script typeface, there's little there to catch the eye. They don't have to be big, but you need them to add colour and interest to your information. Images are content in and of themselves. They're not just filler.

The text block o' doom is a regular feature on sites like that. I tend to give up after one or two paragraphs because there's just no relief from the dullness. I use images on all my designs, adding drop-shadows, mouse-over effects, circular borders and slideshows to add interest.

4. Huge images

They can cause a web page to take a long time to load, even on PCs with broadband and you're using Javascript to pre-load them. This is especially true on mobile. Design should be inclusive. Limiting your viewing options to people with fast browsers and broadband internet connections may limit your appeal to potential clients. The image may be absolutely beautiful, but are viewers willing to stick around long enough to wait for it to load?

5. Too much information

People tend to skim, so keep your paragraphs short and sweet. Only on e-books can you get away with text-only pages with large blocks of text. If you're trying to get business from your site, you want to make it attractive enough to capture and keep the attention of your readers. Since images are also content, try not to have too many of those.

Keeping them small is wise, but pictures need to be recognisable. Having too many small or different-coloured images squeezed into one space is overwhelming and simply does not work. Neither does intrusive adverts, unexpected pop-outs or pop-ups that follow you around the page and beg you not to click off. Images and text need to work as an integrated whole with the overall design. This is an issue I have to bear in mind when placing my affiliates' adverts in my site's pages. I've got to ensure they are relevant to what I do and that they are perceived as information, not unnecessary clutter.

6. Failure to integrate

It's only an opinion, but really, I believe that if you have a blog that feeds into your website, shouldn't it be hosted in the same space IF YOU'RE OFFERING THOSE SERVICES? It looks a bit bad if your website is and your blog is at, doesn't it? What does that say to you?

What it says to me is that the owner can't find a hosting deal that allows integration for him or herself at an affordable price, and probably couldn't do so for you. I can offer three FREE options. Ask me about them.

EBS, a client of mine, offers those services via subcontract to myself, and believe me, their blog is hosted on the same space as the rest of the site and is fully integrated, design-wise.

Any site that has a blog or other applications software ought to match it as fully as possible to the site theme or viewers may end up wondering what site they're on. The inherent layout of certain programs may make it hard to match a theme precisely, but it is eminently possible to make any application program's theme look reasonably similar to that of the intro pages of any website, at least in terms of the background and font colours.

7. Flash-based websites

I know it looks slick, but unless you embed your flash site into a HTML file, it will be less searchable because search engine bots have nothing to latch on to. And they're slow to load. And you need to have the right plug-in to view them. And the list of disadvantages goes on...

8. Error-check fail

Everybody makes mistakes. That's why it's important to go over your work for days after completion to catch and correct any errors. I'm personally prone to typos, so I have to go back and catch them before the client does because it reflects badly on both of us if an error is left uncorrected. It's not just the typos, though.

Some webhosts won't accept special characters such as the £ sign as it is. You have to go into the backoffice and add the HTML code £ to get the symbol to display properly. There's no excuse for this: I found the answer on Google in less than a minute. On a site where you don't have access to the backoffice you can only advise the client or webmaster of the correct code. It's up to him or her to implement it but they need to do it.

9. Wide pages

Designers who use Macs have bigger screens to work with, and some of the newer monitors are panoramic, so it's understandable that they'll often forget that most of us have an 800 x 600px screen to view websites. I can't count the number of websites I've come across where the designer has failed to take this into account. The advent of Blackberry and other iphones has given us a wider variety of screen sizes to design for. Design should be fluid and allow for variations in screen size rather than forcing viewers to scroll across the page to see all of the content.

10. Navigation fail

Broken links are the bane of every site. It's a thing I have to be aware of myself because I'm always making changes to mine. Adding a complex navigation system like a multi-level menu can make life awkward for a designer, but take it as a challenge. It's a particular issue when applications programs are being used because you have to add the root URL to every link outside of the application if you add your navigation menu to your gallery or blog.

Google Analytics is very helpful in this respect. It can help to identify broken links that you can then remove or correct.

If you don't have access to the Analytics for a particular site, you'll have to click on all the links yourself to make sure they work because readers are unlikely to give you the heads-up and you'll only find out when the irate client calls you up to chew you out. It's good job for me that I tend to be anal about checking my links.

Well, those are my thoughts. What do you think?

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