Another title for this post could have been why do people need a website.
The answer in short is, 'only you can sufficiently answer that question'.
"why do people need a website???"
I feel that every person, everywhere in the world should have their own web page. The web is kind of "the community of tomorrow" people talked about in the nineties. Well guess what, today is that tomorrow, and the web is a massive ever-expanding community of 'virtual' neighbours.
Read on for a drill down on how good design can be an effective advertising tool...
The merits of having a website are well known, or easily imagined. The web gives people the ability to communicate, exchange ideas, do business and so on. I cannot imagine another set of circumstances bar the development of psionic powers (and that's just science fiction...) where all that could be possible, or even manageable in the scale that it is today. The web however didn't just make that possible, it made it quick, easy and inexpensive.
"...the web didn't make that possible... it made it quick, easy and inexpensive"
This blog though is also about web design. I consider design as a great translator of ideas between the neighbours of that great community I spoke of earlier. For me, design is about taking what is already pretty quick (consider how easy it was to get to this post) and making it lighting fast.
Tesco Living is a site where you can 'get ideas' about everything from arts and crafts to fitness to receipes and so on. In effect it's one massive custom built blog with no 'portfolio'. Unless of course you consider their proposition in terms of their retail product. In other words I'm suggesting that their topics are closely linked to the products they sell. From that perspective the site is a brilliant piece of advertising.
Now look at the language they use versus the design. Their design is geared up towards one thing and one thing alone, making you buy something. Nowhere does it say though that you 'have to buy something'. That part of the relationship is implied, by the very fact that you visited a retailer's website, right? Well that is technically correct however, I would ask you to consider why retailers, in their quest to win 'the hearts and minds' of the ever savvy shopper, are now offering 'lifestyle' 'webplaces' (I shan't call them sites for a reason) where the purpose is that you visit them to learn about "life hacks" and exchange ideas.
From my perspective, i.e. that of the detached observer, it seems that they are geared up to lead the visitor to the retail offer, or to make the visitor share their own thoughts/comments (i.e. on social networks) about the great stuff they saw/learned on the site and therefore re-enforce the brand on the minds of others (we are social beings after all and if our friends like something it carries positive connotations in our minds too).
From the perspective of the visitor this particular site is basically a place where you can proliferate ideas. They need not think about any of that stuff. I looked at this site for the blog and found a nice recipe which I liked the sound of and which I told my wife about. And we also browsed through the crafty thing they have and made a great little button picture... As a visitor I didn't care not one bit about what the retailer wanted me to do... I went in to read the ideas on the site, liked what I saw, and kept on reading.
"...that part of the relationship may be implied, by the very fact that you visited a retailer's website"
From the perspective of the retailer, on the other hand, the idea is pretty much the same it always was which is to sell stuff... There is no other reason why a commercial business would spend money to create and maintain a space like this. Nothing else makes sense. Having said that though not every attempt to sell you something needs to come from a pushy salesman eager to secure your signature...
Let's call this Tesco Living webplace then a 'value proposition' site. Where the people publishing it are using the space to effectively advertise their wares, by delivering to you, the visitor, ideas that re-enforce the value of their brand
Here's an example
"...come and buy stuff from us..."
not only does the site not say come buy stuff, but also nowhere does it tell you 'come buy this stuff from us'
that part about buying stuff is implied. Cleverly their value proposition comes in the format of their presentation or in other words the design itself, for instance in a post about alternatives to meat, I read all about red lentils and the like and was informed I might also like to find out about seasonal ingredients for March, 10 ways to reduce sugar, a great way to give my child five a day and something about happiness. Those recommendations may or may not be as random as you think by the way.
"those particular topics would not appear as related if someone hadn't made a conscious choice to link them somehow in the design phase, say by means of keyword"
But what if we looked at that proposition differently. The retailer is effectively creating a portal on the web. I.e. a place where you the casual browser are invited to be a part of the website itself by being assigned very specific, mechanistic, roles. In other words the retailer is trying to define your relationship and purpose in advance. Their process goes a bit like
- we, as a retailer, stock a LOT of fruit and veg in March
- fruit and veg is delicious and sweet like sugar
- and it will make you as happy as eating a pizza on a Saturday night but
- it's even better because this stuff is not only delicious, it's good for you AND those you cherish most i.e. your kids
- and if you don't believe us read the happiness guide which is "us" laying the gauntlet on "you" to be better than you are now (everybody loves a challenge right?)
The above sequence is taken from a bunch of posts where the website itself proliferates content in a specific sequence
fruit is linked to => images of fruit => images of pizza => images of kids => betterment posts
This analysis isn't cynicism, it's just a perspective as to why the editor chose those particular topics to be written in the first place and also why the marketing guys chose to link them thematically (i.e. those particular topics would not appear as related if someone hadn't made a conscious choice to link them somehow in the design phase, say by means of keyword). It's also a comment on why expensive 'lifestyle' stock photography is often used to carry those messages across, and in my mind re-enforce the idea that their brand is associated with quality.
So to round things up the elements I think are important in a 'value proposition webplace' such as the one I'm discussing above are as follows
- the design process begins with figuring out and designing the message itself... (no offence to 'real designers" but as I said previously having a degree that proves proficiency in Bezier curve manipulation means little or nothing in the "real world"...)
- as with the site above, clean design, or in other words, focussed uncluttered representations of what you want to say, is key to getting a message across (note how nicely every feature is represented as little boxes that are symmetrical and occupy a distinctive space that does not detract/distract from the main feature,)
- less is sometimes more, which should be self-explanatory
- colour efficiency is very important, which to me means figuring out a way to make those bright bold statements stand out even more, and in the above example the solution is a clean neutral white/gray canvas. Another example of efficiency is the colour coding of themes the site employs. The nav bar below the main logo expands and becomes a single colour banner which is different depending on the theme you are browsing. This in my mind makes the message even more efficient because it gives the topics a distinct visual identity
- relevant content is crucial, this is probably a repetition of point one but it is the one things that my customers and my friends always get wrong. So I'll bang the drum one more time... The prettiest site in the world would be worth nothing and serve no purpose if it had no message to carry, in fact it would defeat the point... Great content MAKES a great website and just like anything else it NEEDS to be designed! Everything from the choice of font to the number of words to the elements carried within, to the wording and so on falls in the remit of the web designer in my mind (and if that makes me more of a publicist than a designer so be it) this is because...
- usability is king, the key here is making an experience that needs not be learned. Tesco Living accomplishes that in a couple of ways
a) making every image clickable (which I am a fan of because it means you can flow seamlessly from topic to topic)
b) doing away with complicated feature heavy items that demand a lot of your eyes and equipment (after all if the site takes three days to load you've lost them no matter how awesome it is)
c) it links features thematically, i.e the design process of the site has thought of what ideas or associations a user reading one feature may come up with and geared other content towards it
"the prettiest site in the world would be worth nothing and serve no purpose if it had no message to carry, in fact it would defeat the point..."
All the observations above fit neatly into the purpose of websites in general, which is of course to carry a message across. Everyone in the world therefore needs a website because everyone's voice matters in some way. In that respect it does not matter whether you are publishing a blog about design, or a lifelong passion with ancient history, or a multi-million pound retail proposition... The purpose of a website is to put the word out there, give you a voice, whatever you want to call it, and with any luck, or some cleverly implemented social sharing tools, you can get others to talk about your message and do the advertising for you...
"why do people need a website???"
It must then stand to reason that, a website that is poorly designed, i.e. one where the visitor cannot find the information they need, cannot decipher what it is they are seeing (for whatever reason), a site that is broken (say links that don't work, or infinite loops, or worse still links that don't open in a new tab/or window) or inconsistency (i.e. where the designer has not made up their mind what they want to accomplish), cannot possibly be a good conduit for getting the message across or in other words accomplish its purpose.
As for portals the idea that you would visit a website just to do a job, say data input, can be seen in this example to apply even on those occasions where the input is simply organic marketing... But more about that later!
thanks for reading
let's hope Tesco don't sue :)