Web Design Basics

Professional web design has become vital during recent years. A few years ago, it was estimated that a visitor to a web site took about 8 seconds to decide to stay on that web site or click the “Back” button. That was then, this is now: Your web site has only about 4 seconds to make an impression on the visitor. That is not much time at all! Today, people want instant results. Few people even wait to see the entire web design before making their decision. If your web design does not grab their attention immediately, they won’t stick around. And if your web site does not offer something of benefit, they won’t bookmark it and they won’t come back (more on that later).

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss some practical ways to grab the attention of web site visitors. Then, in a future article, we will talk a little about keeping their attention with good web site content. Remember, people spend most of their time on the Internet reading. They read search results, news items, how-to articles and forums. A professional web design company will take this into account. But that is for later. First, we have to keep visitors attention (remember the 4 second rule).

Get to the Point.
We live in a fast-paced society and we are used to instant results: Microwave meals in 5 minutes, lose 5 pounds in 5 days, 30 minute oil changes, see results from fitness equipment in 20 minutes a day, and on and on.

The Internet is no different and it actually may be less forgiving of web sites that don’t deliver results quickly.

The 4 second rule that we spoke of earlier does not mean that your entire web page must load in 4 seconds. Rather, it means that a visitor to your web site has to at least see something interesting within that 4 second window. So, to test your site, while it is loading, ask yourself:

  • How much time passes before I see anything?
  • What is the first thing I see on the web page?
  • How much time passes before I can read some text?
  • How long would it take a visitor to determine what the web site is about?

Try this suggestion yourself and then try to enlist the help of some of your friends. The more people you have to test your web site, the more thorough your results will be.

Ideally, the site should load top to bottom and left to right. However, your design should adhere to the reading habits of your target audience. Some countries read from right to left so, make sure you know your audience. Also, the most eye-catching elements should load first. Once these load, they will grab the visitor’s attention. Then, the rest of the page can finish loading.

What Graphics Format Should I Use?
This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of web design. How many times have you visited a web site and cringed at the slow loading pictures. I’ll bet you did not stick around to see everything load.

In most cases, web sites that have this problem were created by someone who bought a Web Design How-To book, created a web page that says “Hello World” and now think they are an expert. Or, possibly they are learning web design and created this slow loading site as a favor for a friend or family member. At any rate, hiring a professional web design company will prevent bad design from happening to you. In the meantime, here are some very basic guidelines regarding those very important web site graphics:

More about the .JPG file format:
.JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) format allows images to contain up to 16 million colors. It also supports Variable Compression, which allows you to reduce the size of the image at the cost of some of the detail. In order to take full advantage of this feature, you will need a graphics program which will allow you to preview the image after you have compressed it. Some of the more popular graphics programs are Photoshop, Fireworks and Corel Draw.

JPG is not a good format for images with only a few colors or for text created as an image. The finished image will be of poor quality.

More about the .GIF file format:
.GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) support up to 256 colors. It also supports “transparency” which allows you to specify the background of the image to be invisible, thereby letting the web page colors show through.

Graphics in this format are also “looseless”, meaning the final quality is not adversly affected by compressing.

Boiling it Down.
For the most part, here is a good way to determine what format you should use for the graphics on your web site:

  • If your graphic has many colors (such as a photo) use .JPG as the format, However, make sure that the file size is not so large that it prevents the web page from loading quickly. Find a good balance between image quality and file size.
  • If your graphic has only a few colors (such as a chart) use .GIF as the format.

Of course, this is somewhat oversimplifying the very important role of graphics in your web site design. If you hire a professional web design company to create your web presence, he or she should follow these guidelines during the design process. You should make sure that the rough drafts you receive from the designer adhere to good design standards.

Make Them Want More.
Of course, no matter how well organized your web site is and how effective it is at grabbing the visitor’s attention, they have to view your web site as important. You have to give them reasons to stay and browse your site, to bookmark your site so they can refer to it again and to tell others about your site so you can build new visitors.

We will consider how to tackle this aspect of quality web site design in an upcoming article. That article will focus on three main ways to keep visitors coming back:

  1. Offer something of value
    1. Newsletter
    2. Free tips
    3. Monthly coupons
  2. Good, quality marketing copy
    1. Put effort into the words of your web site.
    2. Remember, the Internet is made up of web pages and for the most part, pages are meant to be read.
  3. Easy to use web site navigation.
    1. If visitors can’t get around easily on your web site, they won’t stay very long.

Communicating Your Needs to Your Web Designer

Communicating with a web designer can be the most difficult part of the hiring process because you and the web designer don’t speak the same language when talking about the details of a website. This article explains how to get your ideas across to the web designer you want to hire.

Ok, so you’ve decided to hire a professional web designer to build your website. You spent some time looking for the right person. Eventually you found the right web designer that you believe will design the most “remarkable”, “extraordinary” website the internet community has yet seen.

So now what? Explaining to the web designer the layout design you have in your mind can be a very frustrating process. You will find that putting the “picture” in your mind into words can be a difficult task. Actually in most cases this is the biggest hurdle between you and the final outcome. No matter how talented the web designer is, if you can not communicate with him properly, in his own professional language, he will not be able to use his talent to achieve your design.

There are two possible situations you may face:

  1. You know what content you want on the website but have no clue how to present it to the user.
  2. You know what content you want on the website, and you have the layout in your mind, but you don’t know how to implement it

In both cases you will need to explain your thoughts to the web designer. Although most people who read those lines are probably thinking that being in the second situation is better then being in the first situation. However, real life experience shows the opposite to be true. Giving a web designer the complete freedom of action regarding the web design based solely on the website content is usually a smart thing to do. You will find that explaining to the web designer what the nature of your website is, whether it’s a product that you want to sell or a hobby item, is much easier then trying to explain to him the temperate of the color schema or an undefined shape that you would like to have in the website header.

Actually for both of the situations, I would suggest you use the same approach, but with a minor modification to each situation. If you know of a website that has all the features you want or need and/or a site that looks the way you want your site to look, be sure to give the site’s url to the web designer. Doing so will give him some idea of want you want. You will both be looking at the same thing but will actually look at it from a different angle. Therefore, it may be better to give him more than one website as an example.

The more websites you find that can express your feelings and/or needs, the easier it will be for web designers to understand your intention without you having to use a single “technical” term. Chances are that you won’t find a single website that has all of the feature you want. After all, if such a website already exists there would be no place for your new web site to be born. Use several websites to express the different features you want. Spend as much time as necessary until you find just the right websites to provide examples of your needs. Doing research at this stage will definitely save you a lot of time later trying to point the web designer in the right direction.

Although you are the one who needs to express your self to the web designer, you must learn to listen to him as well. When he uses technical terms, ask for their meaning. Do not finish any part of the conversation unless you are absolutely sure that both sides are on the same page. Remember that when a web designer speaks about the temperature of a color, he is not talking about the next day’s forecast.

Remember, you hired a professional web designer because you want a professional looking website and you couldn’t do it yourself. So, trust the web designer’s judgment when they tell you something you want won’t work or isn’t the best way to accomplish your goals. After all, you are paying them for their expertise. Don’t try to tell them how to do their job.

It is OK to require that a web designer gets your approval each step of the way so you can tell them if one of your goals isn’t being met. Also, if you really don’t like how something looks and want it changed, tell them immediately. Don’t wait until everything is done and then decide you don’t like it.

A final word about cost

You have agreed on what needs to be done and the web designer has given you a price quote. Simple modifications and bug fixes are usually included in the price. However, other major changes or outright revisions may or may not be included. Make sure the agreement states what is included, what constitutes a revision rather than a fix, and how many changes you can make after delivery without incurring additional costs.

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