Where do you start with a large web design project?
It’s a difficult question, but one that becomes more vital the larger and more complex the web site project is. The web design community seems to be split fairly evenly between the designers – quite often graphic design led, and the coders – those who have come from an IT specific background, such as programming. The reality is that both design and function are important, and more than that, the homogeneity of the site as a whole must be considered as vital.
Think of some of the big web sites that you visit regularly, either social networking or news related or perhaps an industry specific site. The site itself becomes immersive: it is an environment all to itself, one in which the end user immerses himself to the extent that the framework on which it is built fades into the background. The question then is: if it fades into the background why is it so important? And the answer is simply this: if the interface, the elements, the functionality, the design is not 100% harmonious between the various pages or areas of the web site then the ability of the end user to become immersed is broken. The interface interferes with the user experience.
Extending the Design Brief
So, what do we do to mitigate this potential problem? It must be considered as a fundamental part of the overall design brief. We have accepted for years that a consistent corporate brand is vital, that paperwork, products, display furniture must all seamlessly integrate. In a sense it doesn’t matter how ‘pretty’ or otherwise the design is, the key is consistency. The consumer then sees a single brand.
For web design we must extend the design brief to include not just brand elements, but other visuals, such as the page layouts, the page elements (buttons, input boxes, graphic hints, columns and boxes). We also must consider functional consistency as part of the same design brief. All user interactions must be consistent across pages and elements, and if possible across devices. All navigation must be consistent and logical. The end user must be able to become immersed in the site so that they can navigate and interact without ‘seeing’ the surrounding interface. The ‘brand’ becomes so much larger than just the company logo and colour, but the end result is so much better for the user, and therefore for the business.
Back to the start
If we go back to the start, and think about where we begin with designing a complex interactive web site, we need to plan our site layout – page structure and flow, functional flow, termination points all with the understanding that these must be a unit: many parts, one entity.
All too often we begin web design and application projects with a specific function in mind, and quickly become bogged down in functionality when the ability to access that functionality is equally vital. Sit down and consider your business web site as a whole and think how it can be a homogeneous site: consistent in form and function from the big picture of the entire page right down to the individual elements that the user interacts with. Then you will be able to build function on top of this homogeneity knowing that the end result will be immersive and accessible for the end users. This can only lead to a more satisfying user experience and more interaction with the web site itself.