Magazine article Online

Know the Fundamentals and Good Design Will Follow

Magazine article Online

Know the Fundamentals and Good Design Will Follow

Article excerpt

Designing an effective Web site can sometimes be overwhelming. After all, good design is actually the combination of many elements--the content users read, the colors and graphics they see, and the navigation they follow. Something as seemingly insignificant as the site's font can--and does--impact the overall design.

Good design, while made up of many attributes, both technical and aesthetic, is actually based on a few core concepts. Concepts that, when carefully blended together in a holistic way, can yield tremendous results. Best of all, these core concepts really don't require you to be a graphic artist, or even a high-end developer. You are likely already very familiar with them, since they are based on our own human desires for simplicity, consistency, awareness, recognition, and expectancy. Good design, at its very core, exploits all of these human needs.


Well-designed sites make the end user the primary focus from concept to launch and beyond. This open dialogue between designer and user is critical to managing a successful site and making sure that it evolves as user needs change. The relationship between designer (or Web team) and user begins right at the start, by outlining the objectives of your Web site: What do you want users to do when they visit your site? Your objectives should ultimately align with the needs of the users and in doing so support the behavior you hope they'll exhibit when on the site. Establishing clear site objectives prior to development provides the necessary foundation from which specific design elements can be identified.

Some of these design elements are general and should be expected from any site that is well designed, regardless of the site's overall objectives. Clearly visible and consistent navigational aids come to mind. Other design elements are specific to your audience and should match their interests and expectations. This is where knowing your user really counts. Elements such as how information is structured--labeling of key navigational paths, options available to search the site, and the types of transactions--require knowledge of your audience for effective design. Each should match your users' mental model as to how information should be structured with regards to layout of the text and the actual language used to convey the information. For instance, a physician looking for a clinical trial for a patient would likely have a different idea of how that information would be searched and structured than would a healthcare consumer looking for the same information. Knowing your end user helps the site be high-value.


Most users appreciate designs that require minimal effort to use. Sites that have "ease of use" provide users with what they need with minimal clicks and minimal overhead--technical or mental. If all of the user's concentration is required to navigate or use the site, the experience may be of low value for the effort (not to mention exhausting)., for example, provides ease of use by pulling together a variety of useful bits of information that relate to a product triggered by a very simple search. Search for a book and you will see a reproduction of the cover, a table of contents, reviews, a physical description, and suggestions for additional books to read/buy. Click on the author and other books written by that person appear. Minimal effort also means providing critical tasks with as few clicks as possible, either by bringing these core areas closer to the top of the site and/or providing quick navigation to these key areas. These are often referred to as critical paths--paths that are essential for any user to interact with the site.

Time is another dimension to consider. Just as a good design allows users to navigate to needed information or capabilities on the site with minimal clicks, it also minimizes wait times along the way. …

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