Website design: Look and function – how to get the best of both worlds

When designing a website, you might be focusing on the way that the website looks; after all, you want to entice people to read your blog or website, and the best way to draw in visitors is through having an aesthetically-pleasing website design. However a good design goes further than simply what the user sees when they interact with your website; it’s the whole experience, including things like compatibility between web browsers and loading times, which play an integral role in the user experience.
Functional website design
Amazon Web Store – Example of functional website design
If you want to get the best of both worlds when it comes to having a sleek design, but also a good functional website, here are a few of the things you need to bear in mind.

You need a purpose for your website

The first thing that you need to look at is whether your website serves a purpose for the user. A good web design will have a consistent theme running throughout, with a clear sense of what the user should be receiving from visiting the website – without a clear and consistent purpose, your design will fall at the first hurdle.
The best way to work out what the purpose of your website is is to consider what you want from the website. All too often designers and web masters get their wires crossed and end up with a design that just doesn’t work for the purpose of the website. If your website will be an image-intensive blog, make sure that your designer knows that to make allowances for it in the loading time. If you are going to be a small forum website, your design needs to reflect that. A consistent website needs to have a clear focus from both the web master and the page layout designer if it is to be successful.

User navigation is central to success

Once you have decided on a theme for your website, and have identified that it serves a purpose, you need to make sure that the user can actually find their way around the website easily. It’s all well and good having a flashy JavaScript links bar, but if it doesn’t work on every browser, or crashes easily, there’s no point having it at all. Users want one thing: to be able to browse the website with ease to find all of the information they require.
You might also want to think about whether you will install a search bar to make navigation even easier. While it won’t have an impact on SEO, you might find it beneficial to the overall user experience.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Every web designer in the world nowadays is focused on SEO more than they are the overall layout and appearance. It’s SEO that will get you visitors; without visitors, you may as well not have a website at all. Ignore SEO at your own peril – not knowing the ins and outs of what Google expects from you really will put the final nail in your website’s coffin.
Make sure that you know about the purpose of Meta tags, and that you have key words used regularly on your website. You should have the first occurrence of key words bolded on your page also, but make sure that you don’t over-use them: spamming a page with key words is a huge no-no for search engine spiders.
One thing that people seem to forget plays a part in SEO is having a clean, functioning website that doesn’t have broken links or bugs. You have to think of the search engine spider (the robot that will scan your website) as a user who will pass their experience onto their friends – if the spider cannot find its way around your website, or encounters empty pages, your recommendation will be a negative one.

Compatibility

Nowadays making sure that your website is compatible is more than just checking that Internet Explorer and Firefox load it in the same way – we’ve entered the era of mobile and tablet devices playing a huge role in people’s interaction with web pages, and so a mobile version of your website is crucial to your success.
However you shouldn’t neglect compatibility across browsers, especially if you use a non-standard browser (i.e. any browser besides Safari or Internet Explorer). The newer versions of Internet Explorer have improved, but there are still some people in the world that use older versions which have huge flaws and require additional bits of code to make a website appear correctly. While you can’t keep catering for people that refuse to update their browsers, you should make sure that your design works with the last few versions of Internet Explorer just to be on the safe side. After all if your website doesn’t appear correctly in a browser, you’ll lose potential returning visitors instantly.

Consider the time your pages take to load

There are two things that make up loading time: render time and complete loading time. The render time is the time that it takes your website to respond to the browser – that is, the time that it takes the browser to actually start loading the web page at all. Think of this as the stage before you see the little green circle appearing on the tab: if that process takes more than about a second, you have a problem that you might need to consult your web host about. Having a poor render time will not only frustrate your visitor, but will have an impact on your search engine rating.
Complete loading time, as the name suggests, is the overall time that it takes for a web page to become static, or completely loaded. While render time has a slight impact on both user experience and SEO, complete loading time has a vast effect on both. If your website is slow at loading, search engines will place you below sites with a good loading time. If your web pages are too slow at loading, people will simply close the tab and not bother to return. Nothing frustrates people more than a slow-loading web page. Remember that while you may have the fastest internet available, not all of your customers are – there are some regions of the United States where dial-up connections are still the norm, and so you must cater to those with slower loading times too if you want a complete section of the market.
You and your web designer can do a lot to impact loading time. If your website uses back-end server programming, such as PHP, you must make sure that you aren’t running unnecessary queries or pulling data that you aren’t using. If your website is simply a static page with no server interaction, you need to remember that images take significantly longer than content. If you need to use images, look at whether you can save them as compressed file formats such as .GIFs to reduce loading time. 

Test every page thoroughly

This has been slightly covered elsewhere in this article, but it needs reinforcing for most web designers. You need to make sure that each page has been tested thoroughly before being released as a live page on your website. It is the height of unprofessionalism to release a half-finished page just because you’re too lazy to put it somewhere that users can’t happen across it.
Author bio: Korah Morrison, working for College-Paper.org as a freelance essay writer.
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