Tag Archives: Web design

Design dumb

A designer I am not. As a writer, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the designers and graphic artists who can bring a story to life. While good writing is important, I’m not naive enough to think that words alone will attract people’s attention in today’s on-the-go society and 24-hour news cycle. But my lack of design skill became evidently clear this week as I tried to craft an imaginary Web site for Juan Ana coffee, the Fair Trade coffee sold my the mission I visited in March in Guatemala.

Web sites are a powerful marketing tool. (Duh, right? Surely the Internet wouldn’t have grown like it has if they weren’t.) But an effective Web site is especially important for companies trying to reach out to consumers in other countries, be it selling coffee from Guatemala to Americans or something else entirely. However, for someone untrained in design, it’s hard to say what works and why. I know, for instance, that I like for a company’s name or logo to be displayed in the top left of the page, but why? According to George Cleanthous, it’s all about psychology. A BBC News report indicated that Web users form an opinion about a page in less than a second, largely due to psychological factors. Cleanthous wrote:

“The mind is able to recognise a combination of general human psychological and website design factors (which are not actually independent of one another) at extremely high rates of speed, in the same way that you are able to to recognise several letters jumbled together as a specific word and assign meaning to it.  Psychology has always played a part in internet usage, but we are only recently beginning to understand the depth of its effects.  When you break it down, web design is simply the manipulation of content and images on a website to appeal to the perceptions of a target audience.”

The key to Web design, it seems,  is a basic understanding of what works psychologically for a particular brand or product. For instance, Cleanthous notes that most people prefer reading black text on a white background, rather than vice versa. But that color scheme could — and has — worked for some products, and it’s up to the designer and the marketing team to determine when it can.  So while I enjoyed designing my Web site, it was a challenging task that reminded me just how little I know about marketing and design, and how much more I have to learn if I want to succeed in this business.

Psychology Image

Needless to say, I’m not a psychologist, either.

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Words of Web Wisdom

As a reporter, I spend a large portion of my days looking up information online — background information, names, addresses, etc. You name it, I’ve probably looked it up. That said, I am constantly amazed by the lack of consideration a lot of companies, organizations and institutions have for Web design. It’s critical for attracting and keeping customers, but the vast majority of small businesses and non-profits have outdated, poorly designed Web sites that contain inaccurate information.

For example, I looked up the Web site for WVU’s Sierra Student Coalition the other day to ask a few questions about eco-friendly transportation initiatives. Good idea, right? WRONG. The site hasn’t been updated since 2006! What if someone who was new to Morgantown and WVU wanted to get involved? I realize they advertise upcoming meetings and host other activities on campus, but an organization’s Web site is its link to the world. It’s critical to keep it up-to-date.

Before it launched a new, overhauled site a few months ago, the San Lucas Mission — which I visited and worked with during my recent trip to Guatemala — had used the same elementary Web site since 2004. The design was terrible, the photos were terrible and the information failed to capture the wondrous work of the mission. The new site is modern, sleek and innovative. Even more important, it contains a wealth of accurate information that will likely entice new volunteers to pitch in to help out the people of Guatemala.

mission

Another important component of Web design is ease of use and access to information. When I do manage to find up-to-date Web sites, it’s often difficult to find the information I’m looking for. I’ve noticed that this a particularly common problem with content-heavy government Web sites. You can have the most creatively-designed, data-rich Web site in the world, but if people can’t find the information they need, it’s useless. An example? The search engine on WVU’s main page. WVU’s Web site contains a wealth of information dating back to the 1990s, but the search tool is TERRIBLE. There’s no easy way to sift through the results, they’re poorly organized and you can’t sort through them by date.  I usually end up using Google to access information at WVU’s Web site because it’s far more effective.

WVU_Homepage_feature

I could provide dozens of other tips and suggestions, but those are just a few of the Web issues that make my life more difficult. I’ll keep the rest to myself for now.

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