Art Comes Much Later

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One does not hire an architect to design a building until the function of the structure is clearly defined. First one needs to know what will go into it and what is to be accomplished within it. A restaurant business does not have the same needs as those of a machine shop.

Why then, do so many newcomers to the Web begin with site design? Given $2000 to $5000 in art work (or even more!), one is going to find it difficult to scrap it all, even if the content squeezed in around the corners fails to accomplish the site purpose because of the squeeze. This is completely backward.

The site purpose and content must be clearly defined before even contacting an artist. The art must enhance site function, and never detract from it. Good art will do so, provided content is in place first. To begin with the art work is likely to inhibit site performance and may even doom the site to failure before it is launched.

Selling on the Web is accomplished with words. Forget what you know about selling in print. The Web is a different media, and must be recognized as such.

Picture a beautiful four-color page with a seagull sweeping over the tops of whitecaps breaking gently on a broad, sandy beach. Place a single word on it. Microsoft, maybe. Or a brief slogan. This may work fine for branding in print. Or on television. In far less time that it takes to load such an image on the Web, your visitor is gone.

Content Dictates All

Every page to be placed on the site needs to be roughed out. Even in these draft pages, the words used matter. For the page is intended to sell. A product, a request for more information, subscription to a newsletter, and so forth. Work up each page so that it projects the flavor of the finished page. And its role within the site.

Further you need good notes on possible pages to be added later. Inclue those that may not be pointed out to all visitors. An article to support a claim on a page, for example. Or drawings and detailed information about a product.

What’s more, seek to anticipate totally new elements that may be needed. Spell out the purpose these pages might serve. Even with best effort, the site will evolve in unexpected ways. Plan as possible for such directions.

Navigation Is Crucial

Construct a navigation scheme that is simple and intuitive. Provide for pages anticipated. And even for the unexpected as possible.

Avoid too many options. Decide what elements you want to point out to most visitors, elements that must be stand-alone links. Hold the number of such elements to a minimum. Then gather remaining pages as items in sub menus.

Next, create a draft home page, with text links in your menu. One good option, is a row across the very top of the page. Or clustered to the right, if a logo is to be located in the upper left corner of the page.

The best alternative for many is links down the left side of the page. In all cases, include text links at the bottom of the page. In this menu, you may want to include elements hidden in sub menus at the top of the page.

These are the best formats because surfers are accustomed to them. Anything off these norms is liable to confuse. Since confused visitors exit quickly, avoid unique or trick navigation schemes.

An Aside: Always include a site map. Some visitors depend upon them.

Provide Your Artist With Clear Instructions

With this draft of your home page and others, turn to an artist. But do not give them a free hand. Artists tend to want boldness in their designs, to put their work front and center. Don’t let it happen. Your visitors will be distracted by boldness in design or color.

Instead, seek a subdued background in pale shades of any color. The object is art that demonstrates the professional nature of the site, but never, ever distracts a visitor from jumping directly into the headlines and content that make up the page.

Artistic boldness often translates into height. A logo and menu combination that fills half the first screen must go. Copy needs to begin as close to the top of the first screen as possible on all pages.

An Aside: Consider CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and SSI (Server Side Includes) to assure consistency from page to page. CSS can accurately control fonts used. SSI can assure great looking menus, while providing an easy way to make later changes. That is, a change is only needed in the file to be included, not on every page.

The Acid Test

When the artist presents a design, implement several draft pages. With the browser of your choice, download each page to your disk so they’ll load quickly upon subsequent request.

Now click back and forth between pages as fast as they will load. Look for any artistic element that seems to have too great an impact.

For example, given a bold horizontal line near the top of the screen, you’ll soon tire of it as you click through pages. So will your visitors later. This is an element that must be shoved further into the background, or deleted. (Horizontal bars are usually a mistake, as they tend to prevent continuing down the page.) Often narrowing the bar or going to a paler color will do the trick.

Check that logo with care. If it is the strongest element on each page, you’ll find your eyes target it quickly. Subdue it as necessary. Since it’s repeated throughout the site, your visitors will see it. But you want their first glance on any page to be to a headline.

Above all, be sure the art enhances the site purpose to the degree possible. And that is does not detract from content in any way. In particular, if menus are sufficiently subdued, visitors will never notice them unless they feel a need to use one. They will find them easily, if located at the left or top of the page. And repeated at the bottom.

This article appeared at SiteTipsAndTricks.com

Bob McElwain, author of “Your Path To Success.” How to build ANY business you want, just the way you want it, with only pocket money.
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Art Comes Much Later
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