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Websites Require Flexible Not Fixed Design

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A website needs to be flexible. It needs to be able to change as the organization changes. The more change within the organization the more flexible the website needs to be. Too many websites are still being designed from a print perspective; as if they were some once-off brochure.

It was natural that the first websites should have borrowed much of their design thinking from the print world. A brochure has pictures and words. So has a website. It’s meant for customers. So is a website. Let’s design our website like a brochure, the logic went.

Most organizations would like to feel that they have moved beyond the brochure website mentality. Unfortunately, many have not. I regularly find people involved in website design who are locked into this mode of thinking. They may talk about ‘interactivity’, but their minds are set in the concrete of brochure design thinking.

Just what are the core characteristics of brochure design? Well, one such characteristic is exhibited by all print material. It is that the design is fixed. If you plan to distribute 10,000 brochures, you need to think carefully about what exactly you’re going to put on each page. What you put on the front cover stays. What you put on the back cover stays.

A second characteristic of a brochure is that it is designed to get attention. Brochures need to live in all sorts of brochure- unfriendly environments. For example, masses of them are found at exhibitions and conferences. Each one is saying: ‘Please pick me up because I’m the solution to your problem.’ There also exists the brochure Bermuda triangle: the opened envelope, the desk, the bin.

Most websites need to be designed in a very different way. A website requires a flexible, rather than a fixed design. The three column layout is a flexible design. The left column contains navigation, the center contains key messages, the right contains features. The webpage can easily stretch up and down depending on what content is required at any particular point in time.

Some websites have intricate designs for their homepages. They may look great, but what happens when you want to change the content? You’re only allowed so many words. You have to replace this image with another the exact same size. It’s an inflexible, expensive and time consuming process.

I talked to a manager recently who had to deal with countless different layouts for his website. People were creating ‘print’ designs. So, for example, when you wanted to add a new feature for a product, you disturbed the whole ‘balance’ of the page, requiring a redesign.

The other thing about the brochure mindset is that it fundamentally misses the point of what a website is for. A website should take you beyond brochure-speak. When someone comes to your website, you have already got their attention. They don’t want marketing waffle. They want details, facts, and they want them quickly.

I asked a designer once why he had locked the font size for a website he had worked on. He told me that if people were allowed to change the font size, it would ruin the look of the page. I then asked: Did you ever consider why someone might want to change the font size?

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern http://www.gerrymcgovern.com

Subscribe to his New Thinking Newsletter: subscribe@gerrymcgovern.mailer1.net

Websites Require Flexible Not Fixed Design
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