Few web design firms can tout close to 30 years of experience; but we’re close! With 28 years and counting, we’ve seen a thing or two…or 3 or 4, or more. In 1990s, websites were generally text-heavy and image-lite. Hours were spent writing and coding lines and lines of text that would be viewed only on a desktop computer.
Today, it’s about “mobile first” design and “relevant” copy with keywords that rank high with search engines, e.g., Google. Websites today must be intuitive for users to quickly find what they came to learn or purchase. It’s always been about the user experience, and especially now when sites are reached on small mobile devices.
We believe there are five powerful areas that cannot be ignored—categories where mistakes are often made.
NAVIGATION Confusing navigation. When site hierarchy is out of sync, today’s users have little patience to poke around your site. Navigation must be intuitive, never difficult for prospects to learn, engage, and convert to prospects and customers.
VISUAL DESIGN Not designing for mobile first. Images, videos, or buttons that take longer than two seconds to load, a typeface out of sync with your brand, poor use of white space, and misusing the psychology of color needed to strengthen your brand.
CONTENT Weak calls to action that don’t guide the user to know where to go or what to do next, overlooking the use of grids, guidelines, and columns, and not providing monthly content updates to improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
TEMPLATES & RESELLERS Be aware of the limitations and hidden terms often associated with DIY website builders and domain sellers before you sign up with them. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Sometimes it’s the right choice, but do your homework or call us for a fair and balanced assessment.
STOCK PHOTOS The human brain processes images 60x faster than words, so we use images to get attention before delivering powerful messaging. We’ve been known to meet clients in the middle of nowhere to take digital shots of their company trucks or chase the sun and shadows at parks, beaches, and outdoor spaces to create interesting About Us portraits. There’s nothing worse than using a stock photo that a competitor also uses!
Your website is a reflection of your business and your brand. Your visitors should make an immediate connection between your purpose, personality, logo, print material, social media, and marketing collateral. The French writer, poet, journalist and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery wisely said: “It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Known has the “King of Web Standards” and a longtime hero of ours is Jeffrey Zeldman. He’s one of the brains behind WordPress, the blogging software launched in 2003 that has evolved into a popular publishing system for websites. Jeffrey once said…
“Your company’s survival is tied to the ability of the products it makes to work in situations you haven’t imagined, and on devices that don’t yet exist.”
When we’re asked to design a “responsive design” website, we still start with words. Before one pixel of design is undertaken, we have done our research on all their competitors and listed the top keywords for our customer’s industry. We list what sticks out in our research, we come to understand our customer’s pain points, we search for the “big idea” for the messaging, we list all the reasons why someone wouldn’t purchase from this customer and overcome possible objections, we describe products and services honestly and in process we find our voice and craft the entire message for the website’s content.
Next we create the brand message. Starting with the current logo, we create a brand messaging style guide based on the website’s copy. We gather all the social proof like customer testimonials and case studies and optimize the images to look great on all device sizes such as desktops and mobile phones.
Copy dictates design, not the other way around.
Because we started with the end in mind, we have all the content for the entire website and have created a site map. Every paragraph has a goal and a call to action and the content document is packed with relevant SEO words and phrases. Then we build the wireframe to define the layout structure on the many device form factors (2-dimensional sizes). On the left side of the wireframe is the site design as it will be viewed on computers; the right side is for tablets and mobile devices. Saved as a PDF, this document serves as a “go by” during coding and development.
But what about the future of websites? The answer may surprise you. Look at that growth of wearable devices like the Apple watch. We already use responsive design to translate websites on smaller screen sizes like tablets and mobile phones, but our wearable device is already forcing web designers to redefine responsive design. It’s more intuitive and less distracting to glance at a device on your wrist. Watch for it. The Internet of Things (IoT) is on the move!
It’s a tradition at ActiveCanvas to share with our clients and readers what website design industry “experts” believe will trend for the coming year. Some of these trends stick around and become part of the fabric of online design, while others fade into oblivion. Both the winners and the losers give us useful insight. So here are our top 5 for 2021 with our favorite trend rated #1.
#1 Dark Mode. Dark mode is how Apple changed the way we see our screens. Instead of a white background with dark text, users have the option to switch to light text on a dark background to preserve battery life and reduce blue light exposure. If you want to convey caring, try Dark Mode.
#2 Minimalism. These sites use basic shapes, clean, usually sans serif text, limited color palettes, and an abundance of empty space to put the focus on content and functionality. The minimalist style trend is not new, but because it’s such a strong factor in boosting SEO and extending audience reach these functional and inclusive sites are still madly popular. If you want to be trusted, use Minimalism.
#3 Illustration. These sites use graphic design and hand-drawn elements to communicate in place of photographic elements. The illustrations aren’t always accurate either — drawings of people in odd shapes and sizes are known as “odd bodies” and hand-drawn shapes have little or no symmetry. If you want to convey diversity, freedom, and individualism; try Illustration.
#4 Organic Design. Maybe a year of isolation indoors has us begging for the look and feel of the outdoors because a new and growing trend uses nature for inspiration. Organic designs use warm, subtle, earthy colors, natural shapes and textures…a favorite choice for businesses connected to our environment and sustainability. If you want to convey health, wellness or beauty, think Organic.
#5 Anti-Design. These quirky websites defy balance and good taste by using asymmetrical layouts, distortion, odd layering patterns, and really terrible color palettes. About the only positive thing about this new style is that it does make a site stand about. If you want to be talked about, use Anti-Design.
You are invited to join us for the ride as we plunge into 2021 with open minds and a commitment to excellence. For our part, we promise to continue building solid, hand-coded websites using best practices for page speed, user experience, and conversion.