Give your website a quick design critique

Give your website a quick design critique

If you feel your website needs improvement but don’t know how to get started, here is an easy way to get the ideas flowing.

Often the search for fresh ideas  starts with looking through web design blogs for the hottest trends that you could use (or steal). But the best plan might be  to look at your site with new eyes.

This is not  easy to do. You see your website every day and it is difficult to look at it the way a newcomer would. What you need to do is to break it down into parts. There are a few elements that are common to almost all of websites, and each has a specific role. By asking yourself if they are doing what they need to do, it might spark some ideas that can get the ball rolling.

The Basic Elements of a Website

These elements are the:

Header

Its purpose is to let people know in one glance who you are, what do you do, and an idea of the scope of site. It usually contains the logo, a tagline, navigation bar and links to social media.

Feature

It’s  purpose is give a feeling of what it is like to work with you or to highlight a new  product or feature. Usually it appears as a large photo, colorful illustration, or clever headline.

Content

The meat of what people come to your site for. Often includes an overview of your services and products

Sidebar

Information that, though not necessarily essential to your main business, informs or engages your visitor. What often appears here are testimonials, recent news, blog updates, or upcoming events.

Footer

This at minimum contains a copyright and essential contact information, such as your phone number or address. Sometimes  the main links for your site are repeated here so people don’t have to scroll back up to the top of the page.

Background

This sets the tone for the page. It is usually a simple color or texture but sometimes a large photo background is used.

Identifying the Elements

Generally, they appear in these areas of the typical web page:

The basic elements of a website
The basic elements of a website

In reality they are often in unpredictable places and need a little digging to pull out. Let’s look at a real life example. Here is a random  site that I found doing a search on ‘cupcakes’ (okay, I hadn’t had lunch yet). Can you identify the basic elements?

Random website (search keyword: cupcake)

As you can see these basic elements are not always self-evident and may take some guess work to pull out. Here is my best guess:

The basic elements: in real-life example

Take a moment to look at your website and identify the elements. It may be that you can’t find all of them. Ask yourself if there is a good reason that they are missing. Not all websites need all the elements, but there is usually some overriding factor why they aren’t needed. Now that we have identified the different elements, let’s ask ourselves if they are pulling their weight.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Header

  • Is it obvious in a second who you are and what you do?
  • Is there anything (photos, specials) that distracts from this? Is there a better place for these?

Feature

  • Does your feature engage the the senses and emotions?
  • Are you overwhelming the visitor with too much information? The feature loses its power when the mind has to struggle to keep up with it.
  • If you use a photo, is it the best you can find? There is no improving a lackluster photo.

Content

  • Is your content simple and succinct? People just need to know enough in order for them to explore the rest of the site

Sidebar

  • Are you taking advantage of this? Often the sidebar information is left out

Footer

  • Consider adding something here that would that the user would not expect to find at the bottom of the page. A quote or interesting fact. Or a map with directions to your store.

Background

  • Does your background reinforce the overriding mission of your business? If you are using a plain white background, but your business is a florist and your mission is to delight the senses with a colorful and artful arrangement of fresh flowers to mark special occasions, then you may want to consider a background that enhances that.

Doing the Critique: A Real-Life Example

Using these questions, on the sample cupcake page see above, I did a quick critique and pulled out these possiblities for improvement.

  • The header has a confusing arrangement of navigation, logo and social media buttons. Is there a way to organize it so the visitor can make sense of it more quickly?
  • The feature area works well. It is a good photo of the product. Looks good enough to eat.
  • The content area is a little weak. What is the compelling reason to shop here? A little more information for the new visitor would be useful. For one, this is a local business, but where  is it located?
  • The sidebar area works well, There are some interesting events highlighted here and the are presented in a an easy-to-read format.
  • The background works well with the product offered. It is sweet and lighthearted as eating a cupcake should be.

Without a structure to look at your site, you could easily fall into the trap of judging it by what you prefer than how it is working and why. Starting with a look at the basic elements, gives a way to focus your comments and  inspiration.

Anything on your mind?