Simplicity is the Key

Phone bookOne thing I have found frustrating in the past is when I found websites difficult to navigate, especially when looking for a specific piece of information, usually a contact number or email. This may be a remnant from the past and growing up using phone books. An example that comes to my mind immediately is the Sutter Health website; several times in the past I have called the number I thought was the correct one, only to find out I was wrong. Sometimes the person on the end of the line can transfer me, and sometimes they just give me another number to call. It is somewhat maddening to find out the number you’ve just called is not correct when you’ve just spent several minutes trying to search for the right number, clicking through multiple loops of webpages. And it’s honestly even worse when you are trying to get in touch with your doctor because of a medical issue. Another anecdote is from the Verizon website. Recently I was logged into my account and on the phone with someone else logged into her account. I was trying to direct her to a specific link, but we eventually concluded that our user account pages displayed different things. Why would this be? It seems so needlessly complicated. Sometimes it makes me think that these companies don’t want me to contact them, and that is why their information has been buried.

Exploring the various website creation options available to us this week was quite fun and interesting. The sites everyone designed are simply amazing, and really speak to how anyone can create a good website these days. The tools to do so abound. I was especially impressed by the variety of information that was conveyed by everyone. I think it is critical to remember that the ultimate goal is to provide viewers with information of some kind. Even though multimedia posts are the most stimulating, sometimes plain old text is the best way to get a message across. Therefore, I’ve created the following list of tips I like to remember when designing pages, systems, and communication (which I actually do at my job).

  1. KISS – Keep It Simple, Short
    1. This is an oldie, but goodie. (Please, revoke my blogging license for using that phrase!) It’s a tip for school children that also applies to our work. Write what you want to say down, and then reduce it. Condense it. Pick your images, and then refine them to only the ones that best convey your message. You can use all this other material on your social media sites, but for your website, simplicity is the name of the game (how many idioms can I pack into this bullet points?).
  2. Minimize clicks!
    1. This is a major concern when we are designing and testing the software my agency supports. Consumers are not interested in anything that requires a lot of navigational effort. I should be able to get to the most important pieces of information (mission statement, contact info, donation button, staff) in 3 clicks or less.
  3. Design for Broad Appeal
    1. Don’t use a lot of website gimmicks. Too many scrolling pictures, gifs, buttons, galleries, etc. will dilute your message and clutter your page. If it looks like it could be from MySpace, you need to get rid of something. There is a reason that simple designs are enduring. They appeal to many people, are easy to maintain and make look good, and are less susceptible to fads.
  4. Mobile Matters
    1. Either design your site to be compatible with mobile devices, or create a mobile site. It is no longer acceptable not to have this.
  5. Create a Draft First; Constantly Revise
    1. It’s important to consider your website as similar to any written document you might also produce: a paper, resume, portfolio… When writing these documents you would go through a draft and revision process, and even then some of them are not static, but dynamic works. Your website is the same. Create a draft first, ideally several. Give yourself time to look at it, test it out, get feedback. And once it is live, make sure someone is regularly reviewing it and revising/updating it as necessary.
  6. Always Provide a Means of Contact 
    1. If there is one thing I have learned from writing code in a professional setting, it’s that the personal configuration of consumers wildly differ. It is virtually impossible to make sure your website and/or emails look exactly the same (or even fully work) on every version of every browser and in every email client in those different browsers. That’s OK. Recognize that some viewers might have technical issues, and provide them a way to leave you feedback and/or to contact you to get the information they need.
  7. Be Secure
    1. This should not be a huge issue unless you are doing everything yourself instead of using third-party tools like we did this week. Either way, you should at least know what steps have been taken to keep user data secure.

I hope this information is at least somewhat helpful to all of you! I know I’ll be referencing my list in the future when I need a reminder on best practices.

Person at computer

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One thought on “Simplicity is the Key

  1. Renn, a great summary of principles of site design we all forget or sometimes subconsciously ignore. I think many of these templated sites, while they facilitate fabulous professional-quality work, cause people to lard their site up with more features than they need or their audience can possibly use. If people aren’t thinking of these principles from the beginning, they’re likely to make some of the mistakes they’re supposed to guard against. If I had only one suggestion — and I only have one — it might be to have some nice exemplar sites (or less usefully sites that show what happens if you _don’t_ follow them), but even as it is I think the post speaks well for itself.

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