Does Web Design Matter? Finding a balance between attractive design and clear, usable content

Website Design - Does it Matter? Web design/layout on blackboardDoes Web design matter? As a designer with a four-year, fine-art degree, that question pains me to type it out. But even more painful than the question, is my response – not always.

Now had I said, “Does web design matter to me?,” the answer would have been a resounding, “Yes! But, for the purpose of this blog post, I’m approaching it from the perspective of the average web user. I’m also referring primarily to ‘business-to-consumer’ websites where the main goal is communicate about or sell a product or service.

Imagine you’re at the dealership to purchase a new car. You probably wouldn’t expect to have a conversation like this:

You: “Wow! That’s a great looking car. How’s the gas mileage?”

Salesperson: “Hmmm…that one doesn’t actually have an engine.”

You: “Oh Ok. So what’s the point?”

Salesperson: “Well…you said it’s a great looking car, right?

At this point, it’s likely you would reconsider your choice to purchase a car from that particular dealership and take your business elsewhere. While this may be an extreme and highly improbable situation, the analogy makes sense. No matter what the car looks like, the most fundamental purpose of said car is transportation. The same can be assumed for a large portion of websites – no matter what the website looks like, the most fundamental purpose is communication.

A website may be the most beautiful, well-designed masterpiece that ever came across your screen, but if it doesn’t communicate the intended message or drive the user to act, it’s not accomplishing its primary function.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love websites that are beautifully designed! But web design is not art, and it has never pretended to be. Those of us in the web design business must determine how to present the intended information in the most usable (and beautiful) way possible.

When it boils down to it, I believe most people don’t really care what a website looks like as long as it has relevant information.

One shining example is Craigslist. Strictly from a design perspective, Craigslist is one of the most unattractive, unimaginative and ‘ho-hum’ sites on the Internet. But according to their FAQ page, it currently receives 30 billion global page views every month. According to Alexa Internet Statistics, Craigslist currently ranks as the eighth most-visited site in the United States. To give some context, numbers one though seven are: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo!, Amazon, Wikipedia and eBay. That’s pretty good company for a site created by a small team of developers that draws its main source of revenue from fees charged for job postings.

The real challenge for any website is successfully finding the balance between attractive design and clearly-presented, usable content.

I believe that a great website has straightforward content for the average user, while at the same time, shows time and effort was spent by the designer to present that information in the most aesthetically-pleasing way possible.

Pixel-perfect graphics, grid-based layouts and animation are just a few of a web designer’s tools to create a great site, but they are still just assets to support the content. They should never get in the way of the main function of the site, which is communication.

Here at DVL, we strive to partner with our clients so their message becomes our message. In doing so, we can use our knowledge and tools to communicate that message as efficiently and successfully as possible.

And having a nicely designed website doesn’t hurt.