Form Vs. Function: What is important in web design?

October 26, 2009

I’m approached very frequently with the question “do you do website design”?  I’m pretty upfront about the fact that I’m not a web “designer” but the reality is that there is a lot more than art that goes into the design of a website.

The availability of open-source Content Management Systems (or CMS for short) has really taken hold in recent years and allowed many, many people to get online quickly by removing the programming element from setting up a site.  If you understand the syntax or language of a particular CMS brand (think Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, or what we use – Dot Net Nuke), then you can dig in and pretty easily configure what’s there to get your content online.  Each CMS, as well as the concept of open source in general, has its pros and cons but the bottom line is that building and deplying a useful website doesn’t (or shouldn’t) run you five figures.

A nice little aftermarket of skin/theme designers and module writers is readily available to do your heavy design and programming lifting for you.

Even this week, the Obama Administration revealed that Drupal runs http://www.whitehouse.gov.

In the question of form vs. function that permeates most things in the world, you have to ask yourself what is more important: Is how a consumer feels about my product/service (brand) more important than them actually engaging with me in a transaction or at the LEAST a conversation?

Web 2.0 has brought about superior tracking of Return on Investment (ROI), and social media measurement has made it somewhat easier to gauge the success of “brand” but there is no substitute for engaging in conversation with consumers.

Our goal with this website is simple: get you to contact us and perhaps contract with us to help manage your online identity or to get you to invest with one of our web publications.  The navigation bar is simplified to steer you in one of those two directions. Our hope is that you won’t event notice the design of the site (which was purposely kept to a minimalist standard), but you’ll easily find the information you were interested in, the progress to the contact page.  Form takes a back seat to function.

Craigslist is quite possibly the least ornate design of a website since consumers started using search to find information on the internet.  Maybe the strongest branding statement they make with design is the absence of capital letters.  But the ease of use does more for the Craigslist brand than some flashy logo ever could.

Amazon.com, a case study for usability since they were only selling books, has to organize an unbelievable amount of content into one place and they’ve essentially set the standards for e-commerce usability.  As their inventory and the availability of more products has increased, they’ve had to rethink the way the store works but they never lost sight of what the user was there for: to buy something.  So as you gaze over the page you notice nearly every link leads to a sale (or at least attempts to).

The logo and color scheme are barely even noticeable because the Amazon usability freaks have done such a great job organizing the content and maximizing it for commerce.

A lot of interactive “agencies” might have the best of intentions with an outrageous and proprietary design for your company, but remember that they are primarily in the creative business.  What they produce will inevitably be used to their benefit to help them grow the business.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that (heck, even we link to sites we’ve done), but just consider what muscle they are flexing.  Is it the “hey, look at the eye-popping graphics we put up for Company X” bicep or the more important “we listened to what Company X was trying to say and do for their customers and this is what we came up with” tongue muscle, which (in 2009) goes a lot further.

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