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Top 5 Myths about Web Design

Published on February 24, 2012
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

Working in the web design and development business, we get to hear a lot about what goes on in the industry – and what people think about it. This allows us to build up a useful, accurate view of people’s perceptions of the industry, all of which can be fed back into our work. Sometimes, though, we hear stories of web design myths that need to be dispelled. With this in mind, we’ve put together a guide to some of the top web design myths we’ve heard to date.

The three click rule

While many myths on the subject arise due to common user perceptions or people’s expectations about what websites can achieve, there are also myths that arise largely due to web designers themselves. The three click rule is one of them.

This is something that first came about more than a decade ago, when it was suggested that if a web user cannot find what they are looking for on a site within three clicks of the mouse, they will give up and go elsewhere. There is something in this myth, because we know that web users like to be able to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible – but the three click limit is not entirely true.

It could take a user more clicks to find what they want, but as long as the site is usable and easy to navigate, they’re not all going to give up just because they’ve clicked their mouse button three times. So, even though the three click rule can be a useful guide when designing sites, if a website doesn’t exactly meet those guidelines, we don’t think it’s the end of the world.

Graphics are what grab attention

There also seems to be a myth in some areas that good web design is all about being flash (and, in many cases, Flash). Occasionally this is true; some web users do respond to websites that are full of exciting graphics and gizmos. Mostly, however, what users really want is a site that works and that gives them the information they’re looking for.

This is all about expectations. For example, if you were to go onto a news website, you wouldn’t necessarily want to be distracted by lots of graphics and bright colours – you go there because you want the news and you have a right to expect it. If this means keeping the design very simple and effectively listing the headlines - albeit in an attractive way - then that’s fine.

Site traffic equals more customers

We would love it if this particular web design myth was true, but unfortunately having more site traffic does not necessarily guarantee more customers for your business. It simply means that you have more people looking at your website.

Of course, sometimes this is excellent – if you have got a high quality website with lots of appealing content that makes it very easy to find what users are looking for (as well as making it easy for them to make a purchase if necessary), this could well translate into more customers. However, if your website isn’t quite up to scratch, or if it doesn’t work properly or your content is below par, all you’ll have are lots of people looking at a substandard website. That could actually harm your business rather than help it.

That’s why turning traffic into customers is a multi-part process, and does not equate to the same thing.

A search bar solves navigation issues

If you have used a site such as Amazon or Google (and we’re pretty certain you’ll have used both), you will no doubt be familiar with just how useful a website search bar can be. Generally speaking, search bars are a positive thing for websites as they offer another way for users to get what they want.

However, this has led to a web design myth that search bars can effectively replace good website navigation. In fact, when looking for information on a website, most users will first look at the navigation options and the links available for them to click on before they look at the search bar. One study found that 70% of users went for the navigation option first, which shows that you really can’t neglect good site navigation and a search bar is no substitute.

The homepage is the most important

In some ways, this web design myth is actually true. The homepage of a website is hugely important and so it needs to be given a great deal of time and attention to get it exactly right. However, the rise of search is starting to change this; once, people would always have landed on your homepage first.

Now, they are just as likely to land on another page of the website depending on what they have searched for, which means that the quality of your site needs to be consistently high throughout – so don’t spend all your energy creating a stellar homepage at the expense of the rest of the website. Every page matters.

By Chelsey Evans

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CSS3, HTML5 and Web Design

Published on February 17, 2012
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

After our article on how HTML will benefit web design, we thought that this week we’d have a look at another weapon in the web designer’s arsenal: CSS3. This is something that has been around for a couple of years now, but it has had improvements made to it so that it can work properly with HTML5 and further enhance the experience of web users.

What is CSS3?

CSS3 is the latest version of the Cascading Style Sheets, which is a web language used by developers to tell web browsers how a site should look and be formatted. It is usually used with HTML websites, although it can be used with other types of documents – and the capabilities of CSS3 are far beyond anything that came before.

It is the product of a group commonly called W3C, whose full name is the World Wide Web Consortium. They first developed CSS with the aim of promoting better standards on the internet and making sure there was a consistent approach to the development of webpages.

What are the benefits of CSS3?

One of the main benefits associated with CSS3 is that it allows web designers to create webpages that have fewer requirements in terms of coding. This helps to make pages load faster than before, a benefit that we have previously seen in relation to HTML5.

This means that CSS3 is good for sites that are content-rich as the code is streamlined and it can handle more visual effects than previous versions of CSS. Another benefit of CSS3 is that it is broken down into modules, such as Colour and Media Queries. The two versions that came before it both ended up being fairly complicated; by contrast, the fact that CSS3 allows web developers to update individual modules helps to make the whole process much easier.

Another benefit of CSS3 is that it is now supported by the vast majority of web browsers. Originally, many of its teething problems existed due to the fact it could not be supported on Internet Explorer – and when you consider that it first came about in 1999, it gives an idea of the scale of the issue. However, even though earlier versions of IE are still incompatible, IE9 now supports CSS3, as does Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

How does CSS3 relate to HTML5?

Even though CSS3 has been around for much longer than HTML5, it is only now properly supported by browsers and so there is a lot of talk about how the two platforms support each other.

One of the main ways in which HTML5 and CSS3 benefit each other is in relation to Flash applications. We saw in our previous HTML5 article that the new version of HTML is able to support much of the media that previously would have required Flash, which isn’t always compatible with some people’s operating systems. The combination of HTML5 and CSS3 works well here, as they make it easier for alternative apps to be developed and supported – which also gives web developers more options in terms of design.

Another reason for using CSS3 in conjunction with HTML5 is that even though web designers might not need all the features of CSS3 in order for the site to function, it does have capabilities that make it easier to give websites the ‘wow’ factor.  For example, it has excellent text and layout features that help to make websites look fantastic, which as we all know is vital for the user experience.

CSS3 has also benefitted from some updates to make it work better with HTML5, all of which is very positive for users. An example of this is the ability to create box shadows, which is a good way of creating the illusion of depth on a site. It is now also much easier to create rounded corners with CSS3 – this might sound like a really small update, but it is very often the little details that make all the difference.

The colouring module of CSS3 is another aspect that has received an update, making the colouring process much easier; developers don’t have to know huge amounts about hex colouring anymore, because CSS3 allows us to select the amount of colour to appear in a design.

One of the challenges for CSS3 and HTML5 is that not all of their features are available on all browsers at the moment, so there is still a bit of waiting around and further development to be done before they can be utilised to their full advantage. However, the combination of both CSS3 and HTML5 is already helping to make the web design process more efficient and is improving our ability to create exciting-looking websites. We look forward to the day when all the features are fully compatible across all browsers.

By Chelsey Evans

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HTML5: The Basics

Published on February 10, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

By now, you will have heard about HTML5, the latest update to the HTML code that makes up so much of the web. HTML5 has been around for quite a while now, but it is just starting to really come into its own and so now is a good time to have a look at a few of the key features of it – and see what benefits it has to offer in terms of web design, as well as for web users.

What is it?

First, let’s go back to basics. HTML is the code that is put together and then read by web browsers, which interpret what has been written and use that information to display content on webpages. This is why we often talk about compatibility issues: sometimes, one web browser reads HTML code more successfully than another one, which can be the cause of many a web designers headaches.

This makes HTML code extremely important and a large part of web development is all about getting it exactly right. It relies on elements, which are written up as tags. These tags can be singular, such as <img>, or they can be in pairs, such as <h1> and </h1>.

However, up until fairly recently, HTML code was quite static: it was very good for webpages with static content and images, but if you wanted anything more complicated, you had to use a plugin or another application to supplement it. The big beneficiary of this was Adobe’s Flash software, which was developed to allow moving graphics and other complexities on webpages.

Arguably, this is what sets HTML5 apart from all the versions that have come before it. It allows for more interactive webpages than before, meaning that it is now possible to include charts, audio, video and 3D elements in HTML code – effectively eliminating much of the need for using other plugins.

What are the benefits?

In terms of web design, this brings us several benefits. One of the main benefits is that we are simply able to do more with it. Even though Flash and other add-ons will surely remain vital, HTML5 gives us more options. Also, since no single company owns HTML, it means that it is free for web designers and web users, unlike the Flash development toolkit, which can be quite expensive.

Another big benefit of HTML5 for web designers is that it is much more search engine friendly. This is due to the fact it offers a lot of good syntax features. This includes Semantics, which helps it easier for search engine scanners to pick up new elements in the webpage. So, if you design a site using HTML5, the search engines shouldn’t have any problems when it comes to reading it – although if you use other additions such as Flash, this could alter the ability to read the page.

As well as web design, HTML5 also has some good benefits for web users. One of these links to the above point; if search engines are able to scan websites more easily, web users should hopefully be able to enjoy more accurate search results and therefore a more relevant online experience. However, the main benefit for web users is probably speed. HTML5 helps to speed up the process of loading the webpage because it simplifies the system of browser request and server response.

Also, with many more elements able to be catered for by HTML5, it helps to streamline websites, which with any luck will also help to improve the user experience when they are navigating their way around websites. It also has some interesting offline web applications, such as the ability for users to continue working with some web documents even when they do not have a network connection. The fact that users will be able to play sound and videos without needing a plugin is another benefit, as it will hopefully save them having to download additional software.

Are there any drawbacks?

The big challenge in terms of HTML5 is the readiness of web browsers – again, we come back to the compatibility issue we’ve all heard so much about. It may or may not come as much of a surprise to many of you that it is Internet Explorer that was behind all of the other browsers in terms of HTML5 readiness when the new coding first started to be implemented – and it is still causing some compatibility headaches. Also, Flash is still excellent in terms of effects and arguably outperforms HTML5 in that capacity.

However, the growing capabilities of HTML5 and the convenience of it mean that it is an extremely important development in the world of web design. HTML code has come on in leaps and bounds since the beginning and HTML5 is a very good example of internet innovation. The fact it has multiple benefits for web designers and web users alike mean it is certainly a very welcome development.

By Chelsey Evans

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Just How Important is a Web Designer to your Business?

Published on February 3, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Often, when people talk about how the internet has revolutionised the world, they talk in terms of entrepreneurship and communication, and about how the internet allows us to be instantly global and able to access services twenty four hours a day. What people don’t talk about so often is the role that web design has played in online innovation over the years.

This is a shame because without web designers and developers, even the best online business idea in the world wouldn’t be able to take off. This isn’t to say that web design is the most important facet of the internet; the reason the online world works so well is because of the collaborative nature of it and the fact that many different people have a part to play. Entrepreneurs need to have ideas before a great web design can be created, after all.

However, if Facebook or Twitter didn’t have a good web design, for instance, it’s highly unlikely that those websites would be as successful as they are, no matter how good the ideas were in the first place. Plus, almost every single new business that launches now has its own website. Having a high quality website for your business is now seen as something you have to do – it’s almost a mark of professionalism and authenticity. More people now search online for businesses than look in the Yellow Pages. A website can make or break a company’s reputation.

All of this helps to demonstrate just how important web design is to online innovation and even the wider operations of companies. Another good example is the world of ecommerce: we are frequently told that we are spending ever more money online, largely because it’s a convenient to shop. Without good, easy to use web design, the process would be much more complicated and would have been much less likely to take off in the way that it has.

Also, branding is arguably more important now than it has ever been before. In particular, we can thank companies such as Apple and Google – which have extremely distinctive brands and have changed the way we do much of our business – for the fact that brands are now so vital. A large part of branding is about design and creating an image to represent a particular company or service. The fact branding is so essential means that web design is not just a commodity or service for hire anymore; often, web designers are partners in creating an online brand.

Web design becomes more important still when we consider how much has changed in the world of technology over the past few years. It wasn’t that long ago when Internet Explorer dominated the internet, which had a significant impact on how things were designed. Now, the diversification of platforms has in a way forced designers to be more innovative about how sites are put together; no platform can be neglected but sites have to perform to high standards across all of them. We cannot deny that this requires a special type of skill and ability to innovate in order to adapt to this new state of affairs.

This means that the world of web design is constantly evolving, in effect making the internet look good as it continues its development. Web design has to be responsive and adaptive to new developments in ecommerce and entrepreneurship; often changes need to be made quickly and new processes need to be developed. Web design is not just about aesthetics; it’s about the layers underneath, too. Other developments, such as Google algorithm updates, also need to be responded to so that sites can continue to perform highly and do well in the rankings.

All of these changes have led to web design developments such as HTML5, mobile sites and responsive web design – and things are still evolving, as they should. Online innovation is, in effect, a team game. It requires all the players to work together in order to create a working website that can be utilised by web users to benefit both them and businesses. Web design is not the only part of that but it is an important part of that. Without the user-friendly interface created by web designers, the internet would largely be just a collection of ideas struggling to properly be born.

By Chelsey Evans

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