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Should you use drop down menus in web design?

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Opinion of both web users and web designers is somewhat split on this issue – should you use drop down menus in your web design? One argument says that they’re awkward to use, confusing and get in the way. Another argument says that they can be a useful navigation tool and can help to simplify web layouts that could otherwise be quite complicated.
Whichever side of the argument you stand on, it’s hard to deny that drop down menus are a popular fixture of web design. There are definitely some situations where they should be avoided or at least handled very carefully – such as in mobile or tablet designs, where they don’t work in the same way as they do on desktops – but they can be a useful feature of websites.
There are plenty of examples of useful drop down menus. For example, if a website features lots of different categories but they don’t all merit a position in the ‘top spot’ on the main menu of the site, secondary menus can be a good option. They can also be useful for websites looking to divide things into categories – ecommerce sites arranging categories of products, for instance. They can also be useful for blogs and other sites where things are arranged by topic.
So there are lots of ways web designers can utilise these menus and, as mentioned above, they can help to clean up the navigation of a website that is required to hold lots of information. After all, getting around a website should be as easy as possible for the user; putting everything into clearly defined menus makes sense in a lot of cases. It can also help to avoid users having to scroll down through lots of information to find what they’re looking for, effectively working to compact the site to make it cleaner and simpler.
However, there are some fairly obvious things to consider whenever you are using drop down menus in web design. The issue of whether to activate the menus through clicking or hovering the mouse pointer over them is probably one of the most significant things to think about. On the one hand, hovering over the menu to activate the drop down feature makes things very simple for the user. The problem occurs when the menu then disappears if they accidentally move the pointer away from it, leading to them having to start over again.
For this reason, it is often recommended to make the menus of a significant size so that this is less of an issue. Another solution is to set up the website so that if a user strays from a hover menu, they have to click elsewhere on the screen to get rid of it. By contrast, if the menu is activated by clicking on a particular tab, it can be easier for users to then select the category that they are looking for. This option can also be more effective for mobile web design, not least because mobile devices tend not to respond to a hovering pointer.
There is also the issue of how many sub-menus are linked to the main drop down menu. If there are too many on there, it’s simply reintroducing problems that the menu was originally supposed to solve, so keeping it to a single drop down menu – perhaps with one sub-menu if absolutely necessary – is often a good idea.
Also, don’t forget that any menus that are included need to be in keeping with the design of the site. They can offer an interesting design opportunity, but ideally they need to be clean and easy to read as well as easy to use. Clear, concise category names in a clear font are generally a good way to go. The menu also needs to react straight away to action from a user; they shouldn’t be left waiting and wondering whether they actually clicked on the menu if it fails to load in good time.
Overall, drop down menus can be an interesting feature of web design, and they can help to organise sites more effectively. However, just as with any other design aspect, they need to be carefully planned and integrated into the site to ensure the user experience is as good as it is expected to be.

By Chelsey Evans

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The benefits of a minimalist web design

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

As a theory, minimalism is all about getting back to the essentials – taking out anything that could be considered extraneous and just keeping only what is absolutely needed. This is one of the reasons it works so well as a concept in web design.

Of course, minimalism is not the only style of website design, but it is a very popular one and it is something that can work well for many websites. There are plenty of reasons for this, including the issue of usability. We have written before about the importance of usability in web design, and in a way, minimalism is highly focused on that.

It forces us – the web designer, as well as the client – to think about what the website in question is actually for. What is its purpose? Who is its audience? Does it really need all of that content, or could it perhaps be pared down and made more easily readable? This focus on only what is necessary means that everything that ultimately ends up on the website is essential, and hopefully therefore of benefit to the user.

It can also have benefits for the layout of web designs. Rather than worrying that everything will end up looking a bit cluttered, the focus is on keeping everything as clean and simple as possible. This means that websites need to be properly organised right from the very first planning stages, so that when they are finished, their layout and navigation make perfect sense.

Another benefit of minimalist web design is that the webpages can be significantly quicker to load. For example, there might be fewer complicated graphics utilised, or the same stylesheets might be reused for different pages to limit the amount of heavy content that would slow the load time of webpages. When we consider that many web users will go and visit another website instead if the first one doesn’t load fast enough, this has obvious benefits.

Minimalist web design can also be very attractive; just because it has an emphasis on simplicity, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be visually appealing. A great deal of impact can be made from a simple colour scheme or just a few different graphics. Clear, easy to read fonts are another common feature of minimalist designs, and this is another bonus.

In a way, minimalism in web design allows the content to speak for itself. Rather than risking being overwhelmed by lots of images or interactive content, what content there is can really shine. This highlights another point – that minimalism is about quality. After all, if the design is being kept very simple and the content is allowed to speak for itself, it all needs to be of the very highest standard.

It also means that web designers cannot be afraid of whitespace; not every little corner of the website has to be filled with content. Space can be a good thing if it is utilised properly and properly incorporated into the design. The idea of minimalism can also be very good for design generally: it forces us to think more carefully about what we are doing and to be more creative in order to ensure the website still looks fantastic and is as innovative as possible.

After all, just because it’s minimalist, it shouldn’t be boring. The website should still look compelling and draw people in, making them want to find out more. This presents a challenge, but it is definitely not an unwelcome one.

Minimalist web design is not something that will be suitable for all websites. Some sites simply demand a different style of design. It could be that the company the site is being designed for wants something different, or that the work they do doesn’t really lend itself to minimalism. Another type of design might work better; some sites can benefit from a range of interactive graphics and more complex features.

However, for many, minimalism can be a very good option. It forces us to think in different ways and means we have to be very clear about our purpose and making the most of what we have got – and when it comes to creating high quality, easy to use web designs that is definitely no bad thing.

By Chelsey Evans

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Creating a good web design brief

Published on June 29, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

When it comes to creating a brilliant web design, this job is made considerably easier by a good quality, comprehensive brief. It helps to know what clients have to work with, what they want – and what they don’t. This allows us to create a web design that is exactly what they’re looking for. With this in mind, there are certain things that a brief from a client should include to help your web designer meet all of your expectations.

The purpose
First of all, what is the purpose of your web design? Do you need a new website created entirely from scratch or is this more of an update of an existing website? Is it going to be an ecommerce site or for information purposes? Other key details, such as whether you want to incorporate discussion boards or any other specific features, are also very useful to know about.

What to avoid
It can also be very useful to know what a client doesn’t want from their website, just so it’s clear from the beginning what needs to be avoided. For example, you might have had a particular feature on a previous website and found that it didn’t work as you wanted it to, or not liked an aspect of your old design that you now want to eradicate. Even if what you want to avoid is simple things like certain colours or styles of font, it all helps your web designer to get a much clearer idea of what you would like from your new site.

The timeline
Something else it is very important to include in your brief for your designer is your preferred timeline for completion. This helps to give your designer an idea of how much time they have to work with, and making it clear right at the beginning means that any issues with meeting your preferred deadline can be raised straight away.

For instance, if you have a launch that you would like your website to be ready for – it isn’t uncommon for businesses to launch their website at the same time as their company – it’s definitely worth putting this in your brief. If you do have a specific launch date in mind for your site, it also makes sense to get in touch with your web designer as soon as possible so they can have enough notice to get everything done in time.

The style and look
Of course, your ideas for the design of your website will always be one of the most important elements of your brief. Some people have more definite ideas than others about what they’re looking for, so you don’t necessarily need to be too specific, but it is nice to get a feel for the kind of style and designs that you like. For instance, you could include examples of websites that you really like, or highlight existing company graphics such as logos that you would like to be incorporated into the new site.

If you will need things such as logos designing as well, it’s useful to know about this so that the work can be built into the rest of the design process.

The audience
Something else to consider is who your audience is going to be, as this could have a significant impact on the design. For example, what is the typical demographic of the people you are intending to target with your website? Will they be professionals, other businesses or members of the public?

If you aren’t sure about the kind of people who will be looking at your website, think about who your current customers are – and who your ideal customer would be. This can help to tailor the design of the site to better meet their (and your) needs.

The ‘business’ bit
Finally, your brief for your web designer should also ideally include some information such as the budget you have available for the site. One of the reasons for this is that it will allow your designer to work out whether what you want is possible for the budget you have in mind, or whether a compromise might need to be reached to ensure you get the best deal possible. Then, once everything is clear, your designer will be able to move onto the job of designing a website that perfectly fits your brief.

By Chelsey Evans

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The Importance of Landing Pages in Web Design

Published on June 15, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

There is not a single aspect of web design that counts as unimportant. What there are, however, are different aspects of web design, all of which are important for their own reasons. Landing pages are just one example that we need to take note of when designing sites to ensure that all of the different components come together as a successful whole.

First of all, what is a landing page? The basic definition is that it is the webpage that users land on when they arrive at a website. They could find the site through links on other sites, through search engines, adverts or recommended links from friends. When they click on a link, they are taken to a landing page.

This means that websites can have multiple landing pages – depending on the size and scope of the site, as well as other factors such as how many incoming links it has, a site could have just a few or potentially a lot of them. We can also identify different types of landing pages that can help to guide us in our web design.

Transaction Pages
These are the sorts of landing pages that you hope will spur a user into definite action. Depending on the specific purpose of the page, it could be that you hope they will make a purchase, fill in a survey, sign up to a newsletter or check out your social media sites. Information-gathering is a common purpose for these pages. If a web user takes you up on the offer (such as signing up for your updates), they are counted as a conversion.

Information Pages
Of course, you might decide instead to have some landing pages that are for information only. This could be information about your company’s products and services, or perhaps a useful article. As an example, if you run a website offering tips for business owners, you might have a guest post on a finance blog about managing your money as a self-employed person. That post could then include a link back to a relevant article on your site, such as tips for dealing with your expenses, and this would become the landing page.

Unintended landing pages

Both of the examples outlined above are examples of intentional landing pages – pages that have been designed in a certain way because you are expecting people to land on them one way or another, either through search engines or by clicking on links.

Sometimes however, pages that become landing pages weren’t always intended that way. For example, you could have a page on your website that includes a comical video relating to the work you do. Someone who stumbles across it could then decide to share it with their friends, who share it with even more people, and gradually more and more people start to visit that particular webpage – making it much more significant than perhaps you ever intended it to be.

SEO benefits
As well as giving web designers pause for thought, landing pages can also be very important for SEO. They tend to be the pages that you want people to find, and so thinking about how you are going to optimise them is definitely important.

The content will naturally play an important part in this. You need to think carefully about the purpose of the landing page: what do you want people to do as a result of visiting that page? Very often, the purpose is to achieve a conversion, as mentioned above in the discussion on transaction pages. This means that content needs to be focused towards that purpose, as well as having one eye on the general SEO and site promotion strategy.

Another tactic to consider is optimising the number of landing pages that you have. The most efficient number of landing pages will always differ from site to site, but often it can be better to have several targeted, specific pages rather than just a couple general landing pages that don’t really achieve their purpose as well as they could. There is a need to balance quality of browsing for the user (such as by making sure there are good images on a page where you hope they will make a purchase) with content that will work well with search engines so that people can find your page in the first place.

Overall, landing pages might not be your entire website, but they are certainly a useful and important aspect of the website. Spending some time identifying which are your landing pages and taking steps to optimise them could well help you increase your conversion rate and get more value out of the work you have put in.

By Chelsey Evans

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Why Flexibility Matters in Web Design

Published on June 15, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Whether we are talking about the ability to juggle multiple projects at once or the ability to write in different coding languages, there is no doubting that flexibility matters in web design. It has always mattered, but arguably it has never been more important. It used to be that designers could often create a design that was suitable for one size of screen and only a limited range of web browsers – but now all of that is changing, and fast.

One of the big reasons flexibility is so important in web design today is, as suggested above, there are now more devices and web browsers than ever before and they all need to be catered for. What works well on one browser needs to look good on another – and that means that designs need to be flexible, adaptable, and be suitable for multiple formats. More than that, they need to look good on different devices.

We need to take into account the fact that the web devices that are popular today might not be the devices that are still popular next year or even in a few months’ time. Right now, devices such as the iPad and smartphones with larger screens are all the rage, but who knows where things will be in just a couple of years’ time? Things are changing all the time, and that means web designers cannot afford to be too static – we need to be ready to change and adapt as professionals, just as our websites themselves need to adapt.

We also need to consider the different uses of different devices, which can have an impact on the specific design of a website. For example, we know that local search is often very popular with people who use their smartphones to access the internet, as is social media. That means we need to consider how these functions of design will work on a different platform, as well as looking at the usual issues we need to deal with, such as websites that have multiple purposes.

As an example, a business could have a website that is both informative and designed for ecommerce. They could have different sections for clients, the media and general visitors, as well as an integrated blog and social media. This is a different kind of design flexibility; here, it is the very purpose of the website that is flexible, and it needs to be rendered in such a way that the design is consistent and makes sense with the overall brand, but so that it can still be adapted to the individual user.

From this, it’s quite easy to see how the issue of flexibility in web design is about more than just making a website that looks good in Firefox or Chrome look good in Internet Explorer. It goes a lot deeper than that. Of course, we now have disciplines such as responsive web design to consider as well. One of the benefits of this is that it can make it easier when designing sites to fit multiple browsers and devices, but we also need to bear in mind that it might not always be the most appropriate option and so adaptations might still need to be made.

Another issue to consider is HD web design. This is something that is, in a way, creeping up slowly. For quite a long time, we have been able to use graphics with quite low resolutions because most web devices have had a low pixel density. This has allowed designers to achieve good quality images while still taking into account issues such as page load time.

Now though, the pixel density of many device screens is improving. Probably the most striking example of this so far is the iPhone4’s Retina screen, which has an excellent pixel density. This means that the way we approach graphics is having to change, while still taking into account the fact that graphics with higher pixel density tend to take longer to load – and many people don’t have devices such as this, which could mean they have to wait even longer for images to load, again necessitating a greater level of flexibility.

Overall, we can identify several different types of flexibility that are required in web design, all of them important in their own ways. A huge range of opportunity has opened up over the past couple of years, but the continuing need to adapt shows just how important it is that we stay vigilant, ready to make changes where necessary and – perhaps most crucially – always open to new ideas.

By Chelsey Evans

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