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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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Five Current Trends in Web Design

Published on August 26, 2011
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

When the world of the web designer moves so fast, it can be somewhat odd to think that the profession is not actually that long out of its infancy. Like so many other areas of technology, though – and particularly areas that relate to the online world – web design is a industry that is constantly evolving as time goes by.

Arguably, it is also becoming increasingly important as time goes by. In a challenging market where the vast majority of businesses today all have their own websites, the task of the web designer in creating eye-catching, exciting websites that combine style with functionality and that stand out from the crowd can be a hard to get exactly right. Whether involved in corporate web design, designing sites for individuals or another related aspect of the job, hardly a day goes by when there isn’t something new to take into account.

Despite the regular changes, however, there are a few current trends that jump out in the world of web design. These are trends that are having a big impact on the way we work, as well as on the experience of web users who view the websites created by designers. Read on to find out more about five important trends in web design.

Web Design for Smartphones and Other Devices

A few years ago, websites were designed almost exclusively for personal computers and laptops, and Internet Explorer was by far the dominant web browser. This may have created some limitations in terms of design as it meant there were only certain technologies that could be utilised, but it also meant that web designers could largely guarantee that a site they created would display and run as it was supposed to on the vast majority of computers.

Now, however, the landscape has changed. As well as a massive proliferation in the use of smartphones, tablet computers and other devices when accessing the web, there is also an increasing array of web browsers out there, and the market is much more diverse than it was. One the one hand, this is great for web designers who want to make the most of the latest technology and utilise exciting opportunities that simply weren’t practical before. But, this also raises certain challenges, such as the need to tweak sites and apps for different devices and browsers so they run properly and the user experience remains seamless, no matter how a person chooses to view the web.

Web Design for Touchscreens

I’m sure if you regularly commute or have sat in a coffee bar people-watching that it won’t have escaped your notice how five years ago everyone was all thumbs, whereas now they’ll all fingers. The proliferation of people swiping, pressing and tapping away at their touch-sensitive screens has changed the way we interact with the outside world.

Although it may seem like a relatively minor shift, this has important consequences for web design. For instance, when a person is viewing a website on a computer that uses a mouse or track-pad, the on-screen buttons can appear small. However, fingers are somewhat less accurate than a mouse pointer, so allowances need to be made when it comes to the usability and design of websites. Bigger buttons with larger spacing, making links clearer, and alterations on how scrolling works are just a hanful of the issues this raises.

Move Away from Flash

There are several reasons web designers and others are moving away from using Flash. iHate Flash from Apple being the predominant driver with so may iDevices now in use and the usability issues created when Flash just won’t run. Another reason is that search engines don’t really like Flash either, and so if a site is created using it, it can have a detrimental effect on the website’s search engine positions.

Of course, Flash still has its place, but the increasing diversity in the industry means that other players such as HTML5, CSS3 and even JavaScript are opening up new design possibilities.

Quick Response Barcodes

Over the past few months, you might have noticed a growing trend for square barcodes to be used on TV shows, in magazines and even on business cards. The idea is that you download an app onto your smartphone and then use it to take a picture of the barcode, although known as a QR (or Quick Response) code. That picture then translates into a website, contact information, or other details which will open up on your phone.

For instance, if you were to put one of these barcodes on your regular website, it could act as a gateway to your mobile site or to a special mobile offer that could be used in-store. This might in turn help to broaden how people viewed your site, making accessing the information easier than ever before. This links into the trend for web design to increasingly focus on mobile sites; as more and more people use smartphones to access the web, and access sites through increasing numbers of ways (such as these quick response barcodes), mobile sites are becoming every bit as important as ‘regular’ sites.

Google Preview

If you use Google, and you probably do, you will no doubt have noticed that there have been some additions to their site of late. One of these is the ability to see previews of websites before you click onto them. When you type in your search term and the results come up, you can now hover your mouse (assuming you’re using a computer and not a touchscreen device – otherwise touch with your finger) over the link and it will show you a thumbnail image of the website. This creates a new challenge for web designers: making sure the thumbnail preview looks as good as the full site, as people increasingly use the function to decide whether to click through onto the site.

By Chelsey Evans

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Ofcom's Biannual Report on Broadband Speeds: The Internet is Getting Faster

Published on July 29, 2011
Tags: Usability, Web Design London, Internet Communication

A report from Ofcom has found that there are still major discrepancies between reported and actual broadband speeds in the UK. This is despite the fact that average broadband speeds in the country are now around 6.8Mbps per second; there are still huge local variations and some areas still don’t support the speeds of broadband that are frequently advertised by internet providers.

This is something we have written about before, but it is worth looking at again as it seems to be a problem that just won’t quite go away despite multiple actions being taken with the aim of dealing with the issue. The Ofcom report found that even though nearly half of people with broadband are paying for packages with speeds up to 10Mbps, very few of them actually achieve this.

This has led Ofcom to call for changes in the way internet service providers advertise their products. It’s not all bad news, however, as broadband speeds have increased by around 10% in the past six months. This suggests a growing consumer awareness of the need to shop around for the best deals and fastest speeds, as much of the improvement came from people switching to faster services.

One issue that is becoming more prominent, though, is that even while average broadband speeds are increasing – which is, of course, good news – there is a growing gap between speeds that are advertised and speeds that are actually achieved. Even though average speeds are only around 6.8Mbps, the average speed advertised by internet service providers is 15Mbps.

Something else that the report found was that many people have broadband services that claim to be ‘up to’ 24Mbps, while more than a third of them only receive 4Mbps. Also, Ofcom found that broadband offering speeds of more than 24Mbps, which counts as being superfast, was available to 57% of homes. Despite these services being available, not everyone is receiving those speeds as they’ve been advertised.

So, what are some of the factors that affect the speed of broadband?

  • The way broadband is delivered is one major reason many internet users don’t get the headline advertised speed; around 75% of broadband still relies on ADSL technology, which means that the speed you receive is influenced by the distance between your house and the telephone exchange.

  • The time of day when the service is being used can also have an impact; if you are trying to use your broadband at a time when many other people are also using it, it can drag down the speeds achieved.

  • The quality of wiring in your house plays a part, too; if the wiring in your house isn’t keeping up with advances in broadband technology it will make it much harder to achieve the speeds that have been advertised by the internet service provider.

This is an issue that affects us all and so it is definitely more important than simply a question of advertising. For instance, when web designers and developers are creating new websites, they will naturally want to make use of the latest technologies to provide the best possible user experience. However, if web users are struggling with slow to load broadband, websites that make use of such technology run the risk of not displaying properly or taking much longer to load than they would if customers were receiving ‘as advertised’ broad band speeds.

This is frustrating for everyone and so while it’s definitely encouraging that progress has been made over the past six months, the widening gap between advertised and actual speeds is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

ASA, the Advertising Standards Agency, is currently looking at the issue of broadband advertising and it is expected to report soon; it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Added to this, Ofcom have recommended that rather than a single speed being quoted, customers should be provided with a speed range so that they can get a more accurate picture of their likely broadband speed than they would if they were simply told the maximum speed available.

This is valuable, as it is naturally important that consumers are given a clear indication of the speeds they can expect from their internet service provider. Also, more awareness of the difference between ADSL (generally slower) and cable (generally faster) services will definitely be beneficial.

However, it is also tempting to suggest that as well as making alterations to the way speeds are advertised, if real, beneficial change is to be made in the world of broadband speeds, programmes to upgrade the networks and improve actual speeds should be given more priority. After all, advertising can only take you so far; eventually, you need a faster product to back it up.

By Chelsey Evans

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Are Spelling and Grammar Important on a Web Site?

Published on July 14, 2011
Tags: SEO, Usability, Web Design London

An interesting news report this week suggests that poor spelling and grammar on websites is costing internet businesses millions of pounds a week. It seems to be common sense that if you are publishing anything on the internet, you should – at the very least – run it through a spellchecker first to make sure there are no glaring errors. It appears, however, that lots of people fail to do this and it’s having a massive impact on businesses.

A large part of the issue here is about trust: if people are going to part with their hard-earned cash online, they need to feel as though they can trust the website. If there are lots of spelling errors and basic grammar-related mistakes, they might feel as though the site is not particularly professional and is therefore not worthy of their business (this is the point where we frantically read back through this blog post to make sure we’re not guilty of the same sin).

It isn’t just ecommerce sites that are affected, either. It seems fairly safe to say that the vast majority of businesses have websites so they can promote their work and grow their company; even if they’re not directly touting for business online, their website still forms an important part of their marketing portfolio. Plus, as more people turn to the internet to research businesses before they use them in the ‘real’ world, it is more important than ever that websites offer a good first impression.

The source of this news story about the revenue lost by online businesses is Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur. He makes the point that websites have about six seconds to grab someone’s attention, and that sounds about right. Web users can tell extremely quickly whether or not a site is of good quality. The overall look of the website obviously plays a part in this, but so does the quality of the content – if there is a stupid mistake in the headline (other than perhaps in a clearly ironic manner), it’s bound to put people off.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that internet sales in the UK are worth around £527m per week, which demonstrates just how big a business this is. Additionally, an online experiment by Mr Duncombe found that online sales were twice as high once he had corrected an error on a website. This goes to show how much money is being lost thanks to bad spelling.

There is also the potential for websites to be negatively affected in search engine rankings thanks to spelling mistakes and other indicators of poor quality content. We have previously written about the Google Farmer update, which has had the effect of pushing lower quality sites down in the search engine rankings – proving that it’s not enough to just target keywords: quality matters for all sorts of things.

It’s also worth noting that the reputations of businesses are at risk, here. A company could offer a fantastic service, but if it doesn’t sell it properly or it gets something fundamental wrong on its website, it could stop that company’s success in its tracks. Mr Duncombe makes the point that when you sell something on the web, 99% of it is down to the written word.

It’s vital to get it right, especially when you consider that things such as bad spelling and dodgy grammar are traditionally taken as indicators of an online scam. It seems safe to predict that every single person reading this blog will have been the recipient of multiple scam emails that have been riddled with basic written errors. It also seems safe to predict that you will all have immediately deleted the emails as a result (well, we hope so, anyway!). Imagine if people did that with the website of your business, simply because you didn’t proofread it properly or put quite enough thought into the copywriting.

So, don’t let your business’s website lose out because you’ve written “it’s” instead of “its”. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure the content on your site is of a high quality so your readers will trust it and – hopefully – give you their business as a result. They include:

  • Use a spellchecker. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t.

  • Remember your audience. It is fine to write in ‘text speak’ when you’re actually texting, but remember that your website is supposed to be a professional pitch as to why people should use your services. Imagine you’re a customer: would you be convinced by your site? If the answer is ‘no’, then you may have some work to do.

  • Get a copywriter. There’s no shame in admitting you need some assistance to help your website pack a punch for the right reasons. A professional copywriter will be able to make sure there are no grammatical slip-ups on your site and that the content is relevant to your business.

  • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even if you’re confident in your ability to write good copy, don’t post it online without checking it first. You never know when errors might have crept in without you realising.

By Chelsey Evans

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Disclaimer: The contents of these articles are provided for information only and do not constitute advice. We are not liable for any actions that you might take as a result of reading this information, and always recommend that you speak to a qualified professional if in doubt.

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