Perhaps the most basic mistake you can make when it comes to website design is assuming that everyone will use a website in the same way that you do. If you've got this far in life thinking that everyone around you is just like you and likes the same things that you do then it's time for you to start reading.
By the time I had heard this sentiment uttered for the third time this week I was about fit to burst. This week, three people I've met have each tried (and failed) to argue that people don't read websites. What each of these three actually meant was that they, personally, would scan the page for things to click, would not rather have to read a website and that, perhaps instead, they'd prefer to click a big button, see some lovely photographs or watch a whizzy website animation.
Yes, people do actually read websites - you're reading this blog, right? This misconception that I appear to have collided with three times on the trot this week may appear to becoming frustratingly commonplace; yet how common is it really? On reflection, I don't think that I'm seeing an upward trend here because what I think I encountered was simply three types of people who feel their way through the world visually.
Whilst the three people this week were wrong to make the sweeping generalisation that
no-one reads words on a website, their own outlook wasn't in fact wrong. What was actually going on here was that the three people were exhibiting the creative aspects of their personalities and expressing their own personal preferences. 25% of the potential visitors to your website will think like this but, critically, 75% won't.
Everyone feels their way around life differently to you just as everyone will navigate their way around the web differently too. The three people I met this week have preferences that are opposite to mine - I like to read but that doesn't mean that, when it comes to design preferences, I'm right and they're wrong. We can use the study of opposites, proposed by psychologist Carl Jung, to assign a colour label (yellow, red, green, blue) to an individual's preferences. The three people I met this week can be labelled either yellow or red people - what Jung referred to as
Your typical extrovert doesn't like to spend time reading especially when they could be doing something that's more fun or more productive. Extroverted people (yellow & red) are opposite to introverted people (green & blue) that prefer to think about stuff. Now, I'm not suggesting that extroverts don't think and that introverts won't do but that each will have a natural, in-built, automatic preference for one or the other.
One of this week's three extroverts is a photographer, a creative type, someone that is drawn to images which tell a story, pictures that paint a thousand words; photographers don't want to read words that detract from beautiful images and strong sensory messages behind them. Another of this week's three extroverts is a sales person, an achiever, someone that likes a deadline, goals that help them achieve targets and improve performance; sales people don't want to read words that get in the way of the thing they need to click next in order for them to move forward.
By only thinking about what you like to do on a website, you're immediately excluding 75% of your potential audience. Firstly, to have an effective website you have to give people what they want, regardless of what your personal preferences are. Secondly, you need to quickly appreciate that you're not the target user of your website, your customers are - you don't actually use your own website as your customers do. Think of your website as a shop - you'd make significantly less money if you laid the store out as you wanted it rather than laying-out the store to make it as easy as possible for visiting shoppers to effortlessly browse and spend.
Finally, a question for all you extroverts and introverts alike:
Do you think it's just humans that visit your website?
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo! & Bing have developed pieces of software, affectionately called robots, to visit websites and learn what the websites are about. Robots can detect but can't understand pictures so a website that's full of pictures but has no words will secure a very poor search engine ranking. Robots go looking for words but, more importantly, words are what your prospective customers will use to search with.
When it comes to designing your website you must quickly grasp that your own browsing preferences, your own web design likes and dislikes don't really count because you are not who the website exists for. The website is built and exists for your customers, your sales prospects and the search engine robots - if you ignore what they actually want and, instead, produce a vanity website then all you'll be doing is ****ing visitors off and turning business away.
Good point Steve - good to have the reminder that search engines need words. Obvious really.
And of course, everyone is different and looks at things differently/ wants different things from the websites they look at. So you have to build that in to your design.
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Make that four people. I am in the final stages of building a website for an architect, we've filled the website with loads of lovely photographs of properties in Harpenden and have just spent three quarters of an hour putting some pages together to describe the architectural services on offer. Our client's a red extrovert who, having written five pages, cried-out the words "no, don't make me write more Steve, I don't want to have to write any more!".
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Good points raised Steve. Being a 'sunshine yellow' personality - I will not be reading the words! I just want to be able to scan the website for what I need, I probably won't stray too far from page one either, and I need the message to leap out at me otherwise I am bored and I will move on. I am a website clicker - click in and click out almost at the same speed, and if it is not user friendly then I am off immediately. The sunshine yellow personality prefers a visually pleasing site, maybe a quick (quick being key), video or maybe some pictures or graphics etc. The message needs to be obvious, and it needs to be visually pleasing for me to stay on the site. I appreciate that we need words because of google etc, but if I had my way I would strip out most of the words off of my website!,
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