Approaching Design: a Primer on Goal Focused Web Design

In the early stages of my fledgling career as a freelance web designer I approached design, like a rookie in the cockpit of a fighter jet trying to out loop-de-loo the Iceman, with sheer gusto towards making a site look great. If I was building a blog, I would add all of the common features of a blog — archives, categories, etc. — with no thought to whether they would be used, but simply that they were available, so we should add them, correct?

As the years went on though and I honed my skills down like an Irish Bee tattoo on a drunken gutter punks arm, I learned that design is actually very little about making things look pretty. It’s a definite bonus to have the natural talent to be able to visually recognize what looks good and what doesn’t, and to create the latter vs. the former, however the eye candy your site produces is less important by far that how well your site actually works. For most of it’s existence, Google’s homepage had no real “design” at all, but was utilitarian and easy to get to what you wanted. It’s now the biggest player on the Internet market (after the collective porn industry and arguably up against Facebook’s soon to be domination of all things on the Web).

I have thusly turned my approach to web design wholly to having every page on a site have a primary goal, with possibly secondary and maybe tertiary goals including in less prominent ways. This doesn’t always apply to Web Apps, but for most informational sites, every Web page should be designed with getting the user to perform a specific action. Do you want them to buy something? Make that clear, though subtlety with advertising / getting people to purchase can often be more direct than standard in your face approaches. Do you want them to leave a comment on your blog after reading the article? Provide the ease of use and incentive for them to do so. Do you want them to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and send it to your kid at school because you forgot to pack his lunch and/or send him with any lunch money? Well, you could design and build a website for that, but really, a better idea would probably be just to call up his mom rather than send her a link. Moms like the informality of their babydaddies calling on the phone.

So the next time you’re sitting down with your Web Designer and asking him to make changes, to move things around, to enlarge a font or change the color of an image, ask yourself “How will this specifically help the site?”

If you don’t have an answer, and you have a good Web Designer, you might want to double back and consider whether or not your personal preferences are going to be worth the possible hit to your traffic they might produce.

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