Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Words of Wisdom

As I was checking out the internet for something (I have no idea how I came upon this website!), I found “how i make a website”. Not only do I like the very simple design, but I also appreciate the words of wisdom that he offers. The site looks effortless – but I now know better! What I appreciate the most about this website is that the designer actually does what he preaches! Let’s have a look.

Lesson 1: ask four questions

1. What do I want to say?
2. Who do I want to say it to?
3. How do I get them to listen?
4. What do I want them to do?

Wisdom: “If the answer to any of these questions is not clear before I start work, I have learned the hard way to put the effort into making them clear – to myself, to anyone I'll be working with and, if I have one, to my client.”

The 4 questions correspond to some of our creative brief questions. I’ve also learned the hard way to take the time to define my audience and what they need to get from a training. If you’re not getting an answer from your boss or client, come up with something and have it reviewed. The training won’t be worth much if you don’t get the audience and objectives right.

Lesson 2: write a tagline

Wisdom: “A good tagline gives you and everyone involved a well defined and focused idea of what the site is about.”

I think that getting the message right in a tagline will help throughout the design process. When in doubt about the design, go back to your tagline (or objectives).

Lesson 3: think about navigation

Wisdom: “Once a site has piqued someone's interest, without thinking about it, they are looking for where to go from there. Make their choices obvious and intuitive.”

More Wisdom: “Whatever that structure might be, all sites have one thing in common: at this point a visitor is theirs to lose.”

In his website, the navigation is clear. There’s a big yellow button for the next lesson; the navigation bar includes “previous” and “next”; the lesson you are in is clearly marked in the heading; and if you want, you can just jump to one of the lessons from the list at the bottom.

Lesson 4: what’s the end game

Here he talks about marketing and the fact that most websites are there to make money. What I like is that he advocated honesty: “Be upfront and plainspoken.”

Wisdom: “Trust is hard to come by on the net. Don’t squander it.”

Lesson 5: site layout and design

1. Know your audience
2. Keep it simple

The designer uses the example of an Italian restaurant throughout his lessons.

Wisdom: “...keep is simple. A little zing can make a site really shine. A lot of zing is at best dead weight.”

Lesson 6: create the home page

All of the design elements should match the home page (i.e. navigation, header, foot, etc.)

Wisdom: He talks about being creative, but cautions: “Cool as something may be, if it's just window dressing, it shouldn't be there.”

Lesson 7: review and edit

The author suggests that once the home page is “done”, to go back to it in a few days with fresh eyes. Get the home page done well before going on with the rest of the site. This is the time to get the home page approved; and to make major changes if that’s what’s required.

Wisdom: “Reconsider everything.”

More wisdom: “Most of the time and effort that goes into creating a website is not in the writing – it's in the rewriting.”

I particularly like this lesson. Even when I think I’m done, a few days away from the project will help me see it clearly again. It’s easy to fall in love with a design (web or learning) but it’s not about love, it’s about getting it right for your audience. A few times I’ve come up with something I really liked and after re-working it, what I really liked ended up not being in the final version. It’s a hard thing to do, but at least what I created got me eventually to the final product – and what was right for the audience.

Lesson 8: add content pages

Wisdom: Have a “Call to Action” that is prominently displayed on each page. In his Italian restaurant example, he includes a button such as “Reserve Online” or “Call us for Reservations”.

If a web page is trying to sell something, then it should be as easy as possible for the client to buy. Somewhere on the site, you have to ask for the sale.

Lesson 9: that should be it

...but probably isn’t. Expect problems, glitches etc. It’s better to correct things early than to perform major surgery later!

Wisdom: “A well made website "programs people" in that it presents visitors open and appealing pathways to an end that benefits all.”

We give our audience a clear path to follow but with other choices if they want.
It’s the same thing for e-learning. Some of our learners will follow the path while others will jump around. The design should be planned out so that both options are possible and feasible.

Other things I like about this website
  • The lessons don’t include images – they are not necessary. What they do include is a tangible example (the Italian restaurant).
  • Font is used to give some visual interest in the page. The font used for the lesson names looks like handwriting from school. It’s also used consistently.
  • The paragraphs are short, the message to the point and the words simple. Just as they should be.

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