What Do You Mean by Simple Web Design?

I periodically get asked this question about what is simple web design. To me, simple web design means focusing on your customer, client, audience or reader’s needs. The technology  and design of a website are there to provide a vehicle, a way, for your audience to find what they want and need about you, about your product or service, or on a blog – to get to your content. Many websites, instead, jump on the shiny-new-thing bandwagon – “flat design,” “image sliders,” “video” on the home page… whether your business or your customers want, need or respond to it…or not. a hand clicking a computer mou

The Pros and Cons of Shiny New Toy #1 The Slider:

For some business websites a slider (a series of images that move from one image to another like a slideshow at a set interval of time) makes sense – for example an artist’s website. It helps the artist show off a variety of work in an easy way.  But many small business websites don’t really need that functionality, and some viewers find the quickly-changing content a distraction. Either they have not yet finished reading the text on an image before it changes to the next, or they are reading the text of the homepage below it and are distracted by the image at the top changing to something else. Also – some sites with sliders have too many options, the reader, or potential customer, doesn’t know where to click or what to pay attention to. Here is an example of a website I designed for an artist with a slider at the top, here is one without that option – I think they both work and both of the artist’s love their sites.

The Pros and Cons of Shiny New Toy #2 Flat Web Design:

This IS ans example of flat design

This IS ans example of flat design

This became popular as a trend in 2013 and 2014 – icons and graphics on websites began to get “simpler” – more minimalistic, but often colorful. You would think that minimalistic and simple web designs would work well together.  Well, they can, but this design trend has left me kind of…well flat. it seems like most of it goes too far, even making sites look retro or boring – rather than just flat or minimalistic.  Flat design removed much of the fancier shadows and patterns and textures from elements of websites like clickable buttons and widgets. The buttons are still there, but they are simpler, sometimes too simple. In the early days of the internet – making these items more showy – helped people learn to click on them etc. The theory is that this is no longer needed, people know to click or tap things etc, so the design seems to be shifting very far in the opposite direction. Again, I think it has its place, for the right website, or used in moderation – a simple button is great, it doesn’t need a bevel and drop shadow. To me, some of the icons or image representations used

a red shopping cart button

This is a button that is NOT a flat design

in flat design are so abstracted that I don’t “get” what they are referring too, and I’m betting I’m not the only one. To me, both of my examples are at the extreme – too shiny, and too flat. I look for a happy medium somewhere in the middle.

One increasingly frequent example where it does not work for me, is the new symbol on mobile responsive websites to designate the navigation menu – it is a row of four horizontal bars -with no word that says “menu” – and usually no hover over tag either that explains it. I have been showing WordPress theme options to my clients and NONE of them have understood that this is what the symbol means. Over time, it  may catch on, but would it really kill the powers that be to give web/mobile visitors a clue – add the word menu or at least a hover title to help. I am the type of person that clicks things, just to see what happens. But many people don’t. They’ll either see it as a symbol that means nothing to them and will ignore it, thus missing out on a site navigation menu, or they will be annoyed at trying to find what they want on a mobile site and go away and they might not come back. For more on the flat web design trend click this link, or this one for an article in Forbes.

The Pros and Cons of Shiny New Toy #3 Video on the Home Page:

Video has its place as well. The right video, with the right message, can help increase sales, draw your customer a step closer to your business or built trust in you as a service provider. A good short video can help someone decide to hire you over a competitor or choose your product over someone else’s – or it can send them away from your site, before they see all you have to offer. It can also help sell products by showing how your product is used visually – rather than with the written word or a still photo. But, done poorly can slow your site loading times down of your site, can be a distraction (especially with auto-play/sound turned on), and can turn someone off, rather than “on” to your business. Videos need to be short, to the point, have the sound off…until turned on by the viewer (and it needs to show clearly how to turn it on), and may need a transcript below it to help clarify points. Oh, and it should have a pause/play button. There is nothing more annoying that a long sales message that you can’t stop, while you wait to hear the pricing at the end. Most people won’t wait.

Also if you embed a YouTube video on your site, you need to watch out for two things – 1) what ads are popping up on the video – I was planning to share a video on a science advancement on my math tutoring client’s Facebook page, but an inappropriate add popped up. Needless to say, I didn’t share it. 2) After your video plays, YouTube often suggests other videos to be played – you need to consider this. sometimes they will show a competitor’s ad, or a teenager doing something foolish with your product, or something else inappropriate. There is a code you can add at the end of the “embedd” code (the HTML code you copy from YouTube so that you can show the video on your site) that will not show related videos after yours plays.

I think each of these trends can have their places. But to me a simple website design focuses on the needs of my website client’s customers, not on what new bells and whistles I have in my design toolbox. When I design a site, I really try and walk the proverbial mile in the shoes of my customer’s customers. Or to imagine myself sitting next to them at their computer or cell phone while they try find and then navigate my client’s website. What are your design pet peeves, or where do you disagree with me…let me know in the comments.


What can a Small Business Website and/or Blog Do for Me?

2048-abstractI was talking with a new client who says he says he gets at least one, usually several, client prospects a week from his remodeling/contractor website and blog. He was contacting me as his web designer got a day job, and was no longer available to work on his site. He really wants to get some changes done, although he and his wife had figured out some things on WordPress, but they wanted a professional to come in and make some updates.  I still hear so many small business professionals who resist spending the time and money to create a professional website. Why…I think it’s because they just don’t get that it can really benefit their bottom lines, and they it seems hard to do.

When was the last time you looked up a business in the phone book? A long time ago.

  • We go online to search for companies on our computers, tablets or smart phones
  • We ask our friends on social networks or in person
  • We check Yelp or Angie’s List or other directory sites
  • Sometimes we are searching for a type of company that has an office or store near us, or that serves our town
  • Other times we met someone who gave us or we picked up a business card somewhere and we want to know more about them, so we type their website address online….if they have one.

Personally I want to check your website before I call or send an email. I want to see a professional looking site that gives me a clue about how you do business and that you understand your customer’s needs. Or I want to find your business  hours, location, phone number, email; or I want to search and select from your products and buy for retailers. That’s why you need a professional website, and it doesn’t need all the bells and whistles. It just needs to represent your business in a positive light.

What’s all the Fuss about a this Blogging Stuff?

The contractor I mentioned in the first paragraph gets several inquiries a week from his site. He says his blog is what drives most of those inquiries. Blogging about things that are of interest to your customers, helping them solve problems they have, providing them tips, ideas and becoming a resource helps people find you. It brings you up in search engine searches that your customers are doing online. It gives them a feel for how you are to work with, if you are a service biz. There is hubspot.com research – websites with active blogs bring more traffic to your site – that means more potential customers:

  • 61% of global Internet users research products online.
  • 44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine.
  • 46% of people read blogs more than once a day.
  • 57% of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog.
  • B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads per month than those who do not.
  • B2C companies that blog generate 88% more leads per month than those that do not.

Those are compelling statistics. Tip – if you only blog once or twice a month that still helps. 500-600 words – this post is 570 words or so. And there are people out there who can show you how to do it.

And with WordPress, the software that runs this site, it’s not hard to have a professional web site that you can update your self, without knowing any code, and a great blog to help keep the customer leads coming. Let me know if I can help!

Web Design Class for Artists in Philadelphia Suburbs

Bob Deane - websiteI am running a local low-cost web design class for artists at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA (between Springfield and Media, 2 minutes off 476 exit 3 – this is in the Philadelphia suburbs) this winter. It was supposed to start last Wednesday, but we got snowed out. Because of that, another student decided to sign up. So I thought I’d put some info up here and see if anyone else wants to jump in.  The class is $155 ( member discounts available), 6 weeks, Wednesday nights 6:30 – 8:30 pm. The new first class date is Wednesday, January 29, 2014. Hope to see you there! I will also be re-running this class in the spring semester which starts in March. Check the same site above for details and to sign up.

I will walk students through setting up and designing their own simple artist’s website using WordPress.org software on their own domain name. [Read more…]

Useful Web Design Posts

Here is a list of a few useful posts on website design that are good to get you thinking about your own new website, or website revamp.

My two personal maxims of tips about small business website are

  1. Make sure you own your domain name. It can be tedious to walk through that website to buy a domain name, and working with your designer can ease that process. They can do it with you, at the same time you purchase website hosting (where your files are stored on the internet); they can tell you what “upsells” might be worth it – like domain privacy – but don’t get ripped off. Make sure you buy it in your own name. Too many small business owners put this task off on their web designers, and they inturn, register YOUR DOMAIN NAME in their own name. They may say to make it easy on you. Guess what – if it’s in their name – then THEY legally own it. I have heard, both first hand and second hand from small business owners and from tech guys at website domain and hosting companies…that this happens all too often. Some designers then go as far as to withhold the domain name if there is a payment dispute.  I always offer to walk through this with the client on the phone.
  2. Keep track of the various customer numbers, email addresses, passwords and PIN numbers that come with your new website. Or if you’re doing a site revamp, gather that info together and keep it up to date. Less often than the problem above, but still too frequently, a small business loses access to their domain name and or hosting account because they filed to keep track of this items, and/or forgot to pay. Put the payment date on your calendar a month early. If your email address changes, or your office administrator leaves the job, and the email address was theirs, make sure you update the info. Without the customer number, email password and/or PIN – you could be locked out of your business website account.
  3. I’ll get off my soap box now. See the tips below for more interesting stuff about designing your own simple small business website

3 Simple (but Powerful) Website Design Tips for Any Business Owner

This is a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s small business blog by by Brian Casel. He is web designer and author of Design for Conversions.

Successful Art and Artist Websites Do’s and Don’ts How to Build a Website that Works

This blog post lists the dos and don’ts for artist’s websites, but most of the maxim’s here are appropriate to most small businesses. Some of my web design clients are artists, so this is especially of interest for them.

Elements of a Simple Effective Web Design

Make a WebsiteA simple web design gets right to the point. It focuses on the customer’s needs, while still serving the business’s needs. But we need to step into the shoes of the business’s customers when we create a site. Let’s break a site down and looking at the simple elements that need to be there and strip away what doesn’t. So What are the Elements of a Simple Web Site Design?

Simple Design Elements that Help your Customers Choose You

  • A Clean Header
    • Colors matching the business logo and/or that work with the industry or type of business (a logo can be incorporated into the header).
    • For a lawn care company we chose shades of green and grey, for a unique dance company we went with earth tones, for a solar car inventor we selected eco-friendly greens and blues (see my portfolio page).
  • Clear Menu or Navigation Bar
    • Colors matching the logo and header.
    • Colors with enough contrast to make it easy to read the words on the menu.
    • Color that highlights and changes when a reader hovers over a page label/link as a subtle way to say “click here.”
    • Select the navigation text/words to make it clear to readers what they will get when they click a tab in the menu bar.
    • Also use SEO keywords here (see below).*
  • Site colors that match the logo and/or type of business (as above).
    • We generally use two colors and sometimes one other color as an accent. Plus neutrals like black, white and shades of grey in supporting roles or as that third color, as we did on this site.
    • These are used in the site background, header, navigation bar/menu, sidebar and footer, and throughout the site in small touches.
  • One to two fonts or typefaces, on rare occasions a third one used sparingly for emphasis. The font choices should also match the business style or industry/category.
  • Images that support the look, feel and functionality of the site. 
    • For this site, I have searched for images that help illustrate the point, but that also use the site colors – orange mainly, or some yellow and gray.
    • For a fun blogging site called Why Do We Blog, I tried to find images that illustrated the topic, and that used a question mark (I found a really fun  image for the header).
    • Finding images with an overall theme or color can be time consuming, but the main goal is an image that catches the reader’s eye and draws them int the site, and that supports or illustrates the content.

Functional Elements that also Help your Customers Choose You

  • Opportunities to allow your customers to take action. Select those that work for your customers, without cluttering the site. What marketers call Conversion Opportunities, things that get your clients take that next step:
    • E-newsletter signup box
    • Blog sign up box
    • Contact us info/links/box (see more below)
    • Buy now/buy here/sale/discounts etc (optional)
    • Selected sidebar or banner ads (optional)
  • Contact information that is NOT hidden
    • Contact us page link on the menu bar,
    • contact infor/form link in the sidebar, and the footer, possibly in the header.
  • Mobile responsive design. Your site should work on all screen sizes from smart phones and tablets to computers.
  • The right text and the right amount of text
    • Selecting the text of each page, (especially on the home page), even page titles and navigation bar items, so that it balances meeting the business needs with the interests of your clients. Make it customer-centric.
    • A site needs to say who you are, what you do and why should I, the prospective customer, care? There is a marketing term – WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? Keep that in mind when writing for your site.
    • Use subheads, bullets, white space and images to guide your readers down the page. Some people read every word, others skim; breaking text into chunks helps both types of customers.
    • Blog posts are suggested to be 400 to 800 words, with 500 to 600 words being the sweet spot. Some posts up to 1,000 to 1,500 words can work for some readers and for some topics, but are best done sparingly. I cut this post down to under 800 words.
    • *Also keep SEO in mind. Search Engine Optimization is a moving target. On-site text is one part. Select a few key words or phrases that customers use to search for your type of business or product, and weave them into your site, without overdoing it. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and watch your use of jargon are both places to start. More to come on SEO in another post.

As you can see, Keeping It Simple Web Design is not so easy. But it’s actually easier to do than to explain in writing. With experience and guidance, creating a simple website is an effective choice for small businesses.