There’s two way corporates see design, and I’ve been through both sides in my short career in DBS. The first is that design is an extravagant waste of money better spent developing more features, which is the reason why internal IT systems look more like Craigslist than Gumtree. On the other side of the fence, design seen as critical to the usability of a system. Without it, user adoption would be severely limited, which is a very pertinent point in building public-facing sites.
I like to use Craigslist as an example. It’s ugly but extremely effective and efficient. Pages load in a hundred milliseconds, a big plus for SEO. Users know what they’re searching for, and Craigslist makes it easy for them to find it. A huge and continually chorus of users and designers are heralding the rise of video as the next big thing in web design. Craigslist has to proven to be resilient to progress in multimedia technology nevertheless.
Closer to home, the granddaddy of property listing websites, Propertyguru, is still going strong after a decade. They’ve recently updated their interface to reflect changing consumer needs and modern web design styles, but it’s always been the old list view for a long time. Even so, they’ve constantly beaten STProperty and young trendy upstart 99.co in visitorship and search ranking – of course much of it also due to their savvy digital marketing strategies and large user base of agents.
In many organisations, many internal IT systems are comparable to the loveable giant Shrek - huge and ugly to see and use, but dependable and capable when it comes to getting the job done. In today's complex processes with multiple dependencies, IT project managers rightfully choose to invest the limited budget in increasing the technical capabilities and functions of a custom-built system, rather than dressing it up for the benefit of a small population of users (who would demand regular training anyway, so why bother eh?)
But these examples where function trumps design are the exception rather than the norm. Without a rabid fanbase (comic book forums, Stackoverflow, the infamous Sammyboy etc) or a truly functional site (w3schools, CPF website), poorly designed websites see much traffic. Take Facebook for example. One of the world’s highest visited sites, it has to constantly roll out new functional and aesthetic changes, which are usually panned by the online community (because someone couldn’t find understand Reactions, or the poke button has disappeared etc). But after weeks or months, users grudgingly embrace the change as they adapt to the interface and understand its intended benefits to the user experience.
This leads to user interface (UI) versus user experience (UX). The image below usually expresses the difference in their definition, but both are equally important. Ideally, good UI should lead to good UX, which is a holy grail every web designer aspires to. With videos touted as the next big thing in design, I’m not so sure actually. Remember the auto-playing music that loads up when we visited certain websites back in the 90s? Yeah, that was a bad experience, even though the UI was considered pretty back then.
To be clear, I’m no expert in web design. I’m fortunate that pretty websites can now be built using templates, so not much design or coding skills are needed. But everyone who has anything to do with online marketing, development or anything in between should know a bit about design, at least to optimize webpages for search engines and also not disgust first-time visitors. A few key pointers still relevant today:
Fast page load times
Remember loading pages over a 56kbps modem? Yeah, user hate that lag time, as does the Google Search crawler. Try to search for flights using the ITC travel website, and then try it on Google flights. Both are powered by the same servers, owned by the same company, and yet one is way better than other. Doesn’t take much to figure this out.
Google is still numero uno in search, despite the best efforts of Yahoo and Bing. In an era of content content content, Google steadfastly refuses to out news tickers, lifestyle news, ads, mail etc on their homepage, which sees millions of hits a minute. Instead we just see a search field and a button to submit the query. This works. Yahoo still hasn’t figured this out yet apparently.
Don’t make users think
Online users browse. Scroll. Browse. Giggle once in a while. They come to a page that says “We optimize a new generation of floral-inspired technologists.” What is this? Don’t know, don’t care. Scroll on.
As succinctly as possible, tell the users what the website does, and how it benefits them. But only as much as required. Trim the fat until it’s a lean, efficient message, and blast it right above the fold so users see it upfront (and also shows up in link previews on social media sites). Try to design for a lazy user – no matter how good a product is, first impression matters. Superficiality matters.
In the same light as the point above, “Learn about our business” says a lot less than “Sign up for a seller account” or “Join our newsletter”. Short concise phrases can be broken up further with different colour, font sizes or highlights to emphasize important points. The 5Ws and 1H does work, even in today’s meme-hungry content culture.
There’s loads more tips, and this is just scratching the surface of an entire discipline. My final tip would be to learn a bit about HTML. Enough just to understand and not fear it. It’s future, whether we like it or not.
About this blog
Mostly startup and tech stuff. An occasional rant or two. Travel-related articles are published on my other blog.