TECHNOLOGY

Website Design, Always start with a Plan

We all know about it.  Microsoft comes out with a new version of Microsoft Windows and they change everything in the user interface.  Sometimes the changes make the product better.  While other times, it seems as if the product changed just for the sake of change.

Your boss comes up to you and says, “You are being assigned the job to update the FairGo casino login so it can handle mobile devices better”.  You talk with your boss, and then the discussion turns to if you should just change the whole entire website while you are at it.

Before you start throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you need to stop, take a deep breath, and develop a plan.

Step 1: Step away from the computer

It may sound counter-intuitive, but at this point, it is better to use old fashioned pen and paper or even markers and crayons to give color.  If you try to use a computer, you are going to restricted by what the design tool of your design application can do or the restrictions of whatever product you are using.

Step 2: What do you need vs. what do you want

There are some items that are must-haves in any website, and when you leave those important items out, you turn off potential customers (future money).

Home Page

Although at first, this may seem like the page that you should focus your first attention to, but it is actually one of the last items that you will tackle.  When a person writes a book, usually the front cover, back cover, and introduction are the last items that are written.  They are the first items that a future reader of the book will read, but they are the last items that are actually written.  With a website, it is exactly the same.  The Home Page is the last item to be written.

About Page

This is one of the most important items on your website.  The about page needs to answer several important questions.

  1. What is this website about?  Is it an information website?  Does the website sell products?  Does the website sell services?  If it sells services, what physical area does the company serve?
  2. How large is the company?  Is the company operated by one person or is the company a huge international company?  
  3. Can this company meet my needs?  More information will be given about this in the products and services, but the About Page should at least give a general description.  You have a website named Enchanted Learning.  Is it a website about magic (as witchcraft and magical spells) or is it a website about the magic of seeing a child learn something for the very first time?  (It is actually the latter, in case you were wondering.)
  4. Why was the company created?  Did the company founder create the company to help solve a specific problem or need that the founder felt he/she had the experience and knowledge to solve?
  5. What is the mission of the company?   If a company (or a person) does not have a vision, the company (or the person) can work very hard, but go anywhere.  The mission statement also includes the companies values and how they approach running their business.

FAQ Page (Frequently Asked Questions)

These cover the most common questions that people ask. 

  • Return policy
  • Shipping
  • Complaints or compliments submissions
  • Safety of products
  • Testing of products
  • How to use a product
  • How to repair a product
  • How to get replacement parts for the product

The FAQ can give a short answer, and if a long answer is needed (available), a link can be provided for the reader to read the long answer.

Contact Page

This tells a person how to contact somebody.  This is where a person would find information about the company headquarters, individual stores (maps, hours, direction, maybe even major buses that stop in front of the location).

Index Page (my own recommendation)

This is just a list of links to other pages, similar to an index in a book.  Yes, a person can do a search, but sometimes it is easier to just look something up in an index.

Table of Contents (my own recommendation)

This page serves the same purpose as a traditional Table of Contents.  It provides a general overview to the major topics in the website, just as a table of contents in a book provides a major overview of a book.

Other pages that depend on the type of business

After the major pages are done, you need to focus on the other pages that are important, depending on your business.

  • Search results page.  Is the default one for whatever theme you choose good enough or do you want to customize it?
  • A page for an individual item (product or service).  What do you need to include to convince the customer that they should buy your product or service?  Can the customer successfully search for the item beyond typing in its exact title?  
  • Does the item page include everything a customer needs to complete the sale?  Information about taxes (additional charges), shipping and handling, shipping availability, other items that usually go with that product?
  • Check Out Page.  Shopping cart, what payments are accepted, shipping, expected delivery times.

Home Page (Main Page)

This is the page that the customer seems if they access your website by typing in your main url.  If your website is a news website, the exact articles will change as the news changes.  But if your company is not a news website, most likely the information on the home page will stay constant, similar to your storefront and store layout usually staying the same.

Links need to be included to provide quick answers to the most common questions: 

  • How to contact the company 
  • What is the company about
  • Products and services
  • Job openings

Even if your website is an information website, it should be clear from the homepage what information your website specializes in.  Let’s look at the use case of a regular newspaper.  The newspaper contains the following major sections:

  • Featured News
  • US News
  • Commentary (opinions, sometimes called editorials)
  • Politics
  • Health
  • Education
  • Money
  • Faith (Religion)
  • World
  • Fun Stuff (feel good)

Traditional newspapers even included the following:

  • Political cartoons
  • Comics
  • Sales ads (especially the old fashioned Sunday paper)
  • Regular Ads (apartments available, local jobs, buy/sell, etc.)

Depending on if your website is intended to meet a specific physical area or the whole world would depending on if those items are important or not important.

Even if your website is selling a product or service, you might decide to include a news section where you can repost articles about advances in the area of your product or service.  Let’s say you are a plumber.  You know the best tools for the job, because it is your area of expertise. 

So you decide to create a drop shipment store on your website for plumbing products, and maybe even as a special bonus, you include the service of actually teaching somebody how to use that product properly.

Summary

At the end of the day, when you are designing your website or redesigning it, you need to put yourself into the position of different characters.  Are you a plumber looking for a job?  Are you an investor who wants to help build the business?  Is it 1 am and a pipe broke and you need somebody to help right now?  Do you want to redo your bathroom?  Are you wanting to get basic plumber tools as a wedding gift for your friends?  Is your son interested in learning about being a plumber, so you would like the plumber to let your son observe and ask questions while they are replacing the toilet?  

Yes, some of these questions may be the 1 in 100 (or even 1000) customers, but on the other hand, you might be changing somebody’s life.

I remember once, a friend and I were getting our friends a wedding gift.  We got them a carbon monoxide detector.  A strange gift, but my friend insisted it was the right gift.  Go ahead in time 2 years into the future.  This newly married couple moved into their first home, and they set up the carbon monoxide detector.  The next day, the carbon monoxide detector goes off.  The heater in their house had a carbon monoxide leak, but since they had a carbon monoxide detectors, it went off, they became aware of the problem, and got it fixed.  And the couple lived happily ever after.