There’s no rule about judging websites by their cover. In fact, we have to. With over 25 billion sites floating around the average internet user must judge and judge quickly. Poorly designed sites can waste time, cause waves of frustration, upset aesthetic sensibilities and in extreme cases, lead to severe eye-strain.We might have time to read a book with a boring cover, but we certainly won’t waste time on a site that has an oddly placed navigation bar.
Businesses must have a decent, readable, scannable, and easy-to-use website. If they don’t its the equivalent of passing around a business card with your name spelled wrong. Still, as this cartoon points out, websites can also turn users away by being too glossy, fancy, and well-oiled. These sites are the equivalent of business cards that are over produced, rely on a cute gimmick, and are loudly designed. They are nice, but they risk the chance of not being taken seriously or being mistaken for a throw-away advertisement.
Let’s call it the Web 2.0 disease. It’s the temptation to fill sites with glossy icons, reflective surfaces, tag clouds, and huge, pulsating, RSS buttons. While these design elements can increase traffic, engage readers, and get them coming back–they can also look borrowed, or worse, uncreative.
Businesses striving to look relevant online must constantly adapt to changing technologies, exciting widgets, and new internet aesthetics. Yet, they have to walk a thin line between looking pertinent and looking phony. Internet users can react to a badly pieced together Web 2.0 site and a poorly constructed, Angelfire inspired, website in the same way. The challenge for businesses, especially when they want to maintain an energetic online presence, is to create a site that is both useful and well designed.
Smart businesses will always remember the thesis of their site. They won’t lose focus of what their site needs to do in a sea of Web 2.0 options. They’ll only adopt plugins, widgets, and design elements that they actually use and enjoy on a day to day basis.
Forward thinking businesses will use Web 2.0 tools in creative ways. They will find innovate ways to use Web 2.0 plugins to get their message across. They won’t let catchy icons and stylish design elements dominate the site. Instead, they will want their message take center stage and ensure it translates to all audiences.
Keep your site honest and direct in its mission. Your site users will thank you. They don’t want to scan through a bunch of over-sized Twitter, RSS, and Facebook icons in order to find your company’s blog or contact info that you actually check. People want information and content that can be found easily and is viewable.
Here is a list of some sites that do a great job keeping it simple and direct while still looking relevant: