Design Defined: What it is and How it Applies to your Website

Design Defined: What it is and How it Applies to your Website

William Morris wallpaper

What are we talking about when we talk about design? Paul Rand (an American graphic designer–best known for designing the logos of ABC, IBM, UPS and more) says,


 

 

Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.

 


 

Design can mean any of the following:

  1. (v.) to indicate with a distinctive mark, sign or name.
  2. (n.) purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object
  3. (v.) to decide upon the look and functioning of an object (typically through a detailed drawing)

And these are only a few of the definitions. Design is simple. Design is complex. Design is a plan of intention. It is the idea before the product. It exists first in the mind and then in the senses. The designer creates an experience. Design (especially web design) refers to both a function and an aesthetic.

Ferninand A. Porsche (German Designer, best known for the Porsche 911) agrees. He says,


 

Design must be functional, and functionality must be translated into visual aesthetics, without any reliance on gimmicks that have to be explained.

 


 

Design can not exist alone as a function, as how something works (though certainly it is that); however, it must also, if we’re doing it “right,” lean toward form–how it looks, feels, etc. And as we live in a time of efficiency, of fast streamlined production, it is important that we not lose the importance of art in design. That we focus on both what it it looks like and how it feels (how it works).

 

Porsche 911
Porsche 911

With a medium so complex and vast as web-design, it might be useful to remember this when formulating an idea for design:


 

Keep nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

 


 

William Morris, British artist, designer, writer in the 1800’s, said this. The same can be said for design. Design combines use and beauty; it is art with a purpose.

A well-designed site allows us to accomplish our intended task online easily and with pleasure. And if pleasure is what we most seek in life (if Freud is right, and I think he might be on this one), it only makes sense as designers, as marketers, as business owners, that we add pleasure into the aspects of function. And why not be a pleasing experience, when after all, 72% of Millennials do online research before buying in store (Forbes). With that much time spent online, we want to have fun doing it.

How do you keep us coming back?

We are impatient creatures, and sensitive to time. So sensitive that if a site takes more than three seconds to load, 40 percent of us will leave the page, making load time the most important factor in site traffic. This is where back-end design comes in–the “how it works.”

Visual design comes in second in importance of maintaining site traffic, specifically color theme. It comes as no surprise that the color we most prefer is the most pervasive color in the natural world: green, with blue not far behind; followed by purple, orange, and yellow (respectively), and then red which actually is aversive, causing sites to lose traffic (-1.35%).

Usage is also affected by layout and whether or not a site uses html (html increases traffic). But perhaps the most important reason to put the effort into building a well-designed site is to maintain the trust of your readers/users. After all, 94% of people cite design (or lack thereof) the reason they do not trust a site.

The Formula

Let’s say a formula for what good design can bring us looks something like this: art with purpose (design) creates a pleasurable experience and trust (increase in site traffic) creates wealth (sales). A win-win-win situation, if you’re asking us. And if you are, we can help you make it happen.

Don’t Burn the Pizza: How to Work Effectively with Creatives and Developers

Don’t Burn the Pizza: How to Work Effectively with Creatives and Developers

A developer and a designer walk into a bar.  The developer complains about the layout of the bar while the designer complains about the style of bar stools and the color scheme.  The bar quickly empties out because no one wants to be around either one of them.

With the joke introduction to this post out of the way, let’s get to the point.  Developers and designers are different breeds that spend the holidays together.  They rely on one another at times but can’t wait for time away from each other.  There are those that claim to be both a developer and a designer, but the greats in either field will only claim to be one or the other.  A great chef will never tell you how to run a restaurant because his priority, his passion is the food.  Just as the best maître d’ would never tell the chef that the gazpacho needs more smoked paprika.

Despite the different roles that developers and designers have, you will always need them if you want to take your website to the next level.  You can’t do their work just like they can’t do yours, so don’t waste time and resources trying to do it yourself.

Before deciding to utilize a developer and/ or a designer, never forget the single most important rule: DO NOT GIVE THEM FREE REIGN.  Giving either one of these professionals the ropes while you take a seat in the back of the wagon will result in a nose dive off a cliff.  Your business, your website belongs to you and you have too much to lose by taking a hands-off approach when hiring developers and designers.  There’s no scientific process that should be used, but there are some fundamentals to follow when the decision has been made to hire out.

Consider the following 4 points:

# 1 Take the time to determine exactly what you need and why you need it.

It’s a basic rule to always follow. Understand the problem so you can define it.  If you don’t know what your problem/need is, how will you know when there is a solution or the correct result is achieved? “Trial and error” is a great method when you’re in school, but this is business.  There’s no time or resources to waste in business.  It, whatever “it” may be, needs to be done correctly the first time.  Whether it’s streamlining your website checkout process, adding additional product pages, or creating a new page layout, you have to be able to explain it in as much detail as possible. Don’t be afraid to load them up with as many examples as you can find.  This will narrow the scope for the developers and designers and will keep them on track and focused on what you ultimately need.

#2 Maintain oversight.

The sacred ritual of cooking pizza requires constant peeps into the oven to ensure even and thorough baking to prevent the dreaded of all nightmares, burnt pizza.  If you use a microwave, I hope you find forgiveness in your life because I have none for you.  Even though you have given your developers and designers a detailed scope of work, you need to request constant updates and schedule reviews to ensure they are on the correct track and haven’t strayed.  Failing to schedule periodic updates and reviews can potentially delay your project and increase the costs of the project.  Of course, it may be challenging to review developers’ and designers’ work given the nature of what they do, so consider outlining ways in the initial work-plan that are to be used to achieve this.  Request sketches, wireframes, and any other work with the necessary explanations to ensure that your project is on track.  By staying in the loop, you can catch mistakes early and avoid getting “burned.”

#3 Keep up clear communication.

Yes, everyone knows the importance of communication, but there are endless reasons why we sometimes fail at it.  Two of the more common reasons are egos and failure to see perspective.  In the first case, there are no simple rules to handling others’ egos.  Some people are able to put their own aside when dealing with a challenging one, but others cannot.  The only advice I can offer is to try to stay focused on the desired goal.  If a man wants to be called a sandwich artist, I’ll do it for an extra slice of cheese even if the only artist I recognize is the one formerly known as Prince.  In my heart I know what an artist is, but I can’t let my ego get in the way of an extra slice of cheese.  Let people have their pedestals and boost them up at times, you’ll get more from them and might be surprised by what they do in return.  As far as understanding perspectives, remind yourself that you don’t know it all.  If you think you do, well, that’s an ego I’m not touching.  Ask questions and try to understand where the developer and/ or designer is coming from if there is a problem.  You’ll be in a better position if you understand both sides of the issue, and your project stands to benefit.

#4 Make harmony between ebony and ivory

If you have brought on a designer and a developer on the same project, you need to follow the above steps three times over.  Make yourself a quasi-project manager, and keep yourself informed with their progression.  The designer-developer relationship is like a hot air balloon.  You have fire, a wicker basket, and you’re dangerously high off the ground.  If you can define the scope of the project, maintain an active review of the project’s progression, and ensure open and clear communication is being utilized on all fronts, then you can avoid a fiery crash back down to the hard, unforgiving ground.

Developers and designers offer value and can be used to bring your website to the next level.  But never forget that it’s your business they are working for and so always remain actively involved in the projects that they’ve been brought on to handle.

To Build a Sturdy House, You Need a Solid Foundation: Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

To Build a Sturdy House, You Need a Solid Foundation: Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

Every home builder knows that good construction starts with a solid foundation. The same holds true for building your online store. Your eCommerce software, or platform, is the hub of your online store.  It is an online manifestation of your business model, so it is important to understand what you are looking for before you start your search. Your eCommerce website is an investment, and like all good investments, it should be well thought-out.


 

 

Before choosing an eCommerce platform, you have to ask yourself three important questions that will put you in the best position to find a cost-effective eCommerce solution.

 


 

What functionality do I NEED?

This is the functionality that you must have in order to run your business. Essentially, if the platform does not have these functions, the software will not work for you.  You should have these ready for your web developer or software provider and let them know the lack of these is a total deal killer.

What functionality would I WANT ?

How much return can you get on your investment? Before dumping money into a product with many features that you may not need, you must make sure you have an idea of how many sales it will take to cover the added cost of that platform and how much the extra features are contributing to the excess cost.

What can I AFFORD?

Now that you have your list ready,  it is time to get a budget together. Your budget must cover the NEEDS for your platform. If reputable developers are telling you that it doesn’t, then you need to revisit your list of NEEDS.  If you have room to play with, then start adding WANTS to your project scope. Last thing to remember,  if you find someone whose quote sounds too good to be true, then it is.  “You get what you pay for” cannot be more true in web development.

There are essentially 3 categories of eCommerce platforms, known as Shopping Carts, available to choose from. It’s important that you know the differences between the three along with the costs and benefits of each so that you can make an informed decision about which to use when building your eCommerce store.


 

Hosted Shopping Carts

Pros: Low Upfront Cost, Low Barrier to Entry, Speed to Market, Automatic Software and Hardware Upgrades, Support

Cons:  Lack of Customization and Features, Higher Long-Term Cost and Monthly Fees

Recommended for:  Businesses with limited budget, time, and a generic business model.

Often referred to as SaaS(Software as a Service), hosted shopping cart software is an ecommerce platform that you essentially lease from your provider.  These, for the most part, are turnkey solutions that provide the easiest and most cost-effective way to get your products on the Web and up and running.  You pay the provider a monthly fee to host your store and maintain/update the software.   The software is hosted on the provider’s servers, and because their software is subscription based they often market to the largest common denominator to maximize their subscriber base.

 The benefit to this approach is that you do not have to worry about managing and upgrading the software and hardware and a lot of popular features already exist on the platform.  The big hosted ecommerce platforms are constantly updating their software and improving their platforms with new features.

There are two major disadvantages to a hosted ecommerce solution.  One, you generally pay more over the long-term, especially if you have a lot of products.  Two because of the largest common denominator approach the hosted platforms often spend their development budget on the most popular features making it difficult for this software to cater to specific need of individual businesses.

Also in most cases, you are unable to customize the software because the hosted solutions are maintained on the server of the provider, and web developers do not have access to the source code to customize the website; recently, this is becoming less of an issue as major hosted partners continue to add hundreds of third-party plugins that accomplish much of the customization you would need.  Examples of popular hosted eCommerce platforms are Big Commerce and Shopify.


Licensed Shopping Cart Software

Pros:  Lower Long Term Cost, Existing Platform and Features, Customization, Existing Plugins, Online Support Communities

Cons: Higher Upfront Cost, Lack of Phone Support, Manual Software Upgrades Often Required

Recommended For: Businesses with reasonable budget and moderate custom requirements

Licensed shopping cart software can range from very simple plugins to your existing CMS like WooCommerce to even more robust, customizable platforms like Presta Shop and Open Cart.   Licensed software can be free “open source” software or software that requires you to purchase a license that may need renewing yearly.  Because you have access to the source code of the platform licensing your shopping cart software allows you to modify your store’s shopping cart to meet your specific needs.  This may be simply modifying existing features or building out a complex integration with third-party solutions.  The cost of implementing licensed ecommerce software is usually more expensive on the front end, but you save the monthly fees of a hosted solution.  If you require detailed customization for your business model but lack the budget to build proprietary software from scratch then licensed software may be the only solution for you.

Licensed software usually requires the user to host his own software.  Depending upon a company’s needs, this hosting can be provided by a third-party hosting provider such as Rackspace or Inmotion hosting.  This ensures that all your data will be backed up properly in a secure location.


Fully Customized Demand-ware

Pro:  Top-to-Bottom Full Customization, Investment in Infrastructure

Cons: Development Cost, Support, Internal IT staff might be necessary

Recommended For:  Enterprise level companies with sufficient budget, companies with a niche business, custom database requirements, resource intensive database and hosting requirements .

Your company may have a specific business model that requires software that has a level of customization that cannot be achieved by merely modifying existing open source platforms.  For example, a website like http://www.timbuk2.com/customizer allows customers to customize back packs on an individual level, down to the last detail.  It would be impossible for an out-of-the-box software to specifically cater to that business model.  In cases like this, the user would need to develop a specific list of requirements that his software would need and work with a web developer to build a custom piece of software that automates his business model.

SEEK & FIND: The Importance of a Search Feature on your online store

SEEK & FIND: The Importance of a Search Feature on your online store

Search feature

There  is no confirmed percentage, but most e-commerce experts will agree that customers browsing a particular online marketplace have a general idea of what they are looking for.  If it’s not a particular item, it’s in a definable realm of products.  The beauty of online shopping is that within moments of realizing that you want something, you can be browsing virtual shelves displaying the exact product you seek.  There’s no having to take a shower, or having to change clothes, or dealing with traffic, or parking, or annoying crowds.

If a customer enters your virtual store, then they most likely understand that you are carrying, or potentially may carry, the item they desire.  But how easily is it for them to find that item?  Is your site easy to navigate? Are your products placed in clear and concise categories? Can they find that velvet turtleneck within three or four clicks?  Of course they can. You did your due diligence, and you understand that to get that item in your customer’s cart, they have to find it first. Your practical and logical navigation features are simply perfect.  So we’re good there.

But not every customer browses online stores the same way. There are people that shop with a precise efficiency and determination. These shoppers take a different approach, and they know exactly what they want. They do their research, and they want to give you their money.  The only catch: they want to use the search tool, and if yours is hard to find or tucked away in a corner they will be a “gone pecan.”  (Southern phrase that translates to something having to do with leaving.)

All online stores should include a search feature.  The feature allows a customer to bypass the stroll down the aisles and go directly to the product or item they are seeking to find.  Your site needs the search tool just as I need my walkman playing Darius Rucker in order to fall asleep at night.  But how obvious is your search tool?  Is it placed in an obvious spot?  Are you using an icon that is easily recognizable?  Will it lead a customer to the right item?

The search feature can sometimes be an eyesore in an otherwise beautifully designed landing page.  Its mundane and common appearance gives it an unoriginal quality that just bothers you.  Too bad, this isn’t about you.  It’s about your customers, and customers will use it, so you have to have it.  An intelligent and creative designer can make it fit.  Regardless of your feelings about the search bar, consider the following three questions when incorporating it into your sight.

Consider the following 3 questions:

# 1 Is it in plain sight or can it be found within a second or two?

The search feature is an integral way for your customers to find the goods that fill up their carts.  This fact should make you drop any qualms you previously held against the “search.”  You should view the feature not as a hindrance but rather a feature as important as the navigation menus you’ve worked so hard on.  Placing it where it can be easily spotted near the top or close to your menu bar will ensure that the customers that intend to use this feature don’t click away because they can’t find it.

#2 Is there text already sitting in the search box?

Some search boxes already have a word or phrase sitting in the box.  The purpose I’m sure is to inform the page visitor that this is where they type what they are searching for.  Although useful, online shopping and surfing the web in general have now become routine activities for most of us.  Don’t waste your customers’ time by forcing them to erase pre-existing text in the search box.  Customers should be able to click in the box and begin typing immediately.  Having to delete words that they did not fill in is annoying, and although it’s trivial, in the big scheme of the shopping process, why allow yourself to be the one store behind the curve?  No major online marketplace does it, so why should you?  “So for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake,” (Chris Farley, Tommy Boy) you should avoid it.

#3 How can customers use your search feature?

This can quickly become a time consuming and drawn out process because it may require adding additional descriptions to your inventory. But because every sale matters, you’ll decide to do it. Some customers may search by SKU number, some by product descriptions, some by obscure references that don’t relate. How have you identified and tagged each product? You’ll want to be sure that no matter how a customer tries to search an item, it finds its way onto the search results. One of the best ways to handle this is to examine a competitor’s site and perform a search for a product using a variety of references. Then do the same to your site. What differences do you encounter? This will not only allow you to analyze a competitor but will also show you some better tags to use for your products or give you other additional ideas.

It is undisputed that a search feature is necessary for all online stores. The only question to ask yourself is which category of online store you fall in: stores utilizing their search feature for their customers’ benefit (and ultimately to boost sales) or online stores that are allowing it to sit under-utilized.