Balancing Design, Usability and Conversion

We’ve all seen those websites; the ones where we just have to tell the person next to us, “Hey, look at this!” Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the ones where we have to show our neighbor the virtual disaster we just found simply out of disbelief. Or maybe we’ve had to ask for help because we can’t find what we’re looking for. Okay, maybe not all of us, but as a web designer, that’s the world I live and work in. In this world is the constant balancing act between design and usability, and it all started with the wheel.

Yeah, I said wheel. Trust me, it relates.

If you’re re-designing a car, would you start with the wheels? Probably not, because they work. They’re round, they roll, they serve their function pretty well. So that gives you a nice solid foundation to build on, and you’re practically guaranteed this car is going to roll somewhere.

Returning to the world of web design, we have to keep in mind the “wheels” of a website. People have become accustomed to certain structural elements of a website and their locations. For example, users expect to see a logo or some sort of brand identity at the top left of the page, which is logical. This is where we’re trained to look when we start reading a page.

They also expect to find navigational elements around the edges of the page, typically near the top or left side. This is a very broad, generic definition of my website wheel. It could even include color schemes, typefaces and sizes that are easy on the eyes, well-defined and well-displayed calls to action, and minimizing the amount of work your user has to do in order to contact you (if that’s your goal). If you start messing with the wheel, things aren’t going to roll along as smoothly. Your driver may become confused and decide to leave, or they might misinterpret your creativity as a lack of professionalism, or worse, a lack of integrity.

I’m not shooting down innovation at all. I have seen some very well-done and user-friendly re-inventions of the website wheel. But in each of these instances the design was appropriate when considering the target audience. We probably don’t want to go hiding our navigational elements under images of nesting chickens if we’re trying to sell bird seed to someone running a chicken business. But if we’re targeting a specific audience with a website for a children’s book (I guess it would be about chickens, right?), then that sort of interaction might be more appropriate.

It’s vital to hold the user experience above personal tastes and and trends, but still make it well-designed and visually engaging. The key is balance. That’s how we can give ourselves the best possible chance to turn visitors into customers.

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