Features & Fads
The Internet has seen a lot of fads come and go; and the ingenuity of developers is such that whenever someone has a new idea, somebody will find a way to implement it. That doesn’t mean that the ideas are always good—just that they’re possible.
When it comes to deciding which design features to include in a website, what clients most need to keep in mind is that their message is paramount. Anything that serves to promote that message effectively is a good idea; anything that gets in the way isn’t.
One of the best examples is the recent fad for image sliders. You’ve probably seen these, although you might know them by a different term: slideshow, for instance, or carousel. Instead of a single image, a succession of images occupy the space in turn. The transitions between images can take a number of different forms, including some pretty complex ones that leave you wondering, “How did they do that?” But unless “how did they do that?” is the message of your website, you’ve already compromised your marketing, because your visitors are concentrating on an effect rather than on your message.
Sliders are popular among designers; they’re far less popular among the public. Mostly, the reason is a phenomenon dubbed “banner blindness”: we’ve been conditioned to expect that anything we see moving on a website is an ad, so we ignore it. That, unfortunately, also goes for any kind of motion graphic that isn’t an ad. And some people simply don’t like motion graphics at all, considering them distracting.
Either way, though, sliders can work against your intentions, even when people do notice them. Let’s say you have four messages you want to deliver (products, services, events, or a mix of any or all of these), and can’t decide which of them is most important. So you decide to make four different slides, and let them rotate at the top of the home page. And let’s say the display time is set for each one at six seconds. A visitor comes to your website; and in five seconds he locates the page he wants in your navigation and clicks away from the home page. That means he’s only seen one of your important messages; the other three never get a chance to display.
In the past, Asheville Design Works has produced websites with sliders. We will probably do so in the future; but we recommend that they should be used only as “eye candy,” and never for an important part of your marketing message. Whatever is the most important idea you’re trying to put across should always be visible on the page.
Web video is an example of a fad that outgrew its fad status and proved its worth. Having a well-produced, high-quality video on your site is among the best ways to get a message across: videos are popular, and combining images with sound is an effective way to make your message memorable. But there is one web video practice that’s almost universally condemned by the public, yet continues to haunt the Internet: autoplay.
Surveys show that a significant majority of the public (along with Google) doesn’t like videos that start automatically. Usually it’s not even the motion that bothers people, but the sound (especially when surfing at work!). The solution is simple: don’t set videos to start automatically. Allow visitors to decide to watch them or not. Just make sure to provide them with an adequate description of the video that serves as an effective call-to-action.
A completely different animal is the video background. Some experts caution that video backgrounds are only useful in limited situations, while others decry their use altogether, claiming they’re ineffective at best and harmful at worst. One thing that clients need to keep in mind is that humans are hard-wired to notice movement; almost nothing else attracts our attention better. If the video is your message, it can be effective; if it simply serves as the backdrop for your message, it’s a distraction. Worse than that, it’s a distraction that increases load times—and data charges for your visitors using phones.
In general, when deciding upon a feature of a web design, the best question to ask is, “Does it deliver your message, or just get in its way?”
There are two protocols for connecting to a website: http and https. The latter denotes a secure connection, where information flowing in either direction is encrypted. That’s important if you’re operating an e-commerce site, or one that solicits sensitive information such as credit card or social security numbers. If you have a simple brochure site that doesn’t collect such information, http is good enough for you.
Except that Google doesn’t think so. More and more sites are going to https, increasing the security of the Web overall, and Google is encouraging that practice by deciding to give extra weight in its search rankings to sites that offer secure connections. For that reason alone, it’s probably worth the small extra expense to acquire a security certificate and secure hosting for your site. This is something that is usually handled by either your designer or web hosting service: you don’t necessarily need to understand the procedure, just ask for it.