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Here's an indispensable source of practical advice and creative inspiration for anyone designing screen-based communications--from the Web to CD-ROM and beyond. From Susan Merritt and Jack Davis, coauthor of the award-winning Photoshop Wow! Book, The Web Design Wow! Book covers the conceptual process, design fundamentals, and interface components; includes over 50 case studies; and features hundreds of full-color samples showcasing some of the most successful and creative interfaces for marketing, education, ...
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Here's an indispensable source of practical advice and creative inspiration for anyone designing screen-based communications--from the Web to CD-ROM and beyond. From Susan Merritt and Jack Davis, coauthor of the award-winning Photoshop Wow! Book, The Web Design Wow! Book covers the conceptual process, design fundamentals, and interface components; includes over 50 case studies; and features hundreds of full-color samples showcasing some of the most successful and creative interfaces for marketing, education, sales, and portfolio presentations.
It pays to know the road
before you start the
trip--especially if you're
the one driving the bus.
WHETHER YOU'RE ABOUT TO EMBARK on designing your own online portfolio or you're leading a client by the hand into the uncharted territory of developing an elaborate corporate Web site, it's good to understand the potential and anticipate the pitfalls before you get very far down the road. On the next 16 pages you'll find a general checklist of possible stages or steps you can follow in designing and producing Web sites and other dynamically interactive communication pieces. Not all stages will apply to all projects, but these pages present the lay of the land so you can intelligently chart your journey--or the journey your clients are paying you to take them on--which can make the difference between taking charge of a project and keeping it on track, or hanging on for dear life as the project careens out of control.
What a Concept!
Just as in print media, the first stage of a Web design project is developing the concept. It's here at the beginning of the project that you have to answer some essential questions: Why is this Web site needed? Who will it need to communicate with? How can the communication be achieved most effectively? What do you want visitors to the site to take away with them? And when should the Web site be done? Is this the time to embark on a big interactive project, or will it take awhile for you or the client to gather the necessary resources or personnel? Once you've answered these questions, you'll be well on your way to arriving at a focused solution.
During the design phase, you'll choose technologies that make sense for the project, based on what you've decided about who the audience is, how best to communicate with them, and what you want them to walk away with. This is also the time for mapping out the organization of the site and figuring out how visitors will navigate it. Storyboards and prototypes can help you make sure your ideas will work. No matter how good a concept you come up with and what kind of whiz-bang technologies you use to support it, if visitors can't figure out how to get to what they want, they'll soon become bored, confused, or frustrated.
The production phase involves assembling the text, images, audio, and navigation elements you planned in the design phase and writing the code to make them work. In other words, "building out" the site--constructing the environment, installing the attractions, stocking the stores, posting directional signs, and turning on the lights. How well you manage the production phase can determine whether your site becomes a successful, welcoming center of design, information, and commerce, or just another stop along the road to somewhere else.
If you want people to come to the virtual concert of information you've designed and produced as your Web site, you'll have to let them know it exists. You can have the most beautiful or eloquent or dynamic or insightful or educational or practical or entertaining center of communication on the Web, and if no one knows it's there, you might as well be singing in the shower. So putting your site on the map and promoting it as a must-see destination is vitally important for every Web project.
Having the resources you
need is half the battle.
And if you don't win this
half, the second half
could get gory.
Time, Money, and Talent
As you begin the work of developing a concept, it's a good idea to take inventory of your resources, and the resources of your client. What do you have available that will help you bring the project in on time, on target, and within budget? This inventory helps answer the "when" question: "Is this an appropriate time to undertake this project?"
Developing a Web site takes some combination of time, money, experience, and expertise. Lacking one or two of these resources, you may find that you can make up the difference by adding more of the others.
Everything about designing and producing an interactive project takes time. There's the time it takes to learn what works on the Web and how to combine it with other interactive media; time to learn how to translate the rules of good design into success on-screen; time to learn the basic tools of site production. If you're starting out with a new client, you'll need time to learn who the audience will be and how to appeal to that audience in this medium. You'll need time to educate your client about what you're doing and how the process works. And you'll need time to experiment. It's important to make sure that both you and your client understand how much development time the Web site is likely to take, how much of your learning time the client will be paying for, and how much of the client's time will be required in addition to the work you'll be doing.
Money and Talent
To some degree, what you and your client lack in time can be made up in money and talent. If you have, or can hire, Web expertise, the job will go faster. And you can be confident that your creative time is being spent on a practical solution, not on risky explorations or reinventing the wheel. It may be worth it to hire subcontractors for programming, animation, and even static Web graphics. Paying for experienced talent is one of the ways to help protect yourself from failing or having to start over. And you're almost certain to learn something from the expert's example, so for the next job you'll have more experience in-house.
To hit the target, you
have to know what it is,
and how to keep yourself
from being distracted
The Communication Challenge
Answering the question "Why is this Web site needed?" is really a two-part endeavor. The first part is targeting the problem you want the Web site to help solve. For instance, does your client's brand lack the name recognition that motivates people to pick the product off the shelf? Is the customer service department overrun with phone calls from people who want information that could easily be delivered online? Is the firm often overstocked with one kind of widget or another?
In identifying the need, it's important to be as specific as possible about what your target is, and to define it in a way that will let you assess whether your best shot is producing a hit or a miss. You may think sales should go up 10% within a month. Or the average wait time in the customer service telephone queue should be cut by a fourth. Or "x" amount of widgets should be cleared out of the warehouse this quarter. The better you are at defining the desired target, the better you'll be at developing a solution that works, and recognizing when it doesn't work. (And the happier both you and your client are likely to be.)
Choosing the Right Delivery Method
The second aspect of the "why" question is "Why the Web?" Eager design firms and their clients sometimes turn to new media for the "cool" factor. But the Web might not be the best arrow for hitting your particular target. Ask yourself whether the Web is the most accessible, most powerful, and most cost-effective way to get the specific results you want from your audience. If not, pull another arrow out of the quiver. For many design problems, the print medium is still the best at hitting the bulls-eye; it's still the most portable and most intuitive. Perhaps a CD-ROM is more appropriate if your message doesn't change and is graphics-intensive, and your audience is clearly identified. But if you need instant access and dynamic interaction, or if each individual customer just needs an individual "page" of information from an encyclopedic database, or if you know that your potential buyers visit the Internet on a regular basis, a Web site is probably part of the perfect solution.
You can't please all of
the people all of the
time. So aim to be wildly
successful with your key
audience, and don't
worry about the rest.
Identifying the Audience
Once you've figured out why you or your client needs a Web site--in other words, you've identified the "itch"--the next step is to figure out who, exactly, you're going to get to "scratch" it. What kinds of individuals make up the group that will buy the overstocked widgets, download the information instead of tying up corporate phone lines, or make your client's brand name a household word?
The Demographics You Need
You need to determine the audience of the Web site that you're targeting (1) so that you can make your design solution as relevant and aesthetically compelling to your particular viewers as possible, and (2) so that you can, with the site's content, work out a trade--a sort of "I'll scratch your back, if you'll scratch mine" proposition. The "scratch" that the Web site will offer its visitors could be anything from useful information to pure entertaining distraction.
To develop the right scratch--not only what to communicate, but how--you must anticipate the visitor's itch. To do that, it pays to have some basic information about these visitors: age, sex, education, and income, for instance. Beyond that, you may also want to know some specifics that will make your message more focused and compelling, such as their hobbies, what other media they use, what Web sites they regularly visit, what print publications they read, and what television programs they watch.
For purely technical reasons that will affect how you produce and deliver the elements that make up your site, you'll also need some practical information about the equipment your audience uses to connect to the Web: What computer platforms, monitor setups, operating systems, and Web browsers do they use? What connection speed is typical when they log on to the Net?
Where To Get the Info
Clients should be able to tell you much of what you need to know about the audience who buys their products or uses their services. If they don't have concrete information it may be time to hire a marketing firm that can perform focus-group testing or develop surveys and questionnaires. For basic demographics on Internet users, try the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center, a Web site of Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing: cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys/.
What specifics will the
visitor remember if
interviewed five minutes
after leaving your site?
And more important,
how will that experience
affect that person's
opinions or actions?
Shaping the Solution
When you understand both what your client wants to "sell" and who is likely to be "buying," you're ready to begin shaping the communication experience that your Web site will provide to visitors. In other words, it's time to begin working on "How?"--How will you present the information so your audience will benefit from it, and how will you provide a call to action that gets them to follow through immediately, either online or off?
Designing the Communication Environment
If your client needs to improve brand awareness, then your strategy will be to ensure that visitors leave the Web site with the knowledge that your client's brand is equal to or better than the competition. A way to accomplish this goal, depending on your audience, may be to create a site that exudes sophistication, or establishes technical expertise, or celebrates its own cutting-edge hipness. On the other hand, if your client sells widgets, and the audience consists of "show me" types, presenting a corporate personality will take a back seat to demonstrating the features, functions, and benefits of the products. For a nonprofit organization, or even for the customer support division of a for-profit business, the environment you design will be different still--one that ensures that the information and resources that your visitors seek are easily accessible. You may want the site to provide downloadable information, link to other useful sites, or encourage visitors to take action offline.
Shaping and Reshaping
You can't just design a site, hand it over to your clients or their Webmasters, and walk away. To be successful, a Web site--more than almost any other kind of communication experience today--requires continual re-evaluation. Built into your site's design should be (1) a way to assess whether you're attracting the audience you want to reach and whether visitors are indeed getting your message and responding to the call to action, and (2) a plan for updating or making any changes that are needed. Your plan should stay focused on the goal and use all available resources to present and support the response (the action you want the user to take, or the opinion you want to foster) as directly as possible.
Once you have the big
picture, it's easy to make
out the details.
Determining the Content
Once you know what the communication landscape of your Web site will look like, you can get down to the architect's job of deciding how to "build it out." You've planned a project that will attract the audience you want to reach, and you've identified generally what you want visitors to take away with them and how you want to call them to action. Now it's time to think about what content you'll need to deliver in order to accomplish those goals, and what will be the best combination of media to use as the delivery system.
The primary message, or content, that you want to deliver online may be almost identical to what's already being delivered by the client in print, or on radio, CD-ROM, or TV, and you may be able to reinforce that message--and also save time and money--by repurposing existing materials in your Web-building plans. But if you take graphics and promotional text from print brochures, sound from a radio spot, or product specifications from a company database, you'll want to reshape this content to take advantage of the Web's opportunities for interaction. For example, you can use hypertext links to "layer" any supporting (but nonessential) content, such as biographies of corporate officers, to a "deeper" part of the site. That way the information will be available to those who are interested, but it won't interrupt the flow of the typical visitor's cruise through the site. Here's another example: Unlike a radio commercial, audio on the Web can be available on demand; the message may actually "stick" longer if the visitor has to take some action--like clicking a button--to request it.
The Other Kind of Content
The client's message isn't the only content that's important to a Web site. Web visitors are certainly not a captive audience. They're never farther than a click away from leaving your online "neighborhood," perhaps never to return. Part of a Web site's content, therefore, has to be designed to give people the added value they seek--to keep them at the site long enough to get the message, or to bring them back for future visits, so you can reinforce the message or update it. In exchange for the time they spend at your site, visitors want information they can apply, tools they can use, beaty they can enjoy, games they can play, "freebies" they can download, or links to other interesting sites they can visit.
Technology Is Not Content
With the need for added value and the constantly changing technology of the Internet, it can be tempting to show off your up-to-the-minute technological prowess by embellishing a web site with bells and whistles. But too many bells and whistles can make a site's content harder to get to. Keep in mind that nothing that you build into the Web experience should dilute or detract from your goal for the site. Any dynamic interaction that you plan into a site--even a site with the biggest budget in Web history-- should always support and reinforce the primary content.
Posted January 3, 2001
This book is all you need. The designs in the book are very professional and have helped me in all of the work I have done on webpages. Before I read this my webpages had too many graphics and were cumbersome, however , since reading this and noticing examples I have designed my pages above anyone's expectations.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2000
The Web Design Wow! Book is very helpful. Not only does it include 4 color pictures of the websites it is referring to, it also breaks down the steps involved in the design and implementation of the site examples. I am a Graphic Designer for an IT company and am always looking for inspirational books on design, specifically web design. So far this is the best I have found.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.