Bungle and Zippy Were Right rainbow

This week, a friendly colleague sent me links to what he thought might be two new competitors for us. I admit it’s been some time since I did any market research on what the competitors are doing by way of training. So, in a few minutes of waiting for something else to happen online, I thought I’d quickly check them out and put them in the to-do list for perusing later.

Ditch the Dullness

I read the first page and was immediately appalled by the dull language used, the missing commas and the stock photography. It looked like the type of template style site that inhabitants of The Office office might appreciate. “Come on, competitors!” I thought. “Can’t we do better than black and white typical, corporate photography – showing a typical corporate training shot – from a typical, corporate (oooo, that word makes me shiver!) CD purchased online?” And, then, “Isn’t there something more gripping to write about than ‘business strategy’ or ‘people development paradigms’!?” Please.

Recently I’ve been dipping my toes into website design. (And, all the purists may laugh uproariously. :P) Now, lest I be accused of being a ridiculous amateur (and I am) and incase anyone actually asks me what on earth I think I’m talking about, I have to say that I’m no programmer, designer or developer. However, this website – while it has served its usefulness up until a few months ago – is not up to scratch. And, I intend to redesign it, probably using a highly customisable template from WordPress, or some such.

The Devil Isn’t In The Detail

The answer has to be clear space around the text. My professional background includes a stint as a Technical Writer, though I have always written my own training materials and presentations anyway. And, being the perfectionist freak that I am, no-one else can do it as well as me (when it’s for me). So, I appreciate clear space. As a Technical Writer, you learn that clear space in user documentation is nearly as important as how and what you write. You learn to craft delightfully stark heading styles, to highlight when a new section is starting and to help the reader’s eyes to navigate fluidly. You become insanely fond of page and section breaks, thus creating even more white space. So, website designers. Take a leaf out of webdistortion’s blog (lots of white blue space) and don’t worry about filling up every tiny bit of screen. We just can’t process it all.

Paint-the-Whole-World-With-a… Rainbow

The answer also includes bright blocks of colour, or at least highly contrasting shades. Incidentally, this also makes user documentation stand out. The more screenshots the better (within reason) from the user’s point of view. Blocks of colour help to define topics, areas, sections without needing to be announced or labelled. (Bungle and Zippy were two characters of the 1970’s children’s programme, Rainbow. I give away my era, surely.)

Size Does Matter

And, guys, pay attention to font. Go to I Love Typography if inspiration is thin on the ground. Font makes or breaks documentation, and it certainly makes or breaks a website. On this website, you’ll get suggestions for what font to use in what context and pointers on when to use Serif or Sans Serif font styles. And, think of your average company executive, aged 58, struggling to read something that is most definately point size 10 but most definately designed to put her off reading further than your blog post heading. Yes, you can increase the view in some browsers, but on some you can’t and it messes up the rest of the page in any case. So, for pity’s sake (and even for those of us with perfect vision) pump up the font size. Bigger is better.

Strike Your Pose

Can I remind you how much I hate stock photography? Or stock anything. It’s boring, it’s dull, it’s samey, it’s not cool, it’s flat, it’s probably on a million other websites out there. Get out your camera and start shooting like icedcoffee. I’m not sure if he’s a professional photographer or not. Point is, he’s taking original shots. And, you’ll find those on no-one else’s blog but his. If you want to make use of shots that others take (or start sharing your own), then get down to Flickr. (There are rules about using other people’s stuff, so make sure you read and digest them.) There are many other places online where you can get original photos, go Google them.

OK, The Devil Is In the Detail

I’m talking about spelling. I’m talking about prose that doesn’t make me want to ring you up and offer to re-write it for the price of a Double-Dip Swizzel Stick (and, yes, I have done something like that). I’m talking about words that tell me who you are and what your business stands for – what used to be called your USP. I’m talking about something that I’d find nowhere else online. I’m talking about links that work. I’m talking about pages that load. I’m talking about not finding last decade’s news still on the front page of your no-longer-used forum. Get it?

OK, enough. I’m not a designer OK. I’m not even trying. I’ve just had a few wee ideas on what makes a good site, purely from the viewpoint of the user. This is not an exhaustive list (as if). It’s not meant to be. For example, I could have talked about straightforward, obvious navigation, but didn’t, though that’s important too.

Add your ideas in a comment. I’d love to hear what real designers think.