Judging the Web
by Ian Doescher
I was recently invited to be a judge in the Polly Bond Awards, which is a series of awards given by the Episcopal Church for distinction in communication. I was asked to judge because I am both a person who works professionally with websites and a person who attends an Episcopal church. Judging the Polly Bond Awards in the category of General Excellence for websites, I had time to sit back and reflect on what I think is most important in a website. As a website project manager for Pivot, I am often too close to the project, too much in the thick of things, to think carefully about what really makes a good website a good website.
As I was judging, the following four factors rose to the forefront, and I offer them here as a reminder of what elements make for the best possible website:
1. The site must be well designed: probably the most important factor when it comes to a website is its design. Is the website attractive? Does it have an overall consistent look and feel, and is that look and feel in keeping with the company’s brand? Are the fonts easy to read, and do they look modern, not old-fashioned or stodgy? Is enough attention being given to white space, so that a visitor’s eye both knows where to look and has a chance to rest? Is there a good mix of text and images, so the site never gets too text-heavy? These are all elements of good design that will make an instant impression on your site visitors, either good or bad.
2. Is the website responsive? I have to admit, I was surprised at the number of websites I reviewed that were neither responsive nor had a mobile version. Responsive design is a must when it comes to website these days. Gone are the days when we could count on website visitors browsing on their computers or laptops. These days, people browse using their phones all the time, and expect your website to be optimized for their screens. If your site is not responsive you are missing out on a major opportunity, to say nothing of a potentially large audience.
3. Particularly when you have a lot of information on your site, the site should have crystal clear navigation. Many of our clients who are redesigning their websites know that their users want to be able to find just about every page of the site from the homepage. This means you need to have a navigation system that is neither overwhelming nor inadequate. Complex navigation can often be made simpler and more user-friendly through the use of detailed drop down menu. These drop downs are a far cry from the drop down menus of old, which offered a simple list of pages. Instead, drop down menus these days can offer a much fuller picture of what one will find in a particular section than used to be the case. Drop down menus may contain images, multiple links, and often extend across the full width of a site rather than just extending below a particular navigation item. As an example, take a look at the drop down menu on the Pivot website, which offers a short introduction to each page that can be found under a given section.
4. Keep the site up-to-date. If you add something like an events section or a news section or a blog to your website, make sure you are prepared to maintain it. On even some of the best websites out there, it’s not uncommon to see a list of upcoming events that is blank or a blog that hasn’t been updated for two months. Adding a section to your website that will be updated frequently is a wonderful way to keep your site fresh and make sure there is always new content. This only works, however, if you can keep up with the original idea. As you think about your website and redesigning it (or maintaining your current site) you may want to make a plan for keeping those elements updated. Maybe this means you add a calendar reminder to your schedule each week reminding you to update the events section or the blog, or find some system of your own. The main point is that nothing makes your site look old like content that is obviously out of date.
These four factors—good design, a responsive site, clear navigation, and keeping things up to date—are the factors that rise to the top for me when looking at any website. If you are thinking of redesigning your site or just reviewing your current site for best practices, start with these four areas. If your site is doing well in these areas, you’re off to a wonderful start. If not, now is your chance! Good luck, and may great web design always be in your favor.