Functionality versus Appearance

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Whether furnishing your first apartment or considering Web site development options, display is key.

Imagine setting up the space: the hunt for that elusive little chest of drawers essential for the completion of the kitchen. Perhaps you stumble upon a store that requires you to walk through about 90 percent of its extensive wares before you can purchase the precise object for which you came. No matter.

You wearily escape several hours later with a simple, attractive piece of furniture that seemingly fulfills your needs, some assembly required. Triumphantly, you assemble your purchase. Two weeks later, you discover the face of the top drawer is no longer attached­ — nor shall it ever be.

While you might be able to recover easily from this furniture faux pas, a costly, extensive redesign of your Web site is not quite so reconcilable. The name of the game is functionality versus appearance, friends. If you can’t easily store and retrieve items from the top drawer — no matter whether the face falls off — then the chest loses on both counts anyway.

A Web site might not fall apart quite so easily as a chest of drawers, but remember the structural integrity of the site is essential.

In “Separation: The Web Designer’s Dilemma,” Michael Cohen writes that content and presentation should be considered independently, but “structure cannot be separate from presentation.”

To ensure content is accessible to visitors, organize the site so that the intent is straightforward. The interplay of the links, text and graphics should be conducive to the desired result. For instance, If you want the reader to fill out a form, you should be sure the page layout pushes in that direction. If you want to disseminate information, be sure the reader is drawn to the article and that it is readily accessible.

It doesn’t matter what you plan on storing in the drawers — only that the drawers are able to store the items appropriately. If the face falls off, the drawers are pointless. If the information is too hard to locate, it might as well not be there. Design your Web site so that you are in it to win it.

In an article titled, “Taking Focus off the Website User,” Vineet Thapar points out common user irritants, including “screens that are difficult to follow” and “confusing task flows.”

Again, keep the design simple. Include only necessary elements to minimize loading time and optimize navigability. After all, you want visitors to return!

Snappy, simple design that use elements of style should allow your carefully laid-out structure to shine through and encourage more hits. To increase legibility of your site, pay close attention to the balance of these elements. If possible, test various site designs, measuring the traffic and responses to the content.

Nick Usborne emphasizes the importance of feedback in his article, “Design Choices can Cripple a Website.” Traffic will tell you which elements are more conducive to your objectives and will remove the guesswork when evaluating the efficacy of different designs.

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