Good Website Design – Why Looking Good Is Never Good Enough

The majority of website designers focus wrongly on designing websites that appeal to their clients. This leads to websites that are poorly designed to serve the needs of the visitor or the client. After years involved in website design and evaluating and optimizing websites, I recently concluded that the vast majority of today’s websites are no better designed now than they were 5 years ago.

Yes, websites designed in the past 5 years certainly look a lot better and have more wow features like impressive effects, stunning graphics and clever videos. But that doesn’t mean as websites they perform any better in satisfying the needs of the visitor or the website owner. In fact very often all these effects, graphics and flash videos while enhancing the visual appeal of the website actually make the website worse in terms of performance. By performance I mean how well the website satisfies the objectives it should have been designed to meet.

When you are looking to have a website designed or redesigned the first thing you need to establish is what are the objectives of the website?

What is the purpose of the website?

Is the purpose to:

1.  Stun visitors with a jaw dropping graphics and effects?
2.  Get good reviews for your website from other website designers?
3.  Inform and educate visitors?
4.  Attract the right visitors interested in what the website has to offer?
5.  Sell products or services?
6.  Capture leads or subscribers?

If you want evidence of the extent to which web designers focus on the visual appeal of a website rather that being fit for a purpose, you only have to look at the dozens of websites that showcase what they consider to be good website designs.

These showcase sites for good website design feature 1,000′s of websites submitted by web designers that get reviewed and voted for largely by their peers, or so it would seem. Examples are siteinspire.net, unmatchedstyle.com, csselite.com, beautiful2.com, webcreme.com, creattica.com, divinecss.com, foliofocus.com, cartfrenzy.com and bestwebgallery.com. Some, but not all of these showcase websites state what they regard as good website design in their submission guidelines.

Unmatchedstyle.com are dedicated to acknowledging those who have made exceptionally gorgeous web sites by employing web standards and good usability practices.

Foliofocus.com is a web design gallery that exists to showcase the best collection of portfolio sites from web and graphic designers, photographers, and other professionals.

Cartfrenzy.com is a design gallery for the most well-designed e-commerce and shopping websites.

Bestwebgallery.com features a wide range of quality design websites (Flash & CSS). They go on to declare what quality design means to them, which is:
Quality Design = Visual + Technical + Creativity
Note here the emphasis is on the visual appearance, technical wiz bangs and the creative merit.

Based on my own experience auditing and evaluating websites and those featured on showcase sites like the ones above, is why I have concluded that web designers focus too much on creating good looking websites that appeal to their peers.

Case Study

As if to prove the point I carried out a detailed case study of a highly rated website featured on unmatchedstyle.com. In choosing the website for this case study I was also looking for the site of a web design firm since that should represent all that’s best in good web design. The site received a 9.1 out of 10 rating for good design from the showcase site and a video review.

Following my detailed case study evaluation of the website I determined the web design quality rating of the home page to be 3.9 out of 10 and the website as a whole was rated 4.2 out of 10. Of course, I used different criteria for my ratings for good quality web design than did the showcase website that gave a rating of 9.1.

For the home page I used a checklist that evaluated 12 categories of design, with 135 elements of page design and for the whole website I used a checklist that evaluated 91 aspects of site design.

Any of the 226 aspects of web design that were not found to be present were also given a severity rating. This severity rating was based on the level of impact the missing aspect had on the design and on the frequency with which it occurred.

The number of aspects on which the web page or website passed combined with the level of severity was used in a formula to determine a rating of good quality web design.

What was clear from this case study is the site used in the study received a high 9.1 rating for good design from the showcase site based on a very different assessment criteria to my own, that gave the site a rating of only 4.2.

So, the question is, which rating for good website design is the right one, a showcase site rating of 9.1 or my rating of 4.2?

Well, that depends on whether you want to base a rating for good web design largely on looking good, or on a detailed assessment of 226 aspects of good web design I expect to find in a well designed website.

Deciding on what is a good website design also depends on whether you want a website that looks good or one that’s designed for a purpose and to satisfy some clearly defined objectives. If you want a website that does more than just look good then you need to look a bit more closely at the design of your website, because just looking good is never good enough, at least not for me.