For a web design to be successful, especially in NYC, it needs to be fast & responsive to do well on mobile, and intuitive so users find what they need quickly.
You may know of a piece of urban legend, called the 5-second rule. The 5-second rule claims that food that falls to the ground is still edible if you pick it up before five seconds pass.
Germs may be more forgiving than mobile users. Mobile users appear to observe the 3-second rule. Their bounce balloons if a page takes over 3 seconds to load, as the Pingdom chart below suggests.
Google reported a few years back a more forgiving number of 4.5 seconds. I would argue both are dated. My personal experience suggests that the widow has continued to narrow.
In a city, like New York City, which has a percentage of heavy mobile users and expectation for instant gratification, a slow site is deadly. Search engines grade your speed as part of your ranking. Therefore, page speed is an important factor in search engine optimization.
The root cause of most speed issues is the content management system (CMS) that you choose for your website.
The technical definition for a content management system (CMS) is “is a computer software program used to manage the creation and modification of digital content.”
In plain English, these are programs such as WordPress and Wix. These programs have three parts.
They have an interface where you design your site or enter content. They have a data warehouse. Finally, they have a builder, commonly called a theme which puts it all together for the browser.
With all these disadvantages, you might ask why someone would choose a CMS. A CMS is user friendly. They are faster to build, easier to maintain, and simpler to update. You do not need to understand coding or even basic HTML or CSS commands to get great looking results.
The key issue with the theme. Every theme carries a set of instructions called cascading style sheets (CSS), which tell the browser how the page should look. It will load your content onto the screen following these instructions.
Every theme has customization options, drop-down menus, animations, and such. Those features are loaded, whether or not you use them. Therefore, most pages have a lot of excess CSS that slow load times down.
Since a CMS stores the images in a different place than the builder and the text, extensive files can significantly affect your load time. If they are large, they can take a long time to load. If they need to be resized because of the ccs rules, that takes time as well.
Websites designed this way are by far the best option for page speed performance. There is no excess code. Almost by definition, a custom site built using best practices will be very light.
Regardless of the theme you choose, you will need to minimize the impact of the excess code. There are basically three options.
For most CMS providers, plug-ins exist to help minimize excess CCS. Some are free. Most are paid subscriptions. They definitely help, but they will not be a fast as a custom build or the following two options.
Accelerated Mobile Pages was specifically to deal with this issue for mobile. AMP is an open-sourced platform, which minimizes the customization options. The news sites are outstanding examples of non-AMP desktop with AMP mobile:
AMP is quick, but has the drawback of double maintenance. You basically have two sites.
Theme optimization also requires a developer. He or she would physically remove the excess code from your theme. This requires significant coding knowledge to do it correctly.
Given AMP and Theme Optimization will probably cost the same as a custom, we usually recommend custom builds.
Mobile has surpassed desktop as the main device used to access the web. This is especially true in large metro areas like New York City. We favor custom designs, but a CMS can work if managed appropriately.
Users expect the same level of user experience (UX) regardless of device. No credible designer should design a site that does not provide this level of performance. This is simply part of good web design development.
If you are building a site from scratch or performing a major upgrade, it is worth evaluating if a customer design is right for you. It removes all the vagaries when using someone else’s theme. You know exactly what you are getting.
There are several very good themes across CMS providers that can provide a seamless UX experience. However, they require some quality control.
Remember the issue of resizing images. If you let the theme do it, it can cost you on performance. Therefore, you will want to be mindful of these pitfalls if you go this route.
You will also want to check if any graphics or images with text are legible when rescaled. You want to serve separate images or avoid them. Both can affect UX.
It is very easy to get caught up in all the design and performance that we lose sight of why people use websites.
A web design company always needs to remember that a website at its most fundamental level is a communication tool. If we fail at communicating, the performance in terms of dwell time, bounce, or conversion will suffer.
When users were asked, “What is the most important factor in the design of a website?”, this is what they said:
Finding the information is nearly eight times more important than appearance. A separate report from the NN Group supports this finding. They showed 60% users left because they could find what they needed.
Communication is an interactive and dynamic ongoing interaction where the meaning, symbols, and environment all play a role in what we absorb.
There are simply so many distractions, especially if you are building web design for NYC.
For a site to be intuitive, there are some basic practices in graphic design that can aid in supporting communication.
The simplest way to think of a layout is using a grid.
There are several basic elements to a grid design. There are columns and flowlines, which make up the basic grid pattern. Flowlines are horizontal and aid reading. Columns are vertical to aid with organization.
Within that grid pattern, there are modules. These are the grid blocks. There are spatial zones, which comprise several blocks. There are markers, headers, and footers that create boundaries.
For web design, the two most commonly used patterns have been column and hierarchical. However, today, the column layout dominates, and therefore, it is the only option worth delving into more detail.
A column pattern comprises up to 9 columns, with at least 1 module per column. The column layout lends itself more easily to responsive designs. It is more mobile-friendly, and therefore, the dominant format.
Using color remains more of an art than a science, even though it has been studied since Isaac Newton and earlier.
The challenge with color is that it is context related. Some colors, such as blue/green, are seen as pleasing when in an environmental setting, but as disgusting when on bread as mold.
Therefore, when selecting a color scheme, it is important to consider the context in which they will view it. Some competitive research into your category will probably provide some insights.
It is a balance between uniqueness and consistency that must be struck. You want to stand out, but you do not want the color to distract from the message.
Tools like the color wheel can help. The color wheel is based on the harmonics of different wavelengths of light. Just like music, some notes sound better together, while others sound like noise.
If you look at the literature on font style and size, you will not find much agreement. The one thing that most studies support is that a font size of 12 or greater provides the greatest legibility. This is important to note as you design for mobile.
According to Best Designs, original graphics are the most successful.
“Original graphics make up 40% of all successful visual content that accomplishes marketing goals, but 43% of marketers struggle with the consistent production of captivating visuals.”
This can be very challenging and time-consuming. It’s not reasonable to create new art every time you create content. But, it is important to use original work when the content is important. This includes video production.
For a great web design in NYC or elsewhere, it should excel in three key areas.
Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting. Over 25 years of business experience as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and small business owner. For more information, please visit my LinkenIn profile
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