Principle 6: Avoid Fads
Web design has evolved from simple text to advanced multimedia and is poised for a wealth of new possibilities. As with anything concerning aesthetics or style, what's "hot" today will become tomorrow's "tacky." Unfortunately, some Web designers tend to grab onto the hottest new trend, despite its relevance or need.
Why does this happen? The answer is ego. Many design firms do not design for the customer. They design for themselves and their competitors, to say "look what we can do."
A great example of fad is the loathsome animated Flash home page introduction. Very few customers come to a site to watch these ridiculous commercials. They come for information or to conduct a transaction. A Flash intro falls directly in conflict with their goals.
If anything, the leaner years of the dot-com era are forcing companies to do more with less. Simple fixes to navigation can make a big impact on business. As Web-design expert, Jakob Nielsen, reminds us: "The opportunity cost is high from focusing attention on a fad instead of spending the time, money, and management bandwidth on improving basic customer service and usability."8
Appropriate graphic design
Graphic design works best when it is appropriate to the customer's goals. In this chapter we have described the elements that add up to an appropriate commerce experience: speed, ease of use, personalization, branding, and consistency. But these parameters merely begin to define the level of graphic depth that is appropriate to the experience.
Mark Hurst, founder and president of Creative Good, is widely credited for popularizing the term "customer experience" and the methodology around it.
Hurst says that it is the experience itself that defines the level of graphic design: "At a banking site, for example, what customer wants to be slowed down by flashy graphics, no matter how Ôcompelling'? Sites at which customers want to conduct bland transactions as quickly as possible will naturally become visually bland and fast and easy! And sites where customers want a more visual experience should and will become more visually compelling."9
The balance of form versus function in Web design was best described by Jeffrey Veen in his 1997 book HotWired Style: Principles of Building Smart Web Sites. Veen makes the point that all Web sites fall somewhere on a spectrum, with structure on one end and presentation on the other (See Fig. 2.13). Highly structured sites focus on pure functionality and information. Sites concerned with presentation focus on style and appearance.
The same holds true for commerce. Banking sites, like Ameritrade or Schwab, are on one end. Catalog sites, like Pottery Barn or JCrew, are on the other. Most fall in between, like Amazon. In Fig. 2.13, we have overlaid the impact of commerce inventory on Veen's spectrum. It's more difficult to have a graphicintensive design if you have 100,000 products. But if you have only a hundred products, the level of graphic intensity can be high.
figure 2.13: the design continuum
The balance of form vs. function in web design was best described by Jeffrey Veen in his book HotWired Style. Here, we have overlayed the relationship of inventory.
Keeping your design appropriate to your visitor's needs is an excellent jumping off point for entering the first phase of building a commerce Web site: information design. During the information-design phase, you will develop a thorough understanding of your customer, their product inventory and the technology that will be used to build the site.