WEB DESIGN -- Design Fundamentals
Beware: Some fundamental aspects of good website design are often lacking on a site!
Newbies and people in a rush to get something done often overlook the basic fundamentals. The following are items that everyone should get right on their website.
SOME GENERAL ISSUES
Contact and Location Information
It is amazing how many websites there are where you cannot find a way to contact someone. What is the point in having a website if you don't want to be contacted? In the case of churches, you absolutely must have a way for someone to contact the church by email and by a listed phone number. On local church and institution websites, it is also imperative that you give clear directions on how people can get to your facility, preferably by using a map supplemented with descriptive street directions for those who may not be good at reading maps. Do not assume that everyone knows you. Someone may be visiting your area from out-of-town, out-of-state/province, or even from out-of-the-country, and wants to attend your church. Make sure that it will be easy for them to get there.
One local church did have on its website a detailed street map of part of the small town where the church was located. Unfortunately there was no formal address displayed on the website, and the detailed street map didn't tell in what state/province the small town was located! If someone is motivated to visit your church and is looking for how to get there, please make sure that your website will give them all the information they need to get there easily and speedily.
If your website is for a ministry or organization, site visitors usually still like to know where your ministry or organization is based, even if you use a mail box for the contact address. Knowing the city or town where you are based gives the site visitor more confindence that you are a real ministry, and not some kind of virtual entity that could be a front for fraud.
Home Page Link
It is amazing that there are some professional-looking websites on the Web don't have a "Home Page" (or "Home") link on their webpages. There is no way to get back to the home page other than by typing the domain name URL back into the browser's address bar and reloading the website. Make sure that every webpage has a link back to the home page.
The home page should give a very positive impression and tell all. There should be no hidden pathways, buried treasure or convoluted structure. The first page of your website should let your visitor in on everything they need to know about your site. This is not to say that everything should be linked to the first page. However the first page should be the road map to the logic, functioning and purpose of your site. Think about this when you go to a hardware store. Every product they have isn't listed on a large board at the front of the store. Instead, you are able to walk in and take a look, find the proper aisles by category, scan for the correct shelf area with similar products, and finally select the actual product you are looking for. Your site should be no different. Within three steps, or clicks, the visitor should have the information they need.
Spelling and Grammar
Proof read and use your spelling checker. Then wait a few days and proof read again. THEN get someone else to proof read it. This is a hard one for some webmasters who may be great "techies", but are not good spellers and make a lot of mistakes when typing. Remember that a webpage is available for the entire world to see. Many of your site visitors could be irritated by spelling mistakes and poor grammar, even to the extent of prematurely clicking away from your site in frustration. It is in your best interest to take a little time and get your spelling and grammar correct. If your denomination administration entity has a particular way of spelling or capitalizing their name, take care to get it right. For example, the correct way to write the formal name of the Adventist denomination is: "Seventh-day Adventist" (not "Seventh-Day Adventist" or "Seventh Day Adventist").
THE BASIC DESIGN
The visual design and the functional design of a website are very important mattera. A poor design, or a clumbersome and inefficient navigation scheme, can make your site anywhere from unusable to barely tolerated. Not a good way for site visitors to be enthusiastic about your church, institution, ministry or message. Here below are some of the most important issues pertaining to visual and functional design:
You Have an Idea
It has been said that, "the lack of money is not an obstacle, but the lack of an idea is." Nowhere is this more relevant than in website design. You can build a pretty good site without spending lots of cash. But if you don't have a clear vision for what your site should look like and how it should function, then when it is built your visitors will be as unclear as you were. They won't know what your site is meant to communicate and will not stick around on it for long before clicking to someone else's website. Without proper planning, your site will be as confusing to your visitor as it will be to you. Begin by simply sketching it out on paper. We know that paper isn't exactly "in" these days, but it is the quickest and most efficient method to quickly examine many of the possibilities for the design of your website. Start with something simple, and then sketch out some alternative designs to enable you to select the one that seems to work the best for you. If you are planning to construct and host the site on a content management system (CMS), the CMS service will most likely have many stock design themes and templates that you can choose from. A stock theme can be selected as a good starting point, and then later the design template can be modified to suit the individual needs of your website.
Try to organize the content on your website into some kind of logical order, which will then determine what topics you place in your navigation and what their sequence will be. Remember that not everything has to be on the main page, which is usually your "home" page. But at least the main page should communicate who you are and give a good indication of what topics are covered on your site, and what kind of information is available for those topics. A problem can arise over time when a website is gradually enlarged. The structure you originally had in place may no longer be functional and is not working as well as it was. That's OK, as it's a good problem to have when you are growing your site. You simply need to meet the challenge of reworking the structure and the navigation of your site. Don't be afraid to dive in now and again and rework something in order to give your site visitor an improved user experience.
Graphics, as we all know, are needed to visually stimulate the brain and help create a clear communication flow. However, Can one have too much graphics incorporated into the design of a website? Design has one purpose: to direct the eye of the reader along a particular path of information communication. Just being pretty isn't enough. Graphics need to be used in a functional manner. Be critical, and ascertain what message the user should get from each webpage. If a graphic or a picture does not enhance the communication of that message, then get rid of that non-useful graphic. Stay away from low-end, cheesy clip art. It looks cheap, and it makes your visitors think that you don’t care enough to build a quality website.
It is wise to use some discernment and some restraint when it come to colors. Try to adopt a consistent color scheme. "Consistent" means that in general your color scheme does not change throughout all the webpages on your site. This consistency of design and color is known as the design "theme" for your website. However, while in general the "theme" should be consistent, there may be some exceptions. For example on local church websites, the one exception might be the kids, youth, or teens sections of the site. You might use a different color scheme on those webpages to attract the attention of the youth and teenagers, and give them a sense that this is "their" special place reserved just for them. This is almost like making a website within a website, and so be consistent when you are in these sections of the site and use their specific colors on all of their webpages.
Remember also to use high contrast colors between the text and background colors. For example don't use pink text on red backgrounds, for it will be difficult to see the text. Be aware that the device and display screen used by a site visitor may not be as sharp as the one you are using, and it is a good idea to be deliberately conservative in your selection of contrasting colors. Also remember there there are many people whose eyesight might not be as good as yours, including the color-blind folks! As a general rule, the body area of a text-intensive webpage is best left with a default "white" background. The default black text on it will then be the easiest to read by all of your site visitors, irrespective of the device used or the eyesight ability of the visitor.
Just because you have 438 fonts, or whatever, available on your computer, it doesn't mean you should use them all! For one, many people may not have all of those fonts loaded on their viewing device. Secondly, a whole assortment of fonts looks horrible! Stick to one or two font faces, and vary the font size, boldness, color and FONT CASE to achieve a contrasting look. By all mean do use italics, but never use underline, as this is reserved for hot links. It is also a good idea to avoid blue font, as this is again best reserved for hot links. You can also vary line height, width and letter spacing in order to gain any additional contrast that you want to achieve in your design. This might mean that you should convert some of the text to graphics to get the look just right. If you are doing something that specific, you probably should use a graphic anyway, as there is sometimes no telling how the browser may render your carefully layed-out text. A browser might end up making a mishmash out of your glorious text-based creation. As a general rule, the best font to use on a webpage is Verdana. This font face was specifically designed by Microsoft for optimal readability on computer screens and webpages. It also avoids ambiguity when visually reading URL's that are typed as text in upper and lower case. For example, this URL typed in Verdana is clear: http://www.NabiIsaiah.com, whereas when typed in Arial font the URL is ambiguous: http://www.NabiIsaiah.com.
A Quick Tip - Don't use Splash Unless it is Very Professionally Done. Splash pages are irritating to many site visitors and everyone hates waiting for them to load. Use your creative energies to make an interactive presentation of the gospel. This is much more useful, and visitors are more likely to return to a site that loads quickly.
Some websites have nifty icons for each area of their website. Sometimes this can be good, and sometimes it can be bad. Make sure your icons make sense. A row of 10 pretty little pictures, but obscure pictures at that, probably might not tell your site visitor what kind of webpage each of them links to. It will be a guessing game for newcomers to the site, and not much fun actually. Text links usually work best, and they don't waste time loading onto the page. If you must use icons, try to put a name onto the icon so your site visitors will know exactly what they are clicking on. Make sure that a descriptive name pops up on mouse rollover of the icon.
Too Much "Cool"
INFORMATION CONTENT (or lack thereof)
Content is King
Why would someone come to visit your website? Mainly because they are looking for something. That something is typically not pretty pictures or a cool JAVA applet. They are looking for information.
LOCAL CHURCH WEBSITES
On a local church website this desired information most likely will be:
When is your worship service?
Where are you located?
What is your phone number?
Who is your pastor?
What is the e-mail address for the pastor?
What does your church believe in?
What kind of worship style to you have?
Do you have children's programs?
Is your church going to be of help to me?
Is your church a place where I will feel welcome?
The site visitor might want to contact someone specific, perhaps for counseling, or prayer, or to report a church facility maintenance need. You should give as much honest and useful information content as you can on your website.
ORGANIZATION OR MINISTRY WEBSITES
If your website is for a ministry or organization, your site visitor will want to know what you do and what kind of specialty services you offer.
The questions in the mind of your site's visitors will most likely be something like this:
Can this organization help me with my need?
What kind of materials do they offer?
Does this ministry function in harmony with the teachings of the Bible?
Who are the founders and leaders of this ministry?
What is their background?
Do the people behind this organization reflect the character of Jesus?
Is this a ministry I would like to be involved in?
Is this a ministry that I can support fanatically?
You website should address the needs and concerns likely to be felt by your targeted site visitor.
Here's a concept that webmasters should not forget:
People will come back if your site has content that is regularly updated. However don't try to compete with the major news websites like the BBC or CNN. Do try to provide quality content that is reasonably updated. With this strategy, you will certainly get repeat Web traffic. A natural source of content for churches is the weekly sermons. This content can be in the form of transcripts of the sermons, or streaming audio and video recordings. Right there you have a consistent source of ever-changing and ORIGINAL content. Post it onto your website!
The big advantage of being online is direct interaction -- the ability of the user to become a part of the environment that has generated the website's information. Your site must have ways for the user to communicate, to download, to view, to play, to create, to compile, to respond, to request. A site with a bunch of information being pushed at the user, with no way for the user to respond, will soon get boring. Giving the user command of his or her world within your cyberspace makes for a much friendlier and interesting environment. A simple chat room with scheduled discussions, a download of detailed information, a portal for streamed media -- all this opens the door for a user to make decisions about your site's content and act on them. Polls that change frequently are another option, and are actually pretty easy to do. Give your site visitor some means of responding to the information and resources that you have placed on the site, and it will be much more likely that they will be motivated to make contact with you and come and visit your church or ministry in person, or be involved in your organization.
White Space is important to create a sense of ease. Incorporate it in your webpage design. Check out Google's home page (http://www.google.com). Do you think that it is more inviting than a very crammed webpage? The world's top Web business seems to think so. If you want to have more of a graphical design to your home page, check out Apple's home page (http://www.apple.com/). Notice how Apple don't cram their webpage with both an overload of graphics and a whole bunch of text information. Keep things simple and well-spaced, and you will give your site visitor a pleasant and appreciated website experience.
Organization Centered vs. User Centered
Try to think about the user when you designing and building your site. What are they coming to your site for? Often times websites are centered around the organization that published them, instead of being centered around the visitor to the site. Try to put yourself in the position of the site visitor who knows nothing about your church or your ministry organization. Think about what they might be looking for when they visit your site. Place on your site the information that they might find interesting and useful. By means of always keeping the needs of the site visitor in mind, and your site will be of much more use to them. Isn't that what your website is for?
Testing Your Website
Test your site on as many different computers and devices as you can. View it with different browsers and different screen setups. Ask friends to bring up the website so they can see what it looks like on their devices, and give you feedback. Ask them about download times, and encourage them to report on their experience. You will learn more about how people want to use your site, and what you will need to do to improve it and meet their expectations.
Accessibility for the Handicapped
Churches should want their message to go to as many people as possible, so don't ignore accessibility issues for handicapped people. How would a blind person "see" your site if they were using a screen reader to audiably read the text to them? How would a deaf person listen to your wonderful online sermons? Can you provide a text-based version of the sermons, even if it is only in a summary form?
Some Inspirational Quotes
Don't be discourage if what is written above seems like a lot of stuff for you to consider. It is, but most of it is fairly straightforward and commonsense if you think about it.
Consider the following two quotes...
"Press on: nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
Above the Fold
"Above the Fold" is a term used in newspaper publishing. It refers to getting the important news printed "above the fold" on the front page of a full-size paper. That is placing the most important stuff in the "headline news" section on the top half of the paper. When applied to websites, "above the fold" refers to the upper portion of a webpage that is visible on a computer screen without having to scroll downwards. One of the problems in designing a website is that every ministry leader in your church or organization probably thinks that their particular area of ministry is the most important. So they all want their ministry to be featured "above the fold" on your home page. How does one prioritize what information is placed in the upper portion of your home page? Wisdom is needed. Avoid cramming too much information on your home page. Look at MSN's home page (http://www.msn.com/). Can you find anything quickly? Most can't. The information is all crammed onto one super-long webpage. Better to use effective navigation to spread your content out over several webpages, each of which is uncluttered and easy to look at. The home page certainly needs to have important stuff on it. However there needs to be a balance in order to produce an attractive design that is also very functional. Your site visitor should find your website to be esthetically attractive, but must also be able to easily find the specific information they are looking for.
For more details on placing optimal contant "above the fold", please see the next design topic "Important Info Above the Fold" .
Primary Author: Bill Aumack