The web is a little bit like the dairy section at the
grocery store—you want to reach into the back of
the cooler for the site design with the best expiration
date. While many clients request websites built for
longevity, it can be tough to capture a timeless quality
in such an ever-changing medium. Tough, but
not impossible. It takes commitment and creativity,
but you can create an online presence that will look
and feel fresh for years to come.
The first step is to plan for the site’s evolution from
the get-go. A completely Flash site, for example,
might be difficult to freshen up, but a Flash banner
or homepage movie on a largely HTML site would
be fairly easy to switch out. Another good tactic,
says Todd Edmonds, creative director at Iron Design, is building in rotating imagery.
A header with a photo that changes daily gives
the illusion of newness to site visitors.
It’s also important to think about how the client
can maintain the site. “Look for a way you can
help encourage constant updating,” says Wil Arndt, a
principal at Mod7. For the digitalfestival
site www.vidfest.com, the firm created a blog
that makes it easy to add informal news and notes.
Edmonds also takes a long-term view by encouraging
clients to budget for yearly site maintenance. “Once
they have the budgets, updates become something for
them to participate in and think about,” he says.
Bucking the trends
When certain design elements or fonts make a
trendy splash, they can become inextricably linked
with the time period when they were popular. Arndt
recommends that creatives arm themselves with a
good understanding of design history and note the
rise and fall of trends. “If you can identify persistent
trends, resist the urge to build them into your
design,” he says. Instead, study projects from the
past 10 to 20 years for timeless design elements.
Jenny Volvovski, a designer for Also, thinks the easiest way to create a
long-living design is by limiting your choices. She
recommends a simple typeface paired with one or
two colors and a simple layout. “Use a structure
that has worked before and repeat it in a different
context,” she says. Edmonds seconds the call for
simplicity and thinks it’s good to avoid navigation in
unusual places. Most users look for navigation elements
along the top or left side of a site.
Ultimately, content is still king, and regular updates
go a long way toward making a site feel fresh. Mod7
creates content management systems (CMS) that
make it easy for clients to swap out information—
and even photos—on their own. While not every
designer has the programming chops to create a
CMS, it’s still a good tool to keep in mind. Consider
partnering with a company that can build these systems
for you, or get your feet wet with open-source
CMS from such sites as www.opensourcecms.com.
Thomas Romer, a senior designer at The Chopping Block, recommends
that every designer bone up on programming—
whether it’s familiarizing yourself with basic
HTML or getting to know ActionScript. “Even if
you don’t end up doing it, it will affect your concepts,”
he says. “You’ll come up with solutions you
didn’t know were possible.” It will also improve
your ability to communicate with programmers and
increase your value as a designer.