1. DON’T: Talk about yourself so much.
DO: Listen to your users. What are
they telling you?
How many websites load the home page with
meaningless puffery like “We are the pre-eminent
provider of widget technology in the global widget
marketplace,” and then provide no clue what to
The key lesson here is: The site is not about you,
nor is it to impress your investors or board of directors.
It’s for your visitors’ needs and to serve a particular
business function—to sell, to inform, to connect,
to encourage action. Those should be the bottom-line
metrics for the site’s design and functionality choices.
Visitors come to your site looking to see what
you can do for them. Think like the users; try to
predict what they want to see. To a great extent,
users want to see themselves reflected in the design;
ideally, you should be providing what they want
before they even know they want it. Help users to self-select what type of customer they are, what
kind of product they’re looking for or the type of
decisions they want to make.
Conduct research, surveys and focus groups.
Use web statistics packages and clickstream tracking
to see where people go, and determine if the findings
measure up to your goals. Are those clicks translating
into sales or other measurable actions? If not, refine
the design accordingly.
2. DON’T: Send in Flash to do the job
DO: Use Flash to do what HTML can’t.
Users hate to wait. You don’t want to watch that
little progress bar, only to get a cheesy splash page
that is going to be skipped anyway. Users want to be
in control of the experience and want things to happen
now. Don’t waste time—or test patience.
Flash is a powerful tool—when used appropriately.
When you come up against the limits of what HTML can do, Flash can be really useful. Flash and Flex are
particularly well-suited to building database-driven
single-screen applications. Flash can even be accessible
and standards-compliant nowadays.
When poorly coded or optimized, however,
Flash just slows the experience, breaks web conventions
(like the Back button) and gets in the way
of user interaction. So don’t send in Flash where
XHTML and CSS would be simpler and better.
A smarter strategy is to embed Flash objects—such as slideshows or streaming video—inside standard
XHTML/CSS pages. There are techniques that
custom fonts like a full Flash site while maintaining
the light download size, accessibility and editability
of web pages. If the visitor doesn’t have Flash, the
siFR gracefully degrades to HTML text—useful if you
want your site accessible by mobile browsers, which
often are without Flash.
3. DON’T: Get in the way of visitors, especially
if you’re selling something.
DO: Mark the path clearly and consistently.
A well thought-out site structure and consistent navigation
scheme is one of the keys to user satisfaction.
Having to hunt for a link is annoying, but visitors
become truly irked when they’re directed to a page
they didn’t expect, or get a PDF download instead
Try not to place any more than three links between
any two given pages. Users have a low click threshold;
if they don’t find what they’re looking for within two
to three clicks, they’re going to assume it’s not there.
From your research, you should be able to draw
a complete site map prioritizing visitors’ main interests.
Once the site is mapped, then the navigation
scheme and items for each page should fall into place
relatively easily. Visually, the most important destinations
for users—and also the most obvious ones—should be the primary links. Secondary destinations
such as “About Us” and legalese can be relegated to
rows of smaller links, preferably duplicated at the
very top and bottom of pages.
No matter where visitors end up in the site—most likely not on the front page, if they arrived via
search engine results—they should immediately be
able to get their bearings. This is where techniques
such as breadcrumb trails come in handy. Just as signage
in a public building lets you know what floor
you’re on and what room you’re in, every link on a
page should identify where it is in relation to others.
Highlight links to differentiate them from copy.
This can be accomplished with CSS text-decoration
such as underlines, link color, a background or a
combination of all three. Furthermore, if you’re using
a content management system, highlight and differentiate internal and external links; also PDFs and
Word documents should always be marked as such—both in the link text and with an icon, if possible.
Give your pages relevant and useful titles and
URLs. Nothing says unprofessional like an important
page titled “Adobe GoLive 6.0,” and nothing’s
more useless than a URL like “www.company.com/?=q&pid=0980.” Set your web server or content
management system to write word-based URLs and
titles like “Company.com: Products” or “www.company.com/products.”
4. DON’T: Put visitors through a gauntlet
of endless registration forms.
DO: Be generous. Presume the best. Build
The president of one company was adamant about
making users fill out very long forms. The forms
were so long visitors would be scrolling through at
least three to four screens, with every field mandatory.
All this work was just to have a salesperson
contact visitors, or to be able to download a PDF.
Needless to say, the concept backfired.
People loathe filling out forms. They shouldn’t
have to fill in anything more complicated than name,
phone number, e-mail address and maybe a time
that’s best for a salesperson to call back.
If these prospects become good customers, you
can fill in the information gradually, over time, as
your relationship builds. Presume a measure of trust
and give away your information for free. If you’re
truly the best at something, it will show through.
5. DON’T: Become too attached.
DO: Realize that successful sites change,
grow and adapt.
Every website launch or revamp is a major endeavor
involving many internal and external stakeholders:
Designers work overtime to make sure sites are as
nearly pixel-perfect as possible; copywriters want
everything to be short, memorable and impactful;
managers want things delivered on time and under
budget; the CEO wants the site to be “a little more
blue” because he read an article in an in-flight
magazine about how blue seems more trustworthy—even if the company’s brand colors are brown
It’s easy to get over-invested in a site—both
personally and professionally. Designer Lea Alcantara
(www.lealea.net) relates the following story: “A project
of mine launched recently and to my horror, it
had been horribly mangled. Design altered, HTML
twisted … you name it. After my initial tantrum and
self-righteous indignation, I realized I was falling into
the trap of taking it personally. I was taking ownership
of the project, when I’d already handed off the rights to the client and been paid for it. … Don’t
take it personally, that website isn’t you.”
Everyone involved in a project can feel crestfallen
if a feature they were lobbying for doesn’t
make it into the final design. The important items
to focus on, again, are the business functions and
the users. If you’re doing your job properly and
using tracking tools, then the site should be constantly
evolving and improving anyway. In one year,
if a site is exactly the same as it was at launch, then
something’s wrong. Be prepared to evolve and allow
6. DON’T: Copy successful websites.
DO: Emulate successful websites.
Clueless individuals will often look at a competitor’s
website and then ask the team to create something
“just like that.” Well, if your site looks just like
everyone else’s, how are you to differentiate yourself?
Some people assume that since the code and
images that make up a website are accessible, they
are free for the taking. They’re not; if you do this, it’s
stealing. Not only will you earn the opprobrium of
the entire web-making community—you could face
penalties under copyright law. Some people are brazenly
stupid enough to leave the original site’s page
titles, copyright notices, links and code comments
still in place. Trust me, web designers notice when
another site is hotlinking our images, and we quite
enjoy replacing them with something rude in order
to teach the perpetrators a lesson.
Take good websites as a source of inspiration—a starting point for your exploration, not as ends
in themselves. It is always OK to emulate good
design practices, but ultimately the site must reflect
7. DON’T: Presume that since it looks
good on your computer, it’ll be fine.
DO: Test, test, test and test again,
This should be a no-brainer, but either through
laziness, ignorance or deadline pressures, sites often don’t get tested across multiple browsers and
platforms. You should be testing on Windows and
Mac, and across Internet Explorer, Firefox and
Safari … at least. Look into solutions like Virtual
PC, VMWare and Parallels so you can test pages
in older versions of the operating systems or older
browsers. There are also web-based solutions like
Browsercam that provide rendered screenshots for
you if this is not an option.
8. DON’T: Make it a monologue.
DO: Make it a destination.
Give users a clear and obvious method of contacting
you—via direct e-mail link or a response form.
When they send you something, even hate mail, recognize
it’s an opportunity for human contact. It’s a
gift: Value it as such, not as an annoyance. Your system
can auto-acknowledge incoming messages with
a reply first, but then a live human being should
respond to the question—thoughtfully—as soon as
possible. Really want to surprise and delight users?
Pick up the phone and call them instead.
If a weblog suits your organizational style, it’s
another pathway to conversations with customers,
and a way to position yourself as a thought leader.
Consider hiring a full-time blogger to do this—unless you’re a start-up or already known well as a
blogger or author.
Forums are a greatly underrated feature. Forums
encourage user-to-user conversations, foster communities
and help with problem solving. Sure, occasionally
the posts can seem like a parade of people who
can’t be bothered to read the manual, but even negative
feedback is a gift of free market research.
Some companies fear uncontrolled conversations
about them and their products. But think
about it this way: If others are going to be talking
about you anyway, why not host that discussion?
Become involved, answer questions and engage your
community of users. Forum discussions end up in
search results—and communities become web destinations.
Associating this with your organization is a