Does Design Matter in Web Development

Last week, I was asked to make a change to the sign up form on the “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” web site. After making this change, I was asked why I took the red bar out of the footer. My response, the change I made  should not have effected the footer.

After digging into the problem, we discovered that the change that had cause the red bar to go away had actually happened 6 days prior. This means that the design was broken for almost a week before anyone noticed. If someone had noticed, it wasn’t important enough for them to contact us. And this is a site that gets fairly regular updates, at least a couple each week.

When people come to us to develop a new web site, the conversation is usually focused on how the home page will look. It seems to me like we should spend a lot more time on content, and less on design. I’d love to work on sites where we talked about the content pages first, and then how that content flows up to the home page, rather than the other way around.

Most of the articles I’ve found (search for web design vs content) say that design is important in that a site should look professional, and should not distract from the content. They also say that content is what usually drives people to your site, and the content on your site is what people want to see.

To be clear, I am not picking on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. web site. I think they do a better job with content than do many of the sites we work with. I especially like their related blog, and that they are using blogs posts as content on their main site. We are trying to duplicate these concepts on a Managing Tough Times web site, which is in the middle of a soft launch, with the hard launch coming in a couple of weeks.

Do your web sites incorporate the right balance between design and content?

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5 comments so far

  1. Shawn on

    Design is indeed very important! I’d say the fact that the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website was broken for a week before anyone noticed is probably related to the site’s visitors thinking someone else would report the issue. I can say with some authority that our customers would certainly let us know if their website was broken.

    • bwebster on

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that design is important to the point that it should not distract from the content. In this case, because it was an element in the footer of the web page that was missing, it didn’t distract from the content. If the missing element would have been the red bar at the top of the page, the content providers would have noticed right away. My point is most people want to spend way too much time on design considerations, and not enough time content.

      As another example, I know of a web site where the author, for an April Fools joke, changed the contact information in the footer to read “Contact Web Empress”. She was planning to change it back when somebody asked her about it. This is for a fairly formal site, where many of the users are internal staff who usually speak up when something is wrong. Not much of an April Fools joke, because it’s going on two years, and nobody has mentioned it yet.

  2. Matt Heerema on

    The design conversation should definitely always flow from the content. Especially for heavily information based sites such as this one.

    I highly recommend the book “The Elements of User Experience”. I have adopted this method of project planning, design, and development to great success.

    • bwebster on

      Matt – You have been right on with previous book suggestions, such as “Web Standards Solutions” and “Don’t Make Me Think”. Because of this, I will definitely look into “The Elements of User Experience”. Thanks.

  3. Lynette Spicer on

    I too will check on this book Matt recommends because I value his opinion pretty darn highly.

    I’ve been trying to think about how do we get all of us who work on new web sites/web pages to think about the work in this context—content really is the driver for design. I think we slow down getting new sites done, we belabor the design and thus we’re slower than necessary in getting information out—well, that’s higher ed anyway. I’d hope commercial enterprises, money-making entities are faster. But I don’t know.


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