5 Tactics for Better Web Designs

Time and again, I’ve seen web designers overlook several key principles. It’s seldom a person’s creative skills that hold them back—many of them are creating original works of art. While it’s a great goal to produce fresh and beautiful designs, you can’t forget the fundamental concepts that make the web work. The work that captures the most attention is not only stunningly beautiful but incredibly functional. If you incorporate these web design tactics into your process, you’ll achieve better results.

(Which begs the question: What results are we shooting for? I’m talking about web designs that make our clients love us because the projects solve their business problems and have a positive impact on their bottom line. Better results for the client also means improving your own bottom line.)

Tactic #1: Measure it.
How can we even begin to talk about how to improve results if we aren’t measuring them? The more attention you pay to the analytics for the sites you produce, the better in tune you’ll be with real-world results. When you’re asked to design a website, you may not be involved in its development and launch, and you may not get any info about the site’s performance after it goes live. So I encourage you to ask for access to the stats service the client uses.

Site analytics give you important information about the site you’ve designed. For example, you’ll find out if that fancy contact form you created for the client is working. Traffic data will tell you how many people sign up for the client’s mailing list, so you can tweak the page to improve response. If you aren’t paying attention to the stats, you aren’t paying attention to the results.

Tactic #2: Focus on usability.
This is the most overlooked aspect of web design. I’ve encountered so many design comps that completely neglected to consider how the end product will function—and how end users will react. When you consider how the site will be used, you may find that some of those creative ideas you had don’t make much sense. Even if it makes the page look prettier in Photoshop, putting the main navigation at the bottom of the page is never a smart option.

For the ultimate primer on usability, pick up a copy of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think.”

Tactic #3: Improve planning.
If we want our websites to function better, we have to reconsider our project planning process. It all starts with site maps and wireframes. Going through the process of creating a site map forces you to consider how the site content flows and how the user will find what they’re looking for. The site map allows you to design with purpose; don’t start a design without it. I recommend the site mapping tool Mind Meister.

Another critical tool is the wireframe. While site maps plan the content, wireframes focus on the architecture one page at a time. (You might think that rough sketch you drew on a napkin qualifies, but it doesn’t.) The wireframe isn’t a rough sketch you can rework later—it’s a thoughtful and realistic plan for how you’ll lay out the content on each page. When you get to the design phase, you’re essentially putting a skin on the wireframe—not planning the content at the same time.

Tactic #4: Listen to your developers.
Yes, I’m a developer, not a designer. But I’m not being snarky when I ask you to pay careful attention to the feedback you get from developers.

First, you’ll better parse the impact your design decisions have on the production process. The more you understand the implications your designs have on the site’s construction, the better you can shape your designs to make the best use of the project’s budget.

Second, you’ll see what’s missing. Did you design error messages for the forms on the site? Did you design a simple e-mail template for messages generated through the site? Did you design for the various states of buttons and links? The developer will need all of these detailed elements.

Tactic #5: Focus on business needs.
This one’s the most important: Listen to your clients and focus on their business needs. It can be tempting to use client projects as a personal creative outlet, but your clients have real business problems that need practical solutions. Build your reputation on being a creative problem solver—not on making pretty but dysfunctional designs—and you’ll find clients calling on your skills more often.

This piece originally appeared on HOWdesign.com.

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