Feature Article (Pub:November 03) Follow the Leader - Best Practice by Tim Fidgeon

  • Work smart, not hard.
  • Do not do unnecessary work.
  • Do not re-invent the wheel.

These are mottos to live by. So, how do we apply them to a website?

Well, if you've got an e-commerce site, look at Amazon. Look at what they're doing and the way they are doing it. Look at other big, successful online retailers too. Think about what you can learn from them.

If you've got a brochureware site (i.e. one whose sole purpose is to introduce your company and its products/services to potential customers), look at other companies' websites. Take a peek at big blue-chip companies' sites - not everything they do may be relevant to you, but you may be able to steal some ideas. Look at your competitors' websites, and those of companies of an equivalent size to yours.

Now, obviously there's still a role for a professional to look at your site because they are likely to be able to analyse why other sites are doing what they are doing, why it does/doesn't work for them and how/why it might work for your website. But it's still worth your doing it, in order to get ideas and educate yourself as to what other people are doing with the web.

And don't be scared to make suggestions to whoever you hire to build or improve your website. If you've spotted something you like, and think would help your business, on someone else's website, mention it to your agency. Ask them for their opinion on it, and talk it over. Professionals don't have a monopoly on good ideas - become and active partner in the design of your site by keeping an eye out for new ideas and improvements. After all, no-one cares more about your business than you!

Tim Fidgeon (MSc HCI) has worked as information architect and usability consultant for a number of FTSE100 companies for 9 years leading a variety of projects, and heads the usability team at CommerceTuned.

Your Homepage - It's Easy! by Christopher Benoit

There's nothing tougher than staring at a blank piece of paper - Hemingway called it the 'White Bull'. Suddenly, you forget what it was you wanted to write - and can only vaguely remember an outline of what you wanted to do. It's like that with a Homepage

So, the important thing to do when thinking about your Homepage is to remember the key things it has to do, and the key features it has to have. And just to make life that little bit easier, here's a list of some of them:

'What we do'
A site's Homepage should clearly communicate what it is that the site is for (i.e. the business you are in - what you sell, etc.). We're talking about a large strap-line in the middle of the screen here - don't go subtle, go obvious. Obviously, the strapline should be as concise and informative as possible, but it should be the first thing people see when they visit the site.
A lot of the Homepages on the Web look a mess with lots of different colours and no clear sense of structure. This makes the page look ugly and doesn't lead the user's eye in any particular direction. Designers have a trick of designing to a grid structure. The human eye likes symmetry and balance, so think grid, think big basic blocks - think simple and structured.
Presenting your site's navigation on the Homepage will allow users to get a good feel for the range of information on your site.
Your Homepage should have a 'Search' function. This should be a text-entry field with a 'Go' or 'Search' button. Why force people to browse your site if they know what they want?! Let them find the information/product quicker and they just might buy/contact you quicker!
Contact Us
Put your contact details on the Homepage - not a link to the details, the actual details themselves. We're talking phone number and email address at the very least. If someone wants to contact your company, why make it hard to find the details?!

...and that is how you build a Homepage - easy!

Christopher Benoit has worked as a usability consultant for 4 years, and is part of the usability team at CommerceTuned.

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