What form? What function?

It might sound obvious, but a website that is built around fulfilling the needs of the visitor, rather than an imagined look or goal, is going to be much more satisfying to use. I’m not concerned here with the technical aspects – hosting speed, infrastructure, page weight etc., although that does all have an impact on overall user satisfaction.

A site could have problems stemming from all sorts of reasons: A reliance on complicated designs/animations, misunderstanding visitor needs, or a site structure that just doesn’t make sense for the website.

Thankfully, the age of the Flash intro is long dead. The underlying technology behind web pages has never been more accessible, but it’s easy to fall to the temptation to favour style over substance.

Why does this matter to a site owner?

Unless, as a site owner, you’re lucky enough to be able to have your website purely as a vanity project, at some point you’re going to want people to visit and use your site. When visitors arrive at your site, you’re going to want to make sure that their experience is as enjoyable as possible.

Whatever return you’re after from the site – whether it’s information, business support or product sales, every obstacle that you put in a visitors way is another point you may lose them. Thanks to increasing standards across the web, and the expectations that things will ‘just work’, patience for difficult or annoying website design just isn’t there any more.

How can I make sure my site will work for visitors?

Obviously, what you can do will depend on where you are with your site, and what your goals and budget will cover. Ideally, the process of identifying the function of the website will begin long before any designs for the site are started.

If you have the option, you may even want to canvas your prospective visitors and major stakeholders for what they’ll want from the site. Once you have a firm idea of what your site needs to achieve, it’s much easier to start to build the map of how the site will work.

Will this hamper my fantastic design ideas?

Not necessarily, unless your fantastic design idea involves a 5-minute unskippable intro, or stopping visitors from moving through the site while your whizz-bang animation unfolds. If you’ve developed a site structure that works for both you and your visitors, the visual design aspect is the icing on the cake!