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Design to Connect

May 25, 2010 12:00 PM, By Don Kreski

How to reach your audience through your website.

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Design tips for AV websites

One of the most important ways you can connect with potential customers is through your website, and one of the fastest ways to turn them off is with poor design. What makes the difference? Gary Ricke, owner of Orbis Web Design, a higher-end developer of business-to-business websites, was recently involved in a market research project undertaken by one of his clients; the company conducted a number of in-depth interviews asking its customers what they do and do not like about various websites.

The research study—and Ricke’s own insights—may help us all to achieve this kind of success in our AV-industry web projects. I asked Ricke what he found most useful from this study. Here are some of his thoughts.

1. People don’t want websites, they want information. “The study had a lot to say about functionality and intuitive navigation,” Ricke says. “The people interviewed said again and again that they wanted to find the products or services they needed, get a clear explanation of each, then move on.

“Another way to put this might be, ‘When you’ve got great content, you need very little design.’” You need clear, concise writing, you need great photography, and you need great navigation. This particular study suggests that the best designs are clean and uncluttered. And if you have a large site, a site search is very helpful.

2. Maintain your focus. The company that commissioned this study is a product manufacturer, so its customers asked it to focus on its products, making sure that product information was complete and thorough and that it included links to sales literature and the phone numbers they needed to reach people who could answer questions or take an order. If you’re an AV integrator or a sound contractor, you may want to focus on the projects you’ve done, the special services you offer, and of course whatever makes you different from and better than your competitors.

“It’s interesting that the average person, no matter what his demographic, seems to like clean and uncluttered pages,” Ricke says. “A really clean website says, ‘Here’s somebody with confidence in what they’re saying. And somebody who understands that, once they’ve captured your interest, they can present the information deliberately as you click through an intuitive flow of pages.’”

3. Navigation should be straightforward and predictable. “There are a couple of messages we can take from comments people made about navigation,” Ricke says. “First, you want to set up your site so that it takes a minimal number of clicks to get to what’s really important. If you can create pages where someone doesn’t even have to click, that’s better still—that is, they just roll their mouse over, say, a product picture, and an explanation appears.

“The other message is, ‘Deviate from commonly used design principles at your peril.’ For instance, people in this study said that they liked menu categories arranged across the top of the page with related choices on vertical dropdowns. They don’t want to spend the time to figure out some other navigation method we’ve invented, no matter how clever.”

The need for clarity also brings up an argument for smaller websites, Ricke says. “I have a client who makes pipe—conduit, sprinkler pipe, and so on. They used to have one big website, and you had to go through all these layers of menus and submenus to find the kind of pipe you wanted. But in reality, if you want sprinkler pipe, that’s all you want. They’ve responded by breaking up their big site up into smaller individual sites, and they’re getting much better results.”

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