Issues Involved with Website Communication

Website Communication

Regardless of what type of website you’re developing (a blog, a portfolio site, an e-commerce site, etc.), the success of the site will hinge on being able to communicate effectively with visitors and readers. On the subject of communication, there are a number of potential issues that need to be considered:

Purpose

New visitors should be able to quickly get an idea of a website’s purpose and its primary reasons for existence. If a site does not clearly communicate that purpose, visitors are not likely to stick around. If your purpose involves having visitors take a certain action (such as buying a product, filling out an information request, signing up to a newsletter), they should understand exactly what it is that you want from them.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication of its purpose:

  • Can a visitor easily determine the purpose of the site upon first visit?
  • What elements in the design are competing with communication of purpose rather than helping?

Typography/Fonts

Typography can sometimes be a subtle detail in the design of a site, but it can also have a significant impact on the communication. The font chosen, size, color, weight, and case all impact how the message is being communicated. For more on typography, see 101 Typography Resources.

Questions for evaluating your website’s use of typography and fonts:

  • How does the typography complement the message of the site/company?
  • Are elements such as bold, italics, font colors and font sizes used effectively?

For excellent examples of typography, see Typesites.

Typesites

Colors

Colors can have a subtle psychological effect, or they can have a more obvious effect. The same website with two different color schemes can have two drastically different appearances, and this may impact the communication with visitors.

For more on the psychology of colors, see Choosing Colors for Online Marketing and The Meaning of Colors. For a look at some of the most helpful resources for choosing colors, see Find the Perfect Colors for Your Website.

Questions for evaluating the impact of colors on your website’s communication:

  • Are the primary colors of the company used effectively in the website to present a consistent image?
  • How does the color scheme affect readability?

For a fun and informative project on the impact of color, see Cymbolism.

Cymbolism

Busyness of the Page / Clutter

A busy page that’s full of clutter will have serious problems being able to communicate with visitors. Many large websites, especially news sites, face this issue. One of the reasons a minimal approach to design can be so effective is because it gives the designer more control over the message that visitors are sure to receive. With less going on, visitors will not be distracted by extra items and will have only the primary messages being presented to them. Of course, the minimal approach isn’t appropriate for all projects, but it’s a helpful illustration of how busyness and clutter can impact communication.

In the image below, Kyan’s portfolio site has very little to distract visitors from its message, “We are a creative web design & development agency with a passion for web standards.”

Kyan

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication involving clutter:

  • Is the most important information drowned out by excessive clutter?
  • Is there a need to remove or re-organize content?

Images

The images and photographs used on websites will have a huge impact on communication, because they will typically be noticed by visitors before text will be read.

The primary message that 3000k wants to communicate to visitors is that they can help you to grow a stronger presence online. The image they’ve chosen is obviously intended to accompany the text in communicating that message.

3000k

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication using images:

  • How do the images complement the text and the intended message?
  • Are the images professional quality?

Icons

The primary purpose of icons is to tell visitors what they can do by clicking on the icon without the need to put everything in words. For example, the printer icon tells visitors that it will help them to print the page, the home icon indicates that they’ll be taken to the homepage if they click, etc. Icons are essentially of little value if they are not intuitive enough that visitors know right away what they will do.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication using icons:

  • Are the icons used in a way that can help make the site easier to navigate/use for visitors?
  • Are the icons intuitive?

Navigation

The navigation used on a page will communicate to visitors which pages are most important, or at least what’s relevant to the page that they’re currently reading. Every website will have some pages or sections of the site that are more significant than others. This may be a page that is important to the site owner, such as a sales page, or it could be important to the visitor because it is related to the current page. Whatever the case may be, the navigation that is used will in some ways communicate what content is important to visitors.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication through navigation:

  • Is the navigation logical?
  • Are links to the most important pages easy to find from everywhere on the site?

Eye Path

It’s a known fact that design decisions can impact how the visitors’ eyes will first explore the page, and the habits of our eyes can also impact what aspects of a page get the most attention, and what may be overlooked. For communicating an important message, you can use this to your advantage to make the message more effective.

For a look at the subject, see Designing a Guided Tour and What I Learned from Eye Tracking.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication in terms of visitors’ eye paths:

  • What part of the design will catch visitors’ eyes first?
  • How can you direct attention to the sections of the page that are most important?

Language and Grammar

An obvious impact on the message is the language in which it’s being communicated. Knowing your target audience, you should be able to identify the language to be used, although some websites will offer multiple choices of languages for visitors. Also, the grammar and spelling will say a lot about the site and the company, good or bad. Professional websites should make every effort to portray professionalism with the language and the grammar being used.

Questions for evaluating your website’s language and grammar:

  • Is the grammar professional and free of errors?
  • How could messages possibly be misinterpreted?

Accessibility

The message of a site can’t be communicated of the visitor can’t access the page. In that case the message usually will become, “you’re not the type of visitor that’s important to us.” Simply making a page accessibly will not create positive and clear communication, but not being accessible will surely communicate and unintended message.

Questions for evaluating your website’s accessibility and its impact on communications:

  • What potential barriers to accessibility exist? Are they acceptable?
  • How does the site degrade?

Whitespace

The whitespace used around text and throughout the design will play a role in how easy or difficult it is for the reader to get the intended message. Earlier we looked at how minimal designs can promote clarity of message, and whitespace is often a big factor in this. Providing some whitespace around the important message will make it stand out more and will give it the appearance of importance.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication through whitespace:

  • Is it possible to improve the communication/message by using more or less whitespace?
  • Does the whitespace have a purpose in the design?

For a nice example of whitespace that helps with communication, see Big S Design.

Big S Design

Copywriting

The words chosen will obviously have an impact on the communication. Many website owners and designers don’t give much consideration to the copy that is used, often to the detriment of the communication. This will often not fall into the responsibility of the designer, but if you’re evaluating a site’s level of communication, it cannot be ignored.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication through its copy:

  • Does the web copy clearly communicate the message to visitors?
  • Is it convincing?

Headings

Headers and sub-headers are used for multiple purposes in web design. To start with, they quickly give the visitor an idea of what content will follow and they break up the text to make it more readable. Additionally, they are great for getting the attention of visitors and pulling them in to text that they might not read otherwise. Not to be forgotten, headers also have some value in SEO.

When designing a page, give careful consideration to the headers that are used. Make sure they are friendly to both human readers and to search engines.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication through headings:

  • Are headings used appropriately (i.e. do they accurately describe the page’s content)?
  • Do they make the page easier to read/scan?

Taglines

Some websites use taglines to quickly convey a message to visitors. I can’t harp on taglines too much, because I don’t use one here, but if used effectively, taglines can be a great communication and branding tool. The tagline gives you the opportunity to tell visitors how you want to be remembered and can help to distinguish your site.

Questions for evaluating your website’s communication through its tagline:

  • Does the tagline communicate an important message effectively in addition to just being clever or funny?
  • Is it memorable?

Superawesome effectively uses a tagline to tell visitors what they’re all about.

Superawesome

Organization

The text and images on the page are doing the communicating, but the method in which they are organized can make the communication easier or more difficult. Good web design will present the content in a way that allows it to achieve maximum impact in terms of communication.

Questions for evaluating your website’s organization and its impact on communication:

  • Is the content of the site logically organized to a new visitor?
  • Could the message be improved through re-organization?

Formatting

Especially with articles and blog posts, formatting is essential. The same content formatted in two different ways can produce drastic results. When dealing with content on the web, it’s essential to break it up so it can easily be read on-screen. This means using short paragraphs, headers and sub-headers, adequate spacing between lines and paragraphs, lists, blog text, etc. For some excellent examples, see Designing and Formatting Blog Posts for Readability.

Questions for evaluating your website’s formatting of text:

  • Is the text broker up to allow for scanning?
  • Is it written specifically for being read on-screen?

Published September 24th, 2008 by

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12 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Nathan Beck, September 25, 2008

    Fantastic post, covers a lot of points, if only briefly. You could certainly develop a lot of the issues raised in this article.

    I’ve recently written a post for ifoh designs which ties in nicely with your comments on navigation, if you wish to check it out:

    http://ifohdesigns.com/blog/web-design/creating-usable-website-navigation

    Thanks guys.

  • Dainis Graveris, September 25, 2008

    Very good article – really detailed, didn’t think about many of things in that way as You listed. Thanks for doing this!

  • The Floating frog, September 26, 2008

    Great article, well structured, I’ll probably reference this in the future.

  • Irvin Ryan, September 27, 2008

    great post.. I’d always put that in mind. will do a lot for my new blog.

  • offshore hosting, September 28, 2008

    I always visit your site. Its amazing and so much informative. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Claire Castle, October 6, 2008

    Great article, raises some of the important areas that can be overlooked i.e. whitespace – thanks.

  • PayperHeadExpert, October 11, 2008

    Oh, I love this post. I am a marketing guy and I can’t tell you how many times I have fought with designers over these very issues.

    The main area I always have trouble with:
    - Designers wanting form over function.

    I’d rather a simple design that isn’t spectacular than beautifull flash and many design elements.

    Flow is one of the most important aspects to designing a site that “works” and is profitable.

    I’m going to be refering new designers I work with to this page.

  • Web Design, January 19, 2009

    some good tips. a nice insightful article.

  • Mandy | Print n Ink, July 20, 2009

    Great post yet again, all those things that you mentioned are fantastic, my one would be the busyness of a site there is nothing worse that coming to a new site that is just all over the place that ones eye just doesn’t know were to start, and color thats another one of my pet hates.