Website design trends are in constant motion. Options, features, analytics and search capability allow businesses and organizations to get their brand to their intended audience within minutes – virtually! Allée frequently teams with Dave Yankowiak from Lift Development to create informative, engaging and compelling websites. So, we asked Dave to share his expertise on web design in today’s interactive online world. Thanks, Dave, for lending us your voice – and your talent!
Allée: You have been designing websites for clients since 2008, which you equate to over “24 years in web-years.” What evolutions in web design have made the strongest impact to small businesses?
Dave: I think the biggest shift has been the growth and availability of affordable, or even free, content management systems (CMS). When I first started my business, I was still building static HTML websites for clients. This meant that if they wanted to change text or add an image on their site, they had to have me do it…which meant they had increased ongoing costs.
Then I discovered WordPress, an open-source platform that allows me to build websites that my clients can easily edit. At first it was primarily just a blogging platform, but in the past three years it’s really evolved into a flexible CMS. There are also thousands of free plugins available to add custom functionality to a site. I’m able to give my clients a lot more value for their dollar. You don’t need to hire a “webmaster” anymore. You can update the website yourself.
Allée: When building a website, how do you incorporate tools such as blogs, forums and social media links to engage the customer?
Dave: It really depends on the client, but my overall approach is one of practicing restraint. For example, remember hit counters and guestbooks? Just because they existed didn’t mean they belonged on your website. Yes, you could show your five most recent tweets, a big Facebook activity widget, set up a separate forum, etc., but why bombard your visitors? I’ve really taken a minimalist approach to this lately: If it makes sense based on your business, then include it. But if you can’t justify the why, just leave it off of your site.
That being said, I feel very strongly that most websites should include a blog. It can become an excellent place to engage with new and existing customers. It’s also one of the best places to generate new traffic to your site. I still get decent traffic from some posts that I published four years ago!
Allée: How has website optimization for smartphones and tablets changed the look, feel and function of web design?
Dave: There are two pieces. One is the evolution of web fonts has made using a CMS with clients MUCH easier. Access to source files and images were needed to edit and display fancy fonts or headlines to a site. Users can now edit the actual text in WordPress and it will look just as good as the original. Fonts scale much better than images of fonts. This means reading your site content is easier on any platform, whether desktop or mobile.
The other movement is responsive web design which essentially means that your website layout “responds” to the screen displaying it. Your site might have three columns on a full display, but switch to a single column when being viewed on an iPhone. Fonts and images can also re-size based on the dimensions. This makes it easier for mobile users to browse your site right off the bat instead of having to pinch and zoom, scroll horizontally, etc. Media Queries has excellent examples of responsive web design.
Allée: Can you touch on analytics and data mining? How can clients capitalize on the interactive engagement of their sites?
Dave: Always, always, always, always have at least a basic analytics system in place. You want to know who is on your site, how they got there, what they’re viewing and how much time they are spending there. Google Analytics is my go-to analytics platform, but systems like KISSMetrics and Mint can provide some alternative insights. It’s incredibly helpful to know what is and isn’t popular on your website.
Allée: Is it important to include geo-location apps on websites?
Dave: I don’t necessarily think it’s crucial to include these types of apps on your site, but it depends on your business. For example, if you are a restaurant chain, having a location finder on your website can be helpful, and offering deals on a platform such as Foursquare can be a big draw. I know I’ve personally picked a place to eat based on a special deal being offered through Foursquare.
Allée: Overall, what trends in website design and functionality do you forecast for 2012?
Dave: Adoption of responsive web design will be one trend. I also keep hearing a lot about mobile-first design. This means not just crafting a mobile version of a full-size website, but vice-versa. Focus on the vital pieces first.
People should really start focusing on the quality of the images on their website as well. With the rise of image-driven sites like Pinterest and visual iPad apps like Flipboard, really good images on your pages and posts can increase your shares across networks. By the way, Flipboard is my favorite iPad app, hands-down.