Pretty but Useless

Usually when companies need web sites designed, they call a designer. It’s no wonder — they are thinking about the look of the site and how it will represent them and their brand. But more important than the look and feel is the site’s usability — does it allow the visitor to accomplish what they need to do to meet the objectives of the site?

Often, that question is never asked. Designers are not anchored in the content or the functionality of the web site. They can deliver a beautiful web site that might even win design awards. Your users will be impressed by its glitz and glamour. But will those users take the action you want them to take when they visit your site?

Content is what drives the visitor to place an order, call for an appointment, or contact you for more information. Navigation must support the content so the users can find what they’re looking for.

As an example, let me cite what happened with one of my clients. They had paid thousands of dollars to have their website redesigned, and one of its features was a very cool bit of Flash that zeroed in from outer space onto the company’s building. This trinket was on the Contact page and was supposed to help you find the company’s offices if you ever wanted to go there.

Where are we?Where are we?

Well, good luck with that. While the Flash was impressive, the end result was a pointer on a named street near cross streets that you HAD TO KNOW were in Saskatoon. Zooming in from space you got a vague impression that you were going to the prairies, but without any way to zoom back out to situate yourself it was impossible to tell even what city you were in. Addition of the street address was some help, but the user would still have to look up that address using some map program. Why not save the $$ it cost for the Flash and just embed the link to Google maps? That would provide far more functionality for your visitor, at almost no cost.

As technical communicators, we are experts at making sure information — content — is delivered to the user in a way that helps them accomplish what they need to do with that information. We often find ourselves as the bearers of bad news to clients who have invested in beautiful design or fancy development without any consideration of the content on the page.

When you need a website, be sure to ask your designer or developer what they know about making content usable. Better yet, hire a technical communicator who will spearhead that project for you, and ensure you get a site that works. It’s a better investment of your dollars, and it will still be pretty.

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