If you truly want to understand the web design process, you must look beyond just the outward visual appearance of a website. Very few visitors consider what happens behind the scenes of a website, as different web browsers interpret code to display that site on the screen. Extra milliseconds of loading time, browser variations, the age of the code, and the content itself can completely change a user’s experience and resulting behaviors on a website. Let’s take a look behind the curtain to learn about some of the most surprising and amazing aspects of web design.
When you look at a website from your home computer using Google Chrome, it might be a completely different experience than your friend has when she browses the same website through Safari on her iPhone. Why does the same website look so different across various browsers? It all depends on parsing and rendering, or the way that browsers translate code and display it on your screen. Some browsers will load the code in a very specific order, and sometimes browsers won’t recognize certain code at all. For more detail on this, HTML5 Rocks has an excellent breakdown of how each browser parses code and renders it on the screen.
Browser differences can make it tricky for you to create a website that provides a great experience to everyone. That’s when professional web designers step in. They are familiar with HTML and CSS standards, known browser issues, and the ways to work around potential hurdles. It’s a web designer’s job to ensure that your website looks good and functions properly across many different browsers. They also perform extensive browser compatibility testing to identify potential issues, and establish necessary fixes for those issues, before a website goes live.
The Internet has forever changed the way we read and browse content. According to the Nielson Norman Group’s report, “How Users Read on the Web,” successful websites with a clear and scannable layout have a 47% usability improvement. If a visitor can’t skim through your website and identify key information quickly, they are likely to leave and visit another website instead.
Web designers strive to create sites that direct viewers to the most vital information, such as an online store, your company’s blog, an organization’s history, or other content important to both them and you. Web professionals can also use heat maps and analytic tools to see which buttons and links are popular so that they can continually improve the user experience with future updates on the site.
Web designers work hard to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology. Since the web browsers and devices being used to access websites are constantly changing, the way that those websites are designed and developed must change as well. To remain current and relevant, digital professionals must stay on top of the latest coding standards, browser compatibility updates, and search engine algorithms. An outdated website runs the risk of not displaying properly in the web browser, having unexpected formatting issues, or not showing up effectively in search engine results. For this reason, a site that is even two years old may be antiquated if it has not kept pace with these changes.
Many people turn to website templates as an “easy way out.” Pre-packaged templates often allow anyone to create a website with little to no coding knowledge. Unfortunately, companies can lose credibility by relying too heavily on templates, which typically include bloated code and unnecessary design elements. Trying to force a template to do something new can make it look patched-together, like a Frankenstein website, and that is if that template will even allow for those needed changes. Many templates are notoriously inflexible in what they will allow for, meaning your site may be painted into a corner. Your organization can benefit the most by having a web presence that is custom-made for your needs and the needs of your customers.
You could have the most visually-stunning website in the world, but it won’t matter if you don’t have an audience to view and use that website. Web professionals make sure that the way your site is coded will help an audience to find your website when they type certain keywords into Google or another search engine. The way that the website is coded even affects how your search engine listings look, from the title of the web page in the search results to the small description of your site that appears below the title. Search engines can be a great source of new traffic your website, and there are many additional steps that can be taken on a site to fully optimize if for those search engines, but it all starts with coding best practices and ensuring that the foundation of your site in conducive to a good relationship with the search engines.
Multimedia content, including images and videos, can be a powerful part of a website, but if used improperly, they can also significantly damage a website’s performance. Large image and video files can dramatically slow down the loading time of your website. When visitors have to wait too long for a page to load, you risk them growing impatient with the site and abandoning it altogether. To ensure that any multimedia content that is used on a site engages visitors rather than drives them away, web designers must use images and videos that are optimized for websites. These optimized files will ensure that your page loads quickly while still offering that rich imagery or video content.
Web professionals also avoid outdated multimedia formats, such as Flash, which aren’t supported by many of today’s mobile device platforms. Instead, they favor current standards, like HTML5 video, so that people can access your media from the widest range of devices possible, including computers, tablets, and smartphones.
A pricing infographic by Incion reveals that a good website design can cost between $500 to $5,000. If you’re surprised at this range, consider the number of hours and collective brainpower that goes into optimizing websites for search engines, making content accessible across browsers, and improving overall performance by speeding up your website’s loading times. Designers often rely on specialty software and robust tools to ensure that a website’s code functions the way its intended while displaying well.
Most people don’t think about the seemingly magical website conversion that happens when they switch between their smartphone and computer. These are two very different approaches to shifting screen sizes, either mobile design or responsive design.
Mobile design is restrictive. It serves up a separate, and often limited, version of your website that can be used on smartphones and tablets. However, because mobile websites generally provide visitors with the bare basics that the site has to offer, they won’t get to see the full glory of your web design or use it to its full potential.
Responsive design is extremely flexible, allowing websites to resize and reflow their layout based on the visitor’s screen size. This gives visitors a consistent experience from large-screen, high-resolution monitors all the way to the smallest smartphone touchscreens, while also having an experience that is suited to each of those individual devices. Responsive websites will simply adapt to their environment, while maintaining the same stunning images, typefaces, and navigational options.
The complexities of web design are indeed mind-blowing, requiring a high level of updated awareness and attention to detail to create the best website possible. Keep these facts in mind as you move forward with your own web presence!
Featured photo credit: Kelly Kline via flickr.com
Love this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook