Effective websites

With so much noise out there, it is crucial to keep brand conversations clear and brief. If a message isn’t relatable and pertinent, chances are the audience is already on to the next site, ad or store.

The concept of “Chekhov’s Gun” states that in a dramatic environment, all details should be necessary and all extra “stuff” should be removed. The exact quote is akin to “One must never place a loaded rifle on stage if it isn’t going to go off.” A similar concept I am proposing is this: If you show me a fiddle, you better know how to play the thing.

This idea came about during a recent project where I found myself intentionally sorting through bad websites. A major design mistake was made on every single bad site: unmanaged content for the sake of having content. This includes unrelated images, unformatted typography, excessive colors, unorganized navigation structures and more. Either there was never a conversation for catering the content or there was a decision to disregard curating content in favor of showing everything at once.

It is tempting to try and tell every person who visits your site every reason you think makes you great. Designers are guilty of this when they throw extra “stuff” into a design to either fill empty space or try and clarify an unclear message. By keeping a few points in mind when building a site, this content overload can be avoided. It takes planning and intent, but keeping these practices can help successfully avoid the “stuff.”

###It’s about clarity
Why would you carry around a fiddle if you were a drummer? That sets an unreasonable expectation. If you show a fiddle, you’d better know how to play the thing. Just because you think users like the fiddle doesn’t mean you should have one.

It’s very tempting to present ideas you think might hook someone’s attention without having a strong tie to actual content. Everyone knows people have a limited attention span, and consumer attention is a resource vehemently fought for. Still, if you present something that isn’t obviously both true and important, their attention will seek clarity from another source. Show a fiddle, play the fiddle. It’s that simple.

###It’s about simplicity
Dieter Rams has been an influential designer due to his ability to design a product based on both the function and the user’s purpose. He had a very successful career designing gorgeous products for Braun. He is also known for his ten principles of good design, the last of which states that good design is as little design as possible. This concept rings true for websites. If you’re building a reference website talking through the process of growing pineapples, there should be absolutely no photos of West Highland White Terriers unless they are growing pineapples. Just because you like Westie photos doesn’t mean it will help anyone coming to your site to grow pineapples.

###It’s about empathy
A (hopefully) well-known rule for society is “don’t play a fiddle in a crowded movie theater.” Even if you are the greatest fiddler ever, you won’t make any friends playing during a movie. You have to empathize with your fellow moviegoers and understand they didn’t pay $14 to listen to your ad-hoc fiddle playing during the climactic chase scene.

Understanding design is understanding empathy. If you don’t take the time to understand your audience and the context in which they are accessing your content, they will quickly be someone else’s audience. Without knowing what they want to hear, your message will likely cause more irritation and confusion instead of enhancing their day.

###It’s about catering content
What does all this mean? One of the best ways to achieve a successful, engaging website is to manage the content upfront. If, as a fiddler, you learn what song you should be playing, where you should play it and who might actually enjoy your playing, you can play that fiddle to great effect. Even if you learn the best song ever and just start walking the streets playing it, chances are good you won’t have many people interested. You could be one of the top performers playing some of the most exquisite music with the best instrument ever, but if you don’t know the context within which you play, you will be playing to no one.

You must be clear and precise. You must understand who comes to your site. You must know their intent and empathize with their potential frustrations. You can’t just present a bunch of content, even if it’s the best content in the world, and expect busy people to pay attention to it.

How do you “play the fiddle” effectively in designing and managing a website? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter via @IntrinzicSays.