Web Site Design: MSNBC.com is ‘Cluttered’
Aesthetics should be a top priority when launching a Web site, say Web designers
By John Boulos
More than 800 million people around the world surf the Internet each month, according to recent statistics. With so many eyes gazing on home page after home page, aesthetics become a top priority when launching a Web site, according to Web designers.
Web site design has evolved since the early days of the Internet, when many sites were mostly unadorned pages with a basic gray background and blue hyperlinks. Today’s designs today range from the clean, simplistic look of search engine Google to the elaborate and colorful ESPN.com. But what considerations go into creating these eye-pleasing, user-friendly online environments?
“Unfortunately, many conventions of usability have taken precedence over individual taste and even good ideas.”
The first step when designing a Web site is to determine the site’s mission, says Patric King, a designer who has worked on several blogs published by Gawker Media, including Gizmodo, Sploid and Wonkette. His design firm Pretty also designed sites for Wired and Radar magazines. “A lot of folks going into their first Web site project have this strange perception that since it’s on the Web, it can essentially be unfinished forever, which is a false comfort.”
Most designers are taught that function should be the first objective addressed in site design, says King. “It’s sort of a knee-jerk acknowledgement that modernism had at least one good idea. Once that’s fairly satisfied, everything else is a judgment call.”
Roger Black, of design firm Danilo Black, says that it is important for the owner and designer to first agree on the goals, the target audience, and the schedule and operation resources before designing a site.
“Everyone is a designer, and all clients have an idea of what they want,” says Black, a well-known designer of both print and Web publications. Black’s company helped design sites for USA Today, Discovery Channel and HBO, among many others.
Both Black and King agree that the most important information of a site is almost always on the home page, but Black specifies that such information should be in the upper left side.
But Black admits to being a little sour on the similarities he sees in many site designs. “Unfortunately, many conventions of usability have taken precedence over individual taste and even good ideas,” he says.
Black cites the previous design of MSNBC.com as one of his favorites on the Web. “It put the content on the surface and carried the brand of the TV channel,” he says. “What the old design missed was the great number of items users are now conditioned to expect on a news home page. One could argue that it was better without the clutter, but that argument is now moot.”
King names eBay has his least favorite site design. It’s a “complete travesty” in terms of both usability and appearance, he claims. “It suffers the Wal-Mart syndrome: it succeeds because it gives people expecting sh-- a whole lot of sh-- to revel in.”