This paper reviews a wedding planner's website, Weddings by Alice, located at this URL: http://www.weddingsbyalice.com/. The review covers architecture as well as design elements, including site organization, navigation, page layout, and graphic content. Our analysis also discusses effective design principles, and we cite examples where they were followed and where they were not. Throughout the paper we make a series of suggestions for improvement. Rather than isolating them as a group towards the end of the paper, they are presented throughout the paper as each design element is discussed. At the end of the paper we provide mockups of a redesigned homepage and secondary page done in PowerPoint which incorporate some of our proposed changes.
We began the Web site evaluation by analyzing the site's purposes and goals. According to the article "Designing an Effective Web Site," "The nature and substantive content of your website should be based upon its purposes." We assume that the website owner intended her site to be a key part of her marketing plan, using it to promote her wedding planning business. The site achieves its purpose, although not as efficiently as it might if more Web design principles had been adhered to.
One yardstick for judging effectiveness is considering whether the site was designed with the nature and behavior of the intended audience in mind. Without studying any specific demographics, we know that the intended audience for wedding planning services would be engaged couples and their families. The site has the functionality as well as look and feel that the target audience would expect. It is sufficiently easy to navigate that parents of the bridal couple would be comfortable visiting the site, while at the same time the site has the energetic look and feel is attractive to couples across a broad range of ages and lifestyles. The site manages to be neither cluttered, overwhelming, boring nor plain. Still, it must also be observed that the site could be more engaging, if it adhered to more of the design principles this paper discusses. As the article 6 Web Design Principles to get Visitors to Stay Longer points out, a website's design goes a long way toward getting readers to stick around longer, browse more pages, and return more often. "Readability and accessibility can be key" (Gentile 2010).
The key design principle when evaluating usability is whether the user finds the site to be usable, which determination requires thinking like the user. As Effective Website Design Principles explains it, "The objective is to make the website design as alluring as possible. Presentation means a lot in this current market so it is crucial for a website design company to tap into the customer's psyche." And while this might seem to be an obvious design requirement, many sites fall short in this respect. Our review site seems to intuitively grasp the necessary strategy, but doesn't manage to execute it.
Smashing Magazine offers additional insights into user behavior, noting that the typical user is impatient and wants instant gratification (Friedman, 2010). Because of these tendencies, a Web page needs to be obvious and self-explanatory, and Weddings by Alice meets this requirement.
Smashing Magazine provides more usability guidelines: "Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has become a standard approach for successful and profit-oriented web design." The navigation and site architecture are intuitive, although the main navigation block itself could be more visible on the page. The navigation structure changes appearance on mouse hover, and also indicates the active page. The navigation menu is correctly located near the top of the page. It's worth noting that there are varying schools of thought with respect to navigation menu placement, we like the top of the page placement for this site. According to U.S.-Webmasters.com, "Search engines rank text closer to the top of the page higher." (Web Design Principles) The links on each page are recognizable, and users can easily find their way from one page to another. Users can recognize where they are in the navigation process, and understand how to get to where they want to go as well.
Users can also explore the site with ease without having to register first. They have the option of requesting a free report, or continuing to browse the site.
One shortcoming in the area of usability is that the homepage is not easy to scan, there is nothing to lead the eye to focus on any particular content. We also found that the site's blog page is not being used. There were two wedding related articles posted, but no comments. The site's owner had gone to the trouble of creating a blog page, without understanding how best to use it. We recommend that the owner jumpstart the blogging process by linking to other communities of interest, as well as posting a controversial comment or two. The additional effort is worth it, according to The New Rules of Marketing & PR "blogs that are regularly updated generate high search engine rankings because the algorithms that are used by Google, Yahoo! And other search engines reward sites (and blogs that update frequently." (Scott, 2010) For the most part though, this site is easy to navigate and doesn't require extensive changes to that aspect of the design.
While there are many principles that determine good Web design, experts agree upon several. The 7 Key Principles That Make A Web Design Look Good (Coolen, 2009) offers this list:
Coolen notes that balance is "all about ensuring that your design does not tip to one side or the other." (2009). Closely related to balance is the concept of grids, the series of horizontal and vertical rulers that help to compartmentalize a design. The resulting columns make a page's content easier to absorb. Our review site is balanced and the minimalist design of the site makes good use of grids.
Color, on the other hand, does not work as well on this site. As Coolen puts it, "Every color sends out a message, and it is up to you to get the message right." (2009) Graphics should add to the visual message, but in the case of our website, they don't work well with the color. This site's typography is focused on making the site look interesting and pretty, which happens at the cost of giving several pages a busy texture.
Coolen defines white space as having to do with what is not there. The review site uses it unevenly. Coolen goes on to discuss "connection," which he admits is a term he made up, at least in the context of design principles; he uses it to refer to a Web design that has both unity and consistency. Using Coolen's definition, our review site comes up short (2009).
Ben Hunt offers another perspective on Web design in Web 2.0 How-To- Design Style Guide: "Use as few features as are necessary to achieve what you need to achieve." (2006). The basic simplicity of our review site is one of its better features.
Website design companies understand how important it is to provide visual stimulus, especially to attract initial attention. Having said that, the use of visual elements on this site needs improvement. The simplicity of the layout is appealing, but the graphic is ineffective and doesn't serve to focus the eye. The site uses central layout for 1-3 columns, which contributes to its simplicity of design as well.
The site design makes good use of white space, reducing the cognitive load for visitors. Smash Magazine recommends that a page provide users with a sense of visual hierarchy, which this site does. There is also continuity of style between pages, which maintains a cohesive and consistent look.
One design principle that was not as frequently mentioned was justification. Tara Gentile points out that "When it comes to the main content of your blog or website, center justification doesn't work. It's hard to read because your eyes need to find the starting point of the next line at a different place every time. When your text is left-justified or fully justified, your eyes go to the same place on the page with each new line." (2010)
User Interface Design
As Suzanne Martin discusses in effective Visual Communication for Graphical User Interfaces, there are three fundamental principles to follow in the use of visible language: organize, economize and communicate. This site is organized well enough, with a clear and consistent conceptual structure. There is consistency, the screen layouts are functional and easily navigated. On each page only the elements that are critical for communication have been included, making the site very economical. However, the most important elements are difficult to pick out; they just don't stand out enough. As for communication, this site could rate higher on readability. One recommendation for improvement would be the use…