Designing an Effective Web Presence
Graphic Design; “The practice or profession of designing print or electronic forms of visual information, as for an advertisement, publication, or website.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
The “official” definition of graphic design seems as clear as mud to me.
An effective design is something that should burst out of you as a living, breathing creative entity. It’s a personal, unique expression that is akin to creating a song. You can be as serious and as passionate about both of these.
Graphic Design is everywhere. Packaging, business cards, posters, magazines, websites, tradeshow booths, billboards etc. If it’s a good design, chances are you have noticed it. The power of design is remarkable. It can change your mood, change your opinion, even coerce you into purchasing items that you may not normally have cared for in the least.
So, perhaps the world of design is based on some pretty ethereal foundations. However, we can effectively focus in on some essentials that will at least get us thinking in the right direction when we are called to do graphic design work.
Example #1 is a website we’ll use 6to outline the power of communicating your message effectively. This particular site has quite a few key elements missing. It even has some elements that don’t need to exist. We are going to use a convention center as an example, because for those of you who have websites that look something like this, hopefully this article will at least help to get the ball rolling on fixing it up- before having it featured in an article somewhere that refers to it as a “don’t”.
At first glance, you want visitors to know exactly what your church is all about. An image usually works most effectively to communicate this, seeing as a picture is worth a thousand words, or more.
The main navigation of the site must be clear, simple and organized, to keep your viewers from feeling confused. Animated .gif images are the main navigation in this featured example- and just so you know where I stand on this- these are a major don’t! These images create unnecessary clutter and confusion, especially in this case. Obviously in this stayed example, you can’t see these images flipping around, giving everyone a headache.
Needless to say, the site does not portray the elegance and class of the Ballroom and Convention Center itself. The design of your website must portray the same look and feel of what it is “promoting”.
The design must also be appealing to as many people as possible. This example design would probably not go over well with some big-time executives trying to find a place to hold their next convention. In fact, the site might even deter them from calling. Potential clients might assume that the Center is unorganized, and that customer satisfaction is secondary. This may not be as directly relevant in the worship setting, but first impressions are extremely important, especially when you are trying to warm up a younger, web-oriented generation.
Now, please focus your attention on the re-vamped example. As in- forget the other example even exists. Please.
When you click onto this site, what is your initial impression? Do you get the feeling of elegance and classiness? Does your intuition tell you that the center has something to do with… dancing? I can’t imagine how, but that’s a great first impression.
The colors used here are extremely dynamic, approachable and friendly. The navigation is also very simple. If you roll-over a heading, (the easily accessible General Info, Weddings, Corporate and Location navigation headings) a sub-menu pops up to give you alternate choices. Also, every time you click to a different page, the main navigation headings remain consistent- and are displayed on every page.
The pictures featured are actual pictures of the center, allowing viewers to familiarize themselves with the building. Upon visiting the center, they may even feel like they have been there before. That feeling of familiarity and comfort is something we should strive for in a church website.
The logo and contact information is accessible at the bottom of the page for people who want instant contact- without having to make even one click of the mouse. People who want to call your telephone number love this. Especially if they are relegated to a dial-up connection.
The differences between these two sites are not subtle. The second site is more professional, and looks more organized. The first one is… well there is no first one, right? There, we’ve effectively blocked it out of our minds.
So, let’s recap some of the key “do’s” that were used to make the shift to candidate number two…
o Keep your main navigation headings consistent throughout the site
o Keep your design and your atmosphere consistent throughout the site
o Keep your website clean of clutter
o Do not use animated .gif’s for your main navigation- they’re oftentimes distracting
o If your site is “under construction” under no circumstances are you to use the silly animation of the guy in a hardhat drilling away at a road. In this case I suggest using a logo as a placement graphic, and writing one or two sentences about the page, adding a reminder to keep coming back, because the page will be updated by the end of the week. Then, make sure that it is!
o Keep the text on your site short, and to the point
o Lastly and most importantly, double, triple, quadruple check for spelling errors! Nothing says “unprofessional” like a big fat spelling mistake!
So there you have it. A quick, accessible checklist for how to start sprucing up your web presence. I’m sure we’ll tackle some more important key elements in the future, but for now, I want you to take a look at your site and make a list of what is really necessary- and unnecessary, or unnecessarily scary. Trim it out a bit and focus on the key elements; exactly what you want to communicate to a first-time visitor. This will be the first step in a long road to making your church’s website easy to navigate and as effective as it can be. Next time we can talk about how to keep your first time visitors coming back for more.
See you soon!