The web, and how we create site designs, has gone through a vast evolution in the past 25 years, but at its core, many things are still the same, so lets take a minute to think about what has not changed on the web since the 1990s.
- Web site visitors still do not read full web pages. They skim. They read bulleted lists, not full paragraphs.
- Busy, cluttered web site designs still do not work.
- Visitor do not accept slow web sites – people will leave your page if it does not load quickly. While the networks and devices can do much more in the few seconds people will give a page, they still go away if your page takes more than a few seconds to load.
- A broken, dated, or even just plain ugly web site design reflects poorly on the business who owns it. Even though everyone today understands that not every small business owner is a web expert, they expect you to treat your site design as an important part of your brand.
- Search engines still matter. People still try to sell you SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services that are mostly snake oil instead of just helping you craft good content that will perform well due to its own merit.
- The underlying structure of all site designs is still just plain old HTML. Despite all the tools and fancy frameworks that exist today, the underlying core of what a web page is, and how a browser works has not changed much.
Why does it matter?
Because your site is only relevant if it works. And if you forget the basics of how the web works, you expose yourself to two basic points of failure:
1 – People won’t read it.
If your site design is cluttered, or slow, people just won’t read it. They go away. Your message, which you so carefully crafted, is never seen. If you are still reading this, look carefully at this page. Bulleted lists, headers, short sentences, and spaces between paragraphs.
Would you have read this had I smashed it all together in a long essay?
And how many of you saw two questions spaced out like this and jumped back in to see what I was talking about?
2 – People can’t read it
The danger of all the new tool to build web sites is that they are never perfect. I see people whip out new designs in their favorite tools, installing their favorite plugins, and show me a great looking site, but…
But it takes 20 seconds to load. It looks great on their monitor and on their phone, but breaks on my 27″ monitor. And it fails on screen readers for blind people. Or it has 187 HTML validation errors, and their version of WordPress is outdated, their site gets hacked, and Google flags it as a security risk. (All real examples that I’ve fixed in the last month, BTW.).
There is nothing wrong with using modern tools. But there is something wrong with not knowing anything else – you need to know enough about the web to know when the tools are working, and when they are not. You need to be able to evaluate whether your web page is a holistically good experience for your visitors, or whether it just looks good in your own specific environment. And that is why knowing the basics of what the web is, where it came from, and how it works, matters.
The web is not WordPress. It is not the fancy site designs you see. It is not the single-page applications put out by startups in Silicon Valley. Those are all layered on top of what the web really is, which is just plain old text being sent from a server, to your browser, which displays it on your screen, and runs some scripts.
If you design it to display it quickly, communicate your message effectively, and make it look good in doing so, your site design will work for your business.