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Effective Communication Tips for Web Designers

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We lay increasing importance on doing things in the user’s best interest and meeting their expectations, but we often forget that content and design is the window to a website’s soul.

Our designs tell visitors something about us and build emotional bonds to brands through first impressions and reputation.

By taking advantage of communicative design, we can better engage audiences and more effectively serve user needs.

Reactive Design: Beyond Simple Objects

In digital communication, computers act as a portal between our input and output devices. How they display websites to users and how those users respond indicate exactly how communicative our work really is.

I refer to this process as reactive design. We produce something that is presented to our users, and users react or respond to that.

Forget email: your website speaks volumes by itself, and as you progress through the iterations of a website (more on this below), you’ll find that an improved layout can make all the difference.

If you examine a website closely, you’ll see that it attracts the user’s attention in multiple ways.

Of the many factors in website design, content is a big component. If we have a block of text that explains the service we offer, that is communication. If we stream useful audio content to visitors, that is communication. If we provide interactive training or videos, that is communication.

Website content is a repository of words, visuals and sounds that trigger the senses. Don’t let all of that power go to waste.

Tips for Optimizing Content

To help you optimize your content, here are a few tips:

Inject some fun into your content. Stale, boring material is often skipped over!

Enhancing Visual Communication

Next up, we have the visual design or layout of a page. While more abstract and open to user interpretation, we do know that design affects usability.

The very fact that usability plays a part in our layouts says something about its value and importance. If visitors can learn to use an interface and find some easier to use of than others, it stands to reason that design speaks to users through association, recognition and other types of non-verbal communication; they can see something on the screen and either know what it does or can find out.

These tips can enhance your website’s visual communication:

A well-structured, clean, organized website gives a feeling of professionalism.

Enhancing User Interaction

While thinking mainly about content and appearance are fine for the average static website, we also have the big factor of interactivity, which many modern designers offer these days in order to create dynamic, engaging experiences.

Consider JavaScript or PHP: in their own way, they encourage users to talk to the website through clicks, key presses and data entry.

In fact, users actively speak to websites whenever they fill out their profiles and user other personalization features. Giving the user attention, recognition and a record of their contributions helps to create a sense of community.

These tips will help you engage with audiences and harness the power of interactivity:

Good functionality not only helps users achieve their tasks, but strengthens the message.

Going Beyond Protocol

While subtle improvements to the message of your website will of course have a dramatic impact on how engaging and appealing your content is (especially if the subject is a bit dry), we can’t forget the other form of communication that our websites facilitates, and that’s the person-to-person (or direct) method. Skype, instant messaging, email and even IPTV all present an opportunity to both target an entire audience and provide something a bit more personal to each user’s needs. Service providers often fall short of satisfying the latter.

Below are some tips to improve direct communication with users, whatever the medium:

Offering live support will help you appear more responsive and attentive.

Golden Rules for Communication

there are some golden rules that can help us maintain the highest level of communication with users. While there are probably more, I’ve narrowed them down to the top five best practices:

  1. Be considerate
  2. Be prompt
  3. Be helpful
  4. Be inclusive
  5. Be friendly

Improving Communication with Customers and Clients

Because we are first and foremost designers (rather than consumers), our communication must cater to two types of individuals: our visitors (or customers) are the ones whose attention we have to get, while our clients are the ones whose goals we are serving.

Be under no illusion: the visitors should always come first (because without them, a website is pointless). But as designers, we have a duty to those we design for!

Visitors and clients are different beasts, and we’re responsible for connecting them to each other.

Communication between visitors and clients comes with different variables to consider. When we build a website for a client, our focus is often on their business objectives (things like cost, scope, etc.).

Ensuring that both the client and visitors end up with something that encourages the client to retain our services is a bit of a balancing act. If you want to be a web designer, you must be able to communicate through your portfolio and other direct methods.

Below are some tips and tricks for working with clients, bosses and other third parties:

Here are tips for communicating with customers:

Final Reflection

The key to successful communication is to think beyond the items on the page. Our users want to be engaged and feel that they are welcome and special.

Our ability to communicate through content, code, visuals, interactivity and just about anything that can be crammed onto the page speaks volumes. What does your own website’s content say about you? How could you better converse with users? It really does matter!

How a website reacts and interacts with users and caters to their needs has repercussions. Consider how poor websites abuse users’ trust (through privacy violations), confuse their message (through poor usability) or simply neglect users (through inadequate accessibility); the damage will foster a negative attitude toward the services.

As designers, our job is to make our websites communicate with attitude, professionalism and (perhaps) a sense of humor. Anything that keeps a reader’s energy level up is more than welcome.

And as we try to out-do our competitors, we need to realize that what matters is not always what we say, but the way we say it!

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About the Author

Alexander Dawson is a freelance web designer, author and recreational software developer specializing in web standards, accessibility and UX design. As well as running a business called HiTechy and writing, he spends time on Twitter, SitePoint’s forums and other places, helping those in need.

This was published on Apr 22, 2011

16 Comments

Aman Anderson Apr 22 2011

Very good article! I love how this flows. As a designer I feel that we need to focus more on these talking points that you have mentioned.

Thanks Alex

Michael Tuck Apr 22 2011

Always good reads, Alex.

Jatin Apr 23 2011

Awesome article, I am a newbie designer and this article will help me a lot.

Thanks Alexander

KevinMpofu Apr 23 2011

nyc post.

Tech84 Apr 23 2011

Good read, IMO Ads in your website also kind of help make your website look more established. (well it also depends on the ads being shown, it must be relevant to your content)

sanji Apr 23 2011

Good read! Always remember these things:
1. Be considerate
2. Be prompt
3. Be helpful
4. Be inclusive
5. Be friendly
Whoever you are talking to.

Philip Davies Apr 24 2011

Hi Alex,

Thanks for a great artlice it helps
me lot as a newbie.

All the best

Phil Davies

Steph Goh Apr 27 2011

thank you..
my lecturer is using this during class….

hariprabhas Apr 27 2011

its very useful article for web designers ! thanks for sharing this great article. Happy to follow you!!

Nice Post!!!
Really It’s the guidelines for designers.

Thanks Alex

thedevelopertuts Apr 27 2011

This is a great article, it really opens up some new perspectives for me!

Agreed! I cant tell you how many blogs I have been to that are filled with clutter.

Even if the website has good information, I almost immediately [x] out the site.

Robert Schmidt Apr 27 2011

Thanks for the extensive list of tips. Your point about personalizing your work hits the nail on the head, as the last thing people want to see when viewing a website is a bland, boring, corporate persona.

nantaPD Apr 28 2011

Yes alex, I agree. One Of the many factors in website design is content that’s very impotant component. Btw Images can support much the content……

Good post. Glad to see that people realise that a successful website needs interesting content presented in an appealing way.

erick2red May 06 2011

I like it the post a lot, I’ll keep it around for consult from time to time so I can get those principles in my mind

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