Designing for Function

We took a fleeting survey of Designing for Content in Part 2 and now we go on to look at how functionality might affect how one might design a website

Firstly there are some important Considerations:

Get to the Root of the Purpose of each Function to be Designed for (i.e. what does it do?)

Many websites, whether commercially driven by sales as well as those that are not intended for profit-making, will want to classify their items of data. Take a typical physical local general store at the corner of the street: it has perhaps ten thousand product types in stock – from garden hoes to boxes of matches, handkerchiefs to penetrating oil.  Easy even for an old timer sales assistant to lose his way around, when the item he wants has been misplaced and is not in its proper place. When you have a map for finding the needle in the haystack, when the map is accurate: no problem; when it is even just a few centimeters out: big problem.

So classification; i.e. a stock map or a data map – for doing online organisation is usually an essential. And there are millions of permutations of cataloguing which might make up viable classification systems; and this is the nub.

Designing for your classification pages is a vital part of making your chosen mode of cataloguing data easy to use for clients and site visitors. Design can make all the difference between a good experience and a nightmare. But the capabilities of a good design are not a universal panacea for taking the pains out of searching and finding. You must choose a cataloguing system that is fit for the purposes you require of it; and it should be one also that is amenable to good design work being possible to be applied to it.

(There will be articles on Classification per se coming in this series the future)

Here are some tips:

  • Build a storefront that carries some ‘in-your-face’ product/data ‘specials’ advertised as it were at the front door where the punters enter and browse with an eye to assessing who you are and what you are like.
  • Like in the general store, have your products/data organized on ‘shelves’, that is, make groupings your items of product or data into appropriate classes, sub-sections etc
  • A general store will  have salespeople situated at strategic points; and so you might have signposts carrying relevant information posted neatly without diverting browsers too far from the main matter on the page,
  • And of course a checkout counter where items can be paid for; or else a holding page wherein a client saves the data he wants and marshals it.

The aim is to hit that delicate balance of convenience and comprehensiveness without making it feel like coercion and cajoling. Leading people by the hand rather than forcing them heavily through to the checkout

Beneficent Mission Creep

  • Design can have unintended consequences, some of which will be beneficent and some might be adverse, and these arise generally as a result of a website’s client-base ‘hijacking’ and extending the functionality planned for in the initial build.
  • Unintended uses that are created by a user base, depending on the nature, are often taken advantage of by site admins as ‘windfalls’ which can be developed and made into discrete features and sometimes novel attractions.
  • One has seen historically that popular social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) have continuously, quickly, latched onto and developed such ‘discovered’ features especially those elected for use by, say, businesses (like sponsored posts, payment channels, etc.)
  • Businesses in particular, because of their increasing use of the web to trade in, and so because of their increasing dependency on creating a big, well-esteemed online presence, so as to succeed and grow; have moved-in on a host of extraneous web entities, enabling them to reach out to larger and/or more focussed audiences/potential customers/clients.

The website User base (who are the people going to use it?)

  • Classification of goods/data is paramount here.  Your clientele will want their data/goods arranged on display and for use in ways suited to their best convenience, and not to your own. In this respect: The customer is always right. So it’s worth consulting your client base and finding out how they like things being done, even when what they tell you  seems counter-intuitive or counter-productive.  Keep them sweet.
  • You will benefit from market research so as to find who are your target markets, and you can build into your design the knowledge you acquire in this way.  If you have an overarching concept which dominates your website it is important you make it as appealing as it can be to your known target audience.
  • Important gauges of target audiences include: age, gender, social strata, levels of specialised knowledge expected, spending power/disposable incomes, ethnic and cultural expressions, predilections, hobbies, interests, occupations and so on.
  • Knowing about all these descriptors of your typical client enables you to pitch your store or database services at that optimum level where Mr and Mrs Average are comfortable and at home. Your knowledge about them will serve you to be tailored to their cloth
  • Tech-savvy audiences/clients can handle features or interfaces which are more advanced and sophisticated than average. Technologically-challenged users will conversely need more hand-holding by way of use of easy wizards and step-by-step procedures. Your expository texts likewise will need to sit well within the range of audience/client skill and awareness

Getting the User-interaction bits right (How do your users use the site?)

  • All in all a good website will feel intuitive and natural to its users.
  • As technology progresses it appears that user interface trends are beginning to converge, coming  from different virtual spaces (e.g. mobiles, desktops, web, etc.). You could do worse than merely to take your cue as to what are the newest up and coming trends, from the popular commercial operating systems, and from the flourishing, fashionable websites. Use what they can show and tell you for your own inspirations.
  • “Intuitive” can be a difficult word. It means different things to different user bases. For example, the majority of your users are, say, Apple Mac fans, so you’ll want to look into and research Human Interface Guidelines for OS X and/or Mac. Such research will pay off with help and recommendations for your interface patterns, such as button placement, standard glyphs and symbols, and so on.  At least some of these items are going to be variant from those found on Windows or Android.
  • Finally, you don’t have to slavishly follow fashion and the popular vote –  there is always room for new opportunities; in a rapidly-evolving arena like the Internet there is always going to be space for new guys like you to create new trends and employ new user interfaces, design techniques, and goals.

So follow your instinct, and if you believe you can cut the mustard; then go for it.

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