In my workshop The Principles of Good Website Design for Writers (May 7-19, 2012 at Savvy Authors) we'll be focusing on what makes a website "good." In an effort not to repeat things I'll be covering in class, I thought I'd make this blog post about things that make a website look "bad," because if you know what not to do, that's one step closer designing a "good" website.
To see some examples of truly hideous website designs, check out some of the monthly winners at Worst of the Web.
As you page through the Archives section, you may start to notice elements each of these awful websites has in common. First and foremost, I doubt any of them make you want to linger and examine the content, do they? And that's your number one goal when creating a good website. You want your visitors to stay and read what you have to say. If your design scares them away, then it's not very successful, is it?
Three of the common elements these bad websites have is:
1.) Animation. Rarely is animation a good idea. Of course the twirling turtle and the dancing puppy and the happy kitten playing with yarn are all adorable, but do they really have anything to do with the content on your website? Are you writing a book about a turtle, a puppy or a kitten? If not, leave them off. Animated objects distract the viewer's eye and pull it away from the important information on your website you want them to see. And even if it's the most adorable animated critter you've ever seen, after a visitor sees it a couple times, it tends to become annoying. Stare at some of the animated items on the Worst of the Web winners and ask yourself how many times you want to see that when you visit someone's web site.
2.) Ginormous images that overlap or are just generally too big for the page. Sure you want people to notice your product (your book cover perhaps?), but it doesn't need to be ten feet tall to have an impact. And if you mix it in with a lot of other images, it will be missed anyway. The key to good product placement is a crisp image (no blurry images please!) in a reasonable size that doesn't have to battle with other images on the page to be noticed. A good size to aim for is 200-250 pixels wide with an option to click for an enlargement in a pop up window if you think you visitors want that.
3.) Unreadable fonts. Some of you may remember the old days when computers like the Macintosh first came out and had all these neat-o typefaces we could use. OMG, we could type in Old English! Or Cursive! Or how about those cute little Wingdings! We just couldn't wait to type letters to our friends and use every different font available to show how cool they looked. After a lifetime with Courier on an IBM Selectric, who could blame us? For a good website design, you must reign in your desire to play with cool fonts. To be successful, your website needs to be readable. And readable may not always look as cool as Venetian Script, but it's what works, so stick with it. No one wants to go blind reading your website. As soon as the hint of a headache hits, they're switching to someone else's site, so it's in your best interest to making the reading as easy as possible.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. I could have included more than three elements, but I must save some discussion for class. :-)
So, check out the May workshop details on Savvy Authors if you want to learn more about good website design.
In the meantime, page through the Worst of the Web winners and learn from others' mistakes, because knowing what not to do is the first step to a beautiful website.
Catherine Chant is an award-winning writer from New England. A technical writer, computing & communications consultant and web manager in higher education for fifteen years, she now focuses on writing book-length romantic fiction and short non-fiction/fiction pieces.
Catherine is an active member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She served as webmaster for her RWA chapter From the Heart Romance Writers from 2004-2011, as Programs & Workshops chair or co-chair from 2005-2008, and as Vice President of Communications in 2009. She currently freelances as a website consultant for the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and frequently volunteers her time to judge RWA chapter contests and to mentor other writers in her chapter.
Previously, Catherine was the webmaster and book review coordinator for Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and worked as a Senior Editor at Chippewa Publishing LLC.
Catherine's short fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in ApollosLyre, Twilight Times, MetroKids, SchoolArts and RWA Chapter newsletters. She is currently working on a new suspsense novel.