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On conventions

In a sea of amazing websites, it’s hard to have your site stand out. Research and planning are the first steps to take before designing anything. Not only is it inspirational but it also provides insight into how other people approach the task. How else would you know what to do differently in your site, if you aren’t aware of what’s been done by others? Inspiration can come directly from seeing the kind of work you are doing: looking at resumes when writing a resume, portfolios when creating a portfolio, and so on. The advantage is that it lets you identify trends, common elements, how people structure their work. Seeing what the competition is doing is great. Let’s take online portfolios, for example. The fun and creative sites as well as the unexciting ones are fairly consistent in their sections, with an about section, project list, a contact form, client list. There navigation is usually at the top or left. Knowing what’s been done gives you an opportunity to find a fresh approach and be a little unique. However, it wouldn’t be wise to try to be very different from the established norm. Conventions are popular for a reason.

Consistency and understanding user expectations is crucial. People already have an idea of what should be in a site and when it is not there, they get frustrated. That applies to content, language and layout. A personal portfolio site is expected to have online, clickable samples of work. If its owner simply compiled all of the work into a huge multi-paged pdf to download instead, it would be seen as rather inconvenient. If a contact page didn’t have a form or a contact email available but just a phone number or mailing address – that would turn people off. It’s basic content that is so convenient that people expect to be available. If it’s not there, it’s an annoyance. Adhering to basic usability standards in design is helpful as well. When visiting a website, you look for certain key elements in certain places. Privacy policy and Terms of Service are usually at the very bottom. Breadcrumbs navigation is at the top, below the main and secondary navigation. If you want to break away from established conventions in your design, make sure that there is a good reason for it.


This entry was posted on Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 at 9:47 am and is filed under Articles, Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

134 Responses to “On conventions”


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