One of the key people involved in the design and roll out of a website is the designer. Designers come in all shapes, sizes and convictions, but one who has been brainstorming, mocking up and coding longer than most is ICON's Albert Saliba. i-Tech asked him about his uncelebrated but vital expertise.
The most important thing to understand before anything else is the scope and purpose of the website. Knowledge of this will determine the approach we take. For example: the purpose may be to increase online revenue, to generate brand awareness or to showcase a service, product or company.
At ICON we also look into the target audience. The style, colour schemes and type of animation used are completely based on the target audience.
As with all other forms of media, such as TV and print, on the web too we design according to the age group of the audience, as different ages require different specifications.
The message the client wants to put across is also of great importance. We communicate the message through the design, always keeping the client's brand guidelines in mind. Business websites tend to be more content-driven and direct to the point, other kinds of websites may be quite different.
Also, analysing the competition is part of our research to learn, understand and go beyond competitors within the clients' industry.
I find that most clients will have a great deal of ideas, and on occasion, even a clear image and understanding of what they want. What they at times lack, however, is direction, especially in how it all comes together. We unite our knowledge in design and technology and the client's expertise within their industry.
I always keep four factors in mind when planning, designing or browsing:
Appearance: easy on the eye, matches brand identity and relevant to the target audience.
Usability and site structure: ease of navigation is very important to keep users on the site and maintain relevant traffic. If it's easy to use, you will encourage visitors to browse, and buy.
Good practice of coding: HTML, CSS and all other factors involved have to be up to standard to avoid coding errors and to make the site as browser-compatible as possible.
Speed: all these factors must be optimised to have a fast website to improve the experience of the users visiting the site. It's useless to design a gorgeous page if users can see the page loading piece by piece.
Off the top of my head, I can name six things: simple navigation, bold logos, simple to look at (sometimes called digestibility), bigger text, remarkable iconography, and more interaction between all parties involved (Web 2.0 is about conversations after all).
Technically most sites can be viewed on both desktops and mobiles, however a site would preferably be built specifically for mobile phones. Mainly, this is because of size. As a general rule, a mobile site shouldn't be larger than 20-30 kilobytes (KB) due to mobile internet speed, which is much slower than internet on a PC, and the fact that downloading data on a mobile connection is more expensive.
Screen monitor sizes follow certain trends and standards more than mobiles, therefore there is less control over this. The site must cater for many sizes and avoid issues such as overlapping text and images.
I use Photoshop for the graphics and overall design of the site; Dreamweaver for HTML, CSS, j-query and Java script; Flash for certain animations; and several applications to test SEO (search engine optimisation)-friendliness and usability.
After being built from the ground up, it goes to the development phase for integration. Here at ICON we have a specialised team for development, another team for content, another team for quality assurance and testing, and to gel it all together a strong project-management platform.
The role of a website still exists. Although social media are important, you would be wise in using them to support your site, not replacing it. Posting articles on Digg and sharing links on Twitter and images and details on Facebook are all well and good; however your site should be the main point of reference representing your company. Think of it as your 'home'. Your own website allows you to have a brand identity, a unique design, online shopping portals and less limitations than any single social network could.
More interaction and relationship building through the site is now the keystone of design. Web 2.0 is about conversations and knowledge exchange, and this must not be forgotten.
Design has become cleaner, simpler and content-driven, as the audience has become more impatient and intelligent in the way that they search. I do not see this changing soon.
When it comes to technology, HTML5 and CSS3 will be giving designers more flexibility.
I started designing websites over a decade ago so I've been through bigger changes than these. Simply thinking that I have been with ICON for nine years makes me feel privileged and very experienced in this field.