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Martin Wales

[April 1, 2002]

Customer Catcherâ„¢

By Martin Wales

Would You Operate On Your Own Brain? Internet Surgery For Technicians

If you were the best brain surgeon in the world, would you take a scalpel to your own head? Didn't think so. Even though as a surgeon you might possess the knowledge, skills, and technical expertise, it seems obvious you probably wouldn't do it. As you'll see, I am using hyperbole to make a point.

Let's talk about the effectiveness of your Web site as a marketing tool. The use of graphics must be balanced with the amount of text presented, while providing an experience in which you can -- to some extent -- control your visitors' paths through your site. With brain surgery in mind, why do so many technology companies continue to believe that they can "operate" on their own corporate Web site?

Time and time again, I run into situations where I hear comments like, "We have technical people in-house who can handle our site," or, "We've got programmers who can put up our pages." Have these words crossed your lips? These are the statements of those focused mainly on operability. Yet operability alone doesn't make a great site. You need to combine three key elements for the most practical and profitable Web presence: design, usability, and operability.

The Combination Lock On Success For Your Site
Chris Bryce, founder of DotFusion.com, is an expert in the area of combining design with usability and operability. He defines the most important factors of graphic design in this way:

  • Communication: Good graphic design is about communication first. We are living in an "over-communicated world." We must use media that not only distinguishes our organization, but that quickly communicates its many messages well.
  • Image: Design must try to reinforce a positive image -- or strengthen a weak one -- or the void will be filled by the competition.
  • Cost: Design costs are essentially related to the value of time spent working out a visual problem. The difference between inexpensive and expensive design is the value of the time expended. This is a direct function of how much talent, training, and experience it encompasses. The design costs on all but the smallest of projects are a fraction of the total job costs. The media or technology is usually the largest cost.
  • Flexibility: We can now repurpose design for a variety of information and technology channels. New technologies are bringing design costs down and providing a variety of ways for clients and design teams to integrate, saving time and costs while still affording high-quality design.

When it comes to usability versus operability, Bryce offers the following comparison:

Usability is about a user-friendliness combined with "interface intuition," the visual prompts and notions that guide a user toward information they want or info you want them to see.

Operability is the back-end functionality, speed and features. This is the structure of the dynamic components of a Web site. This is affected by the commerce mechanism, the weight of the pages, the effectiveness of the online application, the processing of instructions from the visual front end to the back end. Operability is the area that your existing technicians can perform well.

An improved balance of design, usability, and operability will lead to your site's success. Certainly, your existing technical resources can handle on-going additions and changes to information. However, the original design concept must involve a graphic artist, preferably with specialization in Web design, and the participation of a usability specialist, if possible.

Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Words?
Maybe. But is it worth a thousand dollars? The other extreme in Web design is a company who hands over total responsibility of their Web pages to a graphic designer. You don't want an over-reliance on graphic design either.

Too many graphic designers have tried to force the Web to be an electronic brochure. This is not what it was meant to be. The overall quality of a Web site experience is determined by the ability of your site to disseminate information, while the design principles and the graphic design support it.

The Web requires you to plan how to communicate textual information in an effective way rather than a purely graphic design approach. Think about the fact that search engines are primarily based on surfers looking for your text -- not your site graphics.

Gerry McGovern at www.clickz.com really defined the point well with the following description of what he calls "Information Architecture Design Principles." His three main points are:

The Web is a literate rather than a visual medium. That is to say words, not images, are the building blocks for the vast majority of Web sites. Commercial graphic design focuses on grabbing the consumer's attention through the use of strong visual images and short emotive phrases. Graphic design is concerned with how a page looks. Information architecture design is concerned with how a page reads.

The Web is an active rather than a passive medium. We are constantly making decisions, such as to search for a particular term, to click on a particular link and so on. Information architecture design is concerned with supporting such decisions through search and navigation processes.

The Web is a visually constrained environment. Computer screen size and resolution, combined with download issues, mean that visual experiences are poor on the Web. Certainly, in comparison to a glossy magazine or a large TV screen, the Web cannot compete from a visual communication point of view.

The End Zone
The best Web design should be measured by your site's ability to help increase your productivity, client satisfaction, and eventually, your profitability. If you put a team together with combined goals of design, usability, and operability, then your site is more likely to get into the end zone and score big with your staff, your prospects, and your customers.

Think of your Web site as a productivity tool for prospects seeking information. This is far beyond the tunnel vision of most who have an "e-commerce" focus for their sites. Your Web site should be the ultimate location for organizing, classifying, and presenting content which is easily found and read. This is what leads to the most profitable and productive marketing investment for your Web pages. Really... it's not brain surgery.

Martin Wales, The Customer Catcherâ„¢, is a business development specialist helping companies win and keep more business through better customer relationships. He is a technology-marketing specialist, speaker, and facilitator. Using your company's existing resources, Wales is able to create maximum results with minimum risk. Contact him at martin@customercatcher.com.

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