How to “Webby-ize” Your Web Site – Factors in Award-Winning Design

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The Webby Awards® are the leading international awards honoring excellence in Web design, functionality and creativity (http://www.webbyawards.com). More than just a popularity contest, the Webbys recognize outstanding achievement in content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS), the organization that oversees the award process, has given the Webby judges a framework for evaluating a Website that is comprehensive and independent of the personal preference issues that are ordinarily associated with Website evaluation.

1. Introduction

Developers of Websites are bombarded with guidelines which specify the fundamental elements of good design combined with suggestions about how to make a site compelling according to the latest trends and fads. The shelves of bookstores are filled with volumes offering advice to developers anxious to satisfy their employers, customers, or the causes that they wish to evangelize on the Web. A generation of Web design and usability gurus such as Jakob Neilsen [1] and Jared Spool [2] have made a major industry of offering advice to online developers and designers.

In addition to interface design methodologies developed specifically for the Web, pre-Web research and “best practices” in user interface design and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) have been “re-purposed” to be Web-relevant. In such an environment it would appear presumptuous for an organization to consider itself capable of understanding the Website design landscape well enough to present awards for meritorious design. The Webby Awards® [3] have done just that by requiring that their Website judges evaluate sites according to a well-defined set of criteria that attempt to overcome the “hype” generally associated with “gurudefined” design guidelines. Webby judges are instructed to evaluate Websites according to six specific characteristics: x Content x Structure and Navigation x Visual Design x Functionality x Interactivity x Overall Experience

2. Content

There is an old Web design mantra – “Content is King.” Content is the reason that the Website is being developed. Not all content is appropriate for the Web medium or fits well within the presentational or organizational framework characteristic of the Web. Quite simply, content is the information provided on the site. It is typically not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video, but any combination of rich content and/or media that best communicates a Website’s body of knowledge. Content should be engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience for whom the Website is designed. Visitors to a “content-sensitive” Website should be able to recognize that the enclosed content has been developed for the Web because of its clarity and conciseness and how well it operates within the users’ “Web experience.” “Good content takes a stand. It has a voice, a point of view. It may be informative, useful, or funny but it always leaves you wanting more.” [4]

3. Structure and Navigation

and efficiently, and to recognize what to expect of interface operations. “Good navigation gets you where you want to go quickly and offers easy access to the breadth and depth of the site’s content.”[4]

4. Visual Design

Visual design is, quite simply, the overall appearance and visual appeal of the Website. As in many other areas of visual design, the goal should be to make the visual perception of the Website compelling and effective. This goal can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways without a requirement that the design be “cutting edge” or trendy. A designer need only consider the simplicity of Google.com [5] to realize that its “no frills” design belies the functionality that it provides. Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the anticipated audience and for the message that is being supported. “It communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away.”[4]

5. Functionality

The Webby Awards® guidelines define functionality as “the use of technology on the Website.” Good functionality means the Website uses technology effectively and appropriately rather than gratuitously. Conversely, technology adds functionality to a Website that is needed to accomplish a Website’s goals, but might not otherwise be technically possible. “Functional Websites” work well and inclusion of the technology does not impede their operation – they load quickly, have live links, and are relevant and available for the intended audience.

The Website should operate on multiple computing platforms and be browser/client/agent-independent. Highly functional Websites anticipate the diversity of user requirements with respect to file size, file format, connectivity, and bandwidth. The most functional sites are also accessible given the broadest definition of that concept. [5] “Good functionality makes the experience center stage and the technology invisible.”[4]

6. Interactivity

Interactivity is a qualitative and quantitative measure of how well a visitor can interact as required with the content and services provided on a Website. Designing interactive Websites is a very difficult task and is a great deal more complex than the elements in a designer’s “interaction toolkit” (e.g., buttons, menus, rollovers, etc.) might suggest. Good interactivity allows a user/visitor to “give and receive” in the most effective manner. Effective interaction design insists that a user/visitor “participate, not spectate” [4] by its support of the Website’s defined structure and navigation.

Interactivity is “input/output, as in searches, chat rooms, e-commerce and gaming or notification agents, peer-to-peer applications and real-time feedback. It’s make your own, distribute your own, or speak your mind so others can see, hear or respond. Interactive elements are what separate the Web from other media. Their inclusion should make it clear that you aren’t reading a magazine or watching TV anymore.”[4]

7. Overall Experience

Websites are the sum of their parts, and as such, the overall experience encompasses content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. However, a measure of overall experience also includes the intangibles that make a visitor remain on the Website or quickly leave, purchase a product or use a service, and fundamentally decide whether they have had a satisfactory experience.

“One has probably had a good overall experience if (s)he comes back regularly, places a bookmark, signs up for a newsletter, participates, emails the site to a friend, or stays for a while, intrigued.”[4] Structure and navigation refers to the logical framework of a Website, the organization of its content, the prioritization of its information, and the methods whereby a visitor is empowered to move through and take advantage of the Website’s content and purpose. Websites with good structure and navigation are consistent, intuitive and transparent. Good “structure and navigation” design provides a user with the ability to construct a logical, mental model of the Website’s “information space,” to learn and predict the Website’s functionality, to locate information of interest logically

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