Ask 10 different people and you'll get 10 different answers, but the truth is that both design and function are vital to having a successful web site. In fact, the two are inseparable when it comes to web site design and achieving the right balance between the two is the key to creating a successful web site.
The Case for Good Design
Regardless of what anyone tells you, looks are important. Image means everything especially in the business world. Imagine going to a restaurant and being served by people in dirty, torn clothes. The food might be great, but people will be reluctant to eat there based on the staff's appearance.
The basic function of design is to communicate. It says something about you to your customers, which is why good design is so important in today's competitive marketplace. Since the visual appeal of your web site is so important, you can't be haphazard about picking colors, graphics and layout choices. The message you want to send your customers has to be carefully planned out before you even think about writing a line of code.
The Case for Functionality
Using our restaurant example, imagine walking into a beautiful building with fancy decor, and not being able to find your way to your table. The maze of hallways may be tastefully adorned, but what purpose does it serve if customers can't do business with you?
The same applies to your web site. Beautiful graphics, colors and animations are fine, as long as they don't hinder your customers' ability to navigate the site and conduct business.
What Can Go Wrong?
The most successful web sites marry design and function so well that customers don't even think about it while they're using the site - they're just doing business.
Web sites fail when they're out of balance. A site designer that tries to be clever or artistic is putting craft over usability. While graphics can add visual appeal, and even encourage users to delve more deeply into the site, they should never exist without providing some benefit to the customer. Don't use graphics just because they look cool.
The same holds true for functionality. You might think it's clever to make people run the cursor all over the page just to find the lines, but what you're really doing is making the experience more confusing and frustrating. We live in a world with millions of online choices for web consumers, making a site difficult to use for the sake of art is like putting up a 'Closed' sign on your business' front door. Likewise for the site's layout. Creating a maze because it hasn't been done before might win you an award for creativity, but if the customers can't easily navigate to do business, then your award will be your reward, and that's all.
If you've never put together a business web site before, you should consider hiring a professional web designer to assist you. Find one that understands the importance of visual appeal and functionality, and take a look at their past work. Go through their web sites. Did the design jump out at you? Did you notice how easy it was to use? If you answered yes, then it's likely because the site is functioning the way it should - without drawing attention to itself.
Remember: Things work well when they're in balance. It's the way of life. When things are out of balance, chaos ensues. And that's the last thing you want for your business web site.
- Nina Menezes
"Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks."
~ Author Unknown
"Looking at the proliferation of personal web pages on the Net, it looks like very soon everyone on Earth will have 15 megabytes of fame."
"A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click." ~Author Unknown
"Almost overnight, the Internet's gone from a technical wonder to a business must."