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First impressions count and the first impression a visitor receives when they arrive at a site is the look or visual appeal of the design. The visual design of a site is referred to as the interface. Judging a Web site by it's interface design is similar to judging a book by its cover or judging a person by their looks. It may not be logical but it is typical human nature.
Outward appearance presents the image and professionalism of the site company or owner and it can affect the comfort level of the visitor. Interface design consists of specific elements, all or some of which are used regularly in the creation of a site's "face". Knowing what these elements are, and how to use them well, will assist you in your Interfacing.
1) Say It With Symbols. Symbolism is used often in interface design in the form of icons or graphics. That first impression must be made quickly before the site visitor clicks away and without a voice, a Web site relies on imagery for representation. Services, product or content can be splashed on the screen as a grabber or colours, fonts and images can present an online presence, whether professional or playful. Symbolism can be metaphoric, abstract or conceptual and is a powerful visual aid to a site visitor.
2) Keep It Uncluttered. Every feature of the interface should be obvious to the visitor and should be used based on need, otherwise it becomes clutter. A font that is hard to read, graphics that look like buttons but are not linked, text that is underlined as headings are elements that do not perform their purpose. To avoid confusion, design using features that are needed to present the image you are working towards and that assist in the navigation of your site while flattering the interface.
3) Make Navigation Easy. Navigation often influences the interface design more than most designers would like it to. This important aspect must be consistent and must be logical to the visitor. Consistent navigation means that your menu is a part of your interface - it will be on each page. This aspect of your design will be affected by the structure you have chosen for the site. Good navigation design can be added to as the site grows without negatively interfering with the design of the interface.
4) Orientate Your Visitor. Each new visitor to a site is like an explorer. Without guidance in the form of headings, titles, links, brands and logos, they may not know where to go or where they are within the structure of the site. The interface design must also include features that orientate the visitor, especially if the site is large and has many sections and sub-sections. The designer can maintain a feeling of familiarity with consistency in design, orientate the visitor with headings and titles and can guide the visitor easily with clear navigation.
5) Stay Consistent. Consistency, as I've mentioned, is very important in many of the interface design elements as well as colour, font, and graphics. When the interface changes, the visitor thinks they have left the site. Confusion leads to bookmarks. Remember this. When a site visitor feels uncomfortable, is confused or irritated by a Web site they are two clicks away from a familiar site that is linked in their bookmarks or favourites. Two clicks.
Is there more? There is always more. Designing Web sites is a challenge and requires skills, knowledge, experience and flexibility because by the time you read this, the Internet and all its dimensions will have improved or changed, possibly enough to create a domino effect that will alter Interface design. However, the basics of Interface design remain the same and include symbolism, clarity, navigation, structure, guidance and consistency. Know the basic rules, become familiar with them and then you can decide whether you are good enough to break them.
Cheryl R Cowtan is the CEO of Virtual Visions Online (http://www.vvo.on.ca) and specializes in Web site planning, Interface design, and Internet Marketing. Her company offers free quotes on services, free design tips and resources and you can join her free ABCs of Design and Marketing newsletter at http://www.onelist.com/community/ABCDesignMarketing.