Web design is a creative art. We’ve all experienced situations where we’ve been wowed by a site with an exceptionally creativity design or functionality. However, we’ve also had frustrating experiences with sites that try too hard to buck the trends and wound up being very unusable. In web design and development, creativity and innovation need to be able to work in harmony with usability, not restrict it.
As a designer there’s always that desire to step outside the box and create something truly unique. However, there’s a fine line between positive creativity that will enhance a website and negative creativity that will complicate usability and confuse visitors.
Blending Creativity and Predictability
In my opinion a website doesn’t need to be creative (in terms of design and functionality) in order to be successful. One of the most obvious examples is Craigslist. The idea behind the site and what it accomplishes for visitors are far more important than the look of the site, however, a high-quality design can certainly help.
Those websites that do display creativity and innovation also need to find a way to incorporate predictability for users. Your website’s visitors are going to be impatient, so it’s critical to not make them think or work any harder than necessary if you want them to stick around and take any action.
The predictability is not so much an issue with the design itself, rather with the use of the site. But a design can help or hinder the predictability in a number of ways.
Areas Where Predictability is Important:
E-commerce sites have a very strong need to be predictable in terms of how easy or difficult it is for customers to buy products. Most shopping cart systems are fairly standard and straightforward, which means online shoppers are used to them, and anything that works differently could be confusing.
Many e-commerce sites go to great lengths to analyze how many shopping carts with potential purchases have been abandoned and at what stage in the process. This type of information can sometimes help them to improve sales by making the overall buying process easier for visitors.
Contact forms or any other type of form where a visitor is inputting information can be damaged by unnecessary creativity. While most websites try to make it as easy as possible to contact them, some make the process more difficult by trying to improve the standard in one way or another.
If your website uses accounts and logins, visitors should easily know where they should go and how they can get logged in.
Navigation is one of the most critical elements to building a website because visitors are simply helpless if they can’t maneuver through the site to find what they want. Navigation menus and bars also offer an opportunity for designers to add some visual appeal to the design with different colors and rollover effects. However, when the appearance and creativity of navigation interferes with predictability, usability will suffer.
Most websites have a fairly standard navigational structure that visitors expect when they arrive at a new site. Creativity with the navigation should still allow for the designer to address the needs of visitors in terms of predictability.
In addition to standard navigational menus and contextual navigation, most visitors will look for things like a sitewide search, a sitemap, or a FAQ page if they can’t find what they want. Having these as a part of your website can make things easier for your visitors.
Whether you are building an opt-in mailing list for a newsletter or looking for new blog subscribers, predictability is important here too. For this reason, you’ll see most blogs have a standard RSS icon and subscription links somewhere that is easily seen as soon as visitors arrive at the site. Those who frequently visit blogs will look in the standard locations when they want to subscribe.
Most websites will include a few pages that visitors typically look for, such as an About page, a Contact page, a Services page for a service-related business, etc. When building your website consider the pages that your visitors will be looking for, and be sure that you have at least the basics covered.
Particularly with blogs, visitors are used to a certain type of layout. Some creativity when creating the layout is positive, but too much can make it difficult to offer visitors the predictability that will help them to use the site. If you’re looking to stand out a bit more, there are ways to do so without sacrificing usability. Many blogs are using large, artistic background images to give the site a unique appearance while still being built on a fairly typical layout.
Areas Where Added Creativity is Acceptable
There are a few situations where visitors will expect more creativity, and as a result you may be able to get away with pushing the boundaries more than you could with other types of websites.
Web designers, photographers and other providers of creative services can take some additional liberties with their own websites. Typically, a more creative website will show your visitors what you’re capable of, and that may have a significant positive impact that can overcome any hindrances to usability.
Websites of bands, movies and tv shows tend to be pretty creative and feature design elements that might not be appropriate on a corporate website. Visitors expect to be entertained at these sites, so the creativity is usually welcomed.
What’s Your Opinion?
How do you feel about the need to be creative in comparison with the need for predictability?