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Tue 8 May 2007 04:00 AM

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A website lesson to be learned

A Flash-filled website that ticks all the ‘creative design’ boxes might look the business, but if it vexes your visitor and after five seconds they click away, then it’s really not doing its job. That’s why for budding web designers, an appreciation not just of design, but of functionality too, is key...

|~||~||~|In the next issue of Windows Middle East – English edition – we’ll be exploring how Middle East power PC users looking for a career in design and programming can make sure they have the most relevant, market-friendly skills, and go on to bag the job of their dreams.

To this end, my team is currently talking to web design agencies and software developers about the skills and qualifications their best employees have, and what stand-out qualities they look for in new recruits. We’re also chatting with Middle East training organisations about their thoughts on who should study what programming languages and software packages.

The most interviews we’ve run to date have been on the web design front, and the message that’s coming through again and again from some of this region’s top, award-winning web design and development agencies is that, when it comes to design, the ideal employee is not only an effective creative type, but equally appreciative of exactly how people use and navigate websites. You wouldn’t have thought that was a revelation really, would you? But there we have it, not everyone gets it apparently.

It’s not so long since, maybe five or seven years back, that half the websites you visited presented you with an animated landing page that might take minutes to load up and, often as not, would hide away its ‘Skip Flash intro’ button, much to the annoyance of most users. This showy trend has died off a little, particularly in ‘developed’ web markets such as Europe, but it appears there’s still a way to go before every budding careerist with a love of on-screen niceties really understands that websites are not simply an ego-stroking exercise for those who created them.

“What’s key is that web designers understand the importance of functional design. This is our focus – making websites that look good but work better,” website design agency Cactimedia’s CEO told me. And his agency has won more Pan Arab Web Awards than any other.

Take his company’s site at www.cactimedia.com. It looks neat and professional , but it certainly isn’t packed full of moving GIF images and other graphics that you would never know were links unless you accidentally clicked them. It simply does its job; you visit it, understand the firm’s brand, get immediately acquainted with what the company offers, and can easily click to the section of interest without requiring a map.

Similarly, our own IT news and feature portal at www.itp.net is packed full of information but it won’t take you aeons to find this, thanks to the site’s being sensibly sectioned and therefore quick to click.

Traits such as understanding how users relate to on-screen content (if they can read and understand it, that’s a start) and what sections of a site potential customers click most often (and therefore which need to be given prominence) will therefore be invaluable to a would-be designer, as if there’s anything that’s frustrating to a web agency manager, then it’s a creative genius who can’t see the wood for the beautifully rendered, animated trees. The end user and the client, in most cases, don’t give a hoot about such stuff; they need their message to get across clearly and their online ‘call to action’ to be made. So if you’re gunning for a career in web design, I suggest you start from this point.

Of course such considerations also relate to personal website owners as much as budding web professionals. If you have your own site, for friends to visit and enjoy or maybe to act as a professional portfolio of your work, it’s little use if the links to its sections are under three massive pictures and thus a downward scroll away (I’m thinking of one reader’s site I spied recently). Equally, if your site’s background if black and its body copy a nice dark shade of purple, who the heck is going to be able to use that?

You wouldn’t think it was rocket science this stuff, but judging by some of the region’s online offerings at present, it’s a lesson worth revising. ||**||

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