What's More Important—Website Aesthetics or Functionality?

February 22, 2019 Corwin Bermudez

There are two motivating factors behind every school website design: visual appeal and user-friendliness. These ideals often compete during the design process and overdoing either can hinder the overall user experience. Add the sheer volume of information that schools are trying to communicate to the mix and the challenge grows.

So, how do you deliver all of the information families seek through a beautiful website that’s also intuitive and easy to navigate? 

Let's dig in.

Does form always follow function? 

The guiding principle of web design (or any design field for that matter) is that it should be directed by its intended function. That means the early stages of your school's design should focus on what users will look for, where they will click, and how much work they’ll have to do to access information. 

The revelation here is that all the design has to do is provided easy access to links, menus, and functions that allow users to explore content. Once the designer has a framework to get visitors where they need to go, they are free to make the journey as unique and visually spectacular as possible. This creativity can redefine how users access content and reveal new possibilities for an excellent user experience. 

What makes (or breaks) a website experience? 

It's easy to shoot for the moon in web design regarding visual style, unique design elements, and tons of interactive effects and animations. In doing so, however, it’s also common for designers to explore their beautiful design prototype and realize that the site will leave users bored, distracted, or frustrated. Most of the common mistakes are avoided by adhering to three rules that guarantee your site stays functional while looking great. 

  1. The site should load quickly. Visitors lose patience with slow sites and search engines favor quick sites. Keep the site loading quickly by using a reasonable amount of images optimized for web use. Only use video when it’s a crucial piece of content, and keep videos as short as possible. Also, abandon background graphics and image textures and instead use CSS styles and effects.  
  2. Don't make users work. As soon as the homepage is opened, it should be clear to users where they are and what they should do. This means that navigation and other menus should be obvious and easy to access, and high-priority information, answers to important questions (e.g. When is the application deadline?), and contact methods shouldn't be more than a click away. 
  3. Tell your audience what they need to know—no more, no less. Too much information creates clutter and confusion. Think about what families need to know, and what they don't. For example, prospective families want to know when open houses are scheduled and how to sign up. They don't need to learn the open house agenda on the website—that can come in a follow-up communication. Information for current families shouldn't be located where it can distract prospects—save that information for a log-in community.  

Design with purpose. 

What would I want to see on this site if I knew nothing about the school?

Keep that question in mind throughout the design process. It’s easy to get distracted and overwhelmed trying to appease every request from various stakeholders, but your focus should be on creating a simple and effective introduction that showcases your school's special qualities. If you create a site that loads quickly, is easily navigated, and gets right to the point, then your users will be happy. Apart from that, you’re free to fill in the rest with creative and innovative ways to personify your school. 

About the Author

Corwin Bermudez

Corwin Bermudez is an Interactive Designer with Blackbaud's K-12 Professional Services team. He has 10 years of experience in website design, print design, illustration, and audio/video production.

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