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Functional Design: Looks Good, but Does it Work?

Great web design needs to be functional for the end user above all else. What does that mean? It mea


Great web design needs to be functional for the end user above all else. What does that mean? It means that a website does not take an hour to load because of images and videos which aren't optimized, that all links work correctly, and that it has a high conversion rate and is viewable on smartphones as well as laptops. It means the user will be happy with the experience.

Users care much less about how beautiful a website is than about the ease of navigation and purpose. They care whether they actually got what they came to the site for. The design needs to be practical, not just pretty, because there is a purpose it is expected to perform. The most beautiful and original work can be ineffective if it does not appropriately reflect brand values, or incorrectly addresses its intended use. 

A functional website that responds to the needs of users is engaging. It is clear how to use it – people will not be staring at it for 15 minutes, trying to figure it out. Clarity of use is actually the basis of design. If a site is cluttered and busy with many elements, neither its purpose nor its navigation will be clear.

Responding to Needs of Users

Designers do not pack things onto a conveyor belt, but create form meant to invoke emotions, inspire, intrigue, and inform. That creative freedom is actually limited by purpose. It takes into account the needs and desires of its end users. 

Any visitor who goes to a radio station site, presses the play icon, and hears nothing will not stay there long, no matter how beautiful the site looks. All media, applications, and links within a site need to work, and they need to work quickly. People are impatient, and no matter how many great flash presentations and videos a website is loaded with, they will not wait more than a few seconds to see them. 

Optimizing images and resizing videos for the web is an essential task. No website should take more than a few seconds to load, no matter what it contains.

Functional design also takes into account that users make mistakes. If they press the wrong link or button, it should be easy to get back to the previous page. Functionality has a lot to do with designing for humans, not machines. A user-friendly website gains visitors and clients because it functions well.

Informational Versus Responsive Websites

While there is a difference between purely informational and responsive sites, both need to best fulfill their intended function. 

Informational sites are usually static websites that contain a few pages of information about the business they represent.  If the purpose is only to inform, then a static website fulfills its role if the design is clear, the message is correct, and every link within the site works.

Responsive sites offer users some form of interaction, such as online registration, signing up for newsletters, online forms for appointments, or, in the case of e-commerce, actual purchases. There is high interactive content within responsive sites that needs to work correctly every time. If designed well, it always does.

Purpose and Website Optimization

The two most important considerations for any developer are how, why, and by whom the website will be used, and that it can be easily found.

The purpose of a site like eBay is to sell products, while CNN’s is to inform. In both these cases, the audience is a huge consideration. Functional design always considers the audience and what they intend to do with the tool: the website.

Very few people will look for a product by its serial number. Most will type in a short description. Good website development takes human behavior into account and includes the correct optimization of keywords and tags, so either products or articles are easy for users to find. 

Both eBay and CNN are brand names that everyone recognizes. But what good is having a website for a new business if no one knows it’s there?

A well-built website is optimized using SEO to rank high in search results. This includes processes like adding keywords, meta tags, and image tags to make sure these terms are accessible to search engines and indexed by them. If a website is optimized well, a customer will be able to find the new business by simply searching for the product or service.

A good developer will also take into account that any website should be optimized for mobile applications, such as smartphones with smaller screens. If a website looks uniform across all media, including desktops, smartphones, tablets, and TVs, then it has a high conversion rate and will probably attract more traffic.

Perfect Form and Function

The goal of good functional design is for a website to be aesthetically pleasing while offering great user experience. Yes, great design provides both. Well-developed websites fulfill their purpose perfectly, containing elements that always work and look beautiful. Visitors are engaged and find what they’re looking for. More importantly, they find the site to begin with, thanks to effective optimization. All these considerations are in the day’s work of a good developer.


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