Monday, November 1, 2010

Website Homepage Design

Everyone agrees on the importance of the website homepage. But did you know that designing the homepage is a lot like coaching the Montreal Canadian hockey team. Both have all their tiniest decisions scrutinized by the fans, the media and the owners. All these “stakeholders” want more of this, less of that, while having never managed a hockey team or designed a single web page.

When designing a website homepage, every department has requests linked to their own priorities:

  • Sales want to promote new products or services;
  • Marketing wants large high resolution rotating images of their new branding;
  • Advertising sales want to place ads everywhere;
  • The boss wants to welcome visitors and see his face;
  • HR wants to show new job offerings.
To this list, let’s not forget that the entire web development team also has requests :
  • The artistic director wants everyone to admire his masterpiece that will surely win awards;
  • The programmer wants to see his new cool event calendar;
  • The SEO expert wants to place keywords everywhere;
  • The project manager wants to see a minimalist homepage in order to meet his budget and timeline.
No matter what the homepage designer does, he is in trouble. Now that I think of it, the job is not like being a hockey coach, it is more like being a diplomat at Middle East peace talks.

The easy way out

Of course, the easy way out is to let the HiPPO decide. Not the hippopotamus, the “Highest Paid Person's Opinion”. Otherwise, let a committee find compromises. Both methods will fail to produce a good homepage but if you avoid Google Analytics, no one will know.

The better way

Designing a good website homepage is a challenge. There are too many competing goals and constituencies and limited screen real estate. Here is a time tested winning recipe:

  1. Complete the information architecture before attempting to design the homepage. It is the basis for the navigation system.
  2. In addition to diplomacy, the homepage designer should be an expert in web usability. There are no mathematical equations like in engineering but a body of knowledge has been accumulated over the years on what works.
  3. The design decisions should be based on the website strategy decisions (mission, objectives, target users, priority usage, etc.). This will help resolve the disputes from the competing constituencies.
  4. Put real users in front of a functional wireframe and test your design. This will bring objectivity instead of opinions in the decision process.

Do you have funny stories about the design of a homepage? Let us know in the comments.

You may also be interested in this article by UX Movement: How to Communicate the Value of Your Website Instantly.

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