When designing a website, you first want to determine your site's overall "look and feel." Surf the Internet for inspiration on what you want your site's look to be. Look at other temple websites, but don't limit yourself: any website can give you ideas about the pages' layouts, color palette, font choices, the use of photos and graphics, and overall tone.
Here are 10 simple rules of website design:
- Less is more
Keep the design clean and simple. Stay away from background images and "bells and whistles": scrolling text, animated graphics, cutesy clip art, counters, too many varying font faces, sizes, and colors that will clutter your page. All of the above may prevent your visitors from getting to the information they're seeking, give your site an unprofessional look and detract from your most important messages, rather than drawing attention to them. Remember the golden rule: "Content is King."
If you want to present slide shows, Flash, or other dynamic elements, keep them relatively small on the page, the timing slow, and avoid having more than one dynamic element on any given page.
- Optimize your photos and keep them small
Photos need to be optimized for the web before you upload them, or you'll burden your visitors with a long load time, and discourage them from visiting other pages on your site. There are many tools available to do this built into both Macs and PCs as well as online tools such as GIMP.org, Phoxo.com, and GetPaint.net. Additionally, it's a good idea to display photos smaller on your page, to keep the page design clean. If you want visitors to have the option to see the photo larger, display a smaller size on the page and provide a text link to view the larger image.
- Make sure the material you're posting is "kosher"
Avoid breaking copyright laws: don't post photos, graphics, or text from another source unless you've been given express permission to do so. It's also a good idea to develop a policy for posting photos of people, especially children, and private or sensitive information such as email addresses, phone numbers, or street addresses.
- Keep text to a minimum
Many web usability studies have proven that people don't read on the Internet the way that they do elsewhere. Instead they quickly scan the page for information they need or for something to click on. The "less is more" rule above applies here. Cut out as many words as you can, make blocks of text short and easy to read. Use "read more" or a similar device to invite the visitor to explore a topic further, rather than putting all of the text out in front. Avoid the use of the words 'click here', and instead use calls to action to invite visitors to click: "Read more," "Download the PDF," "Learn about our program."
Make sure to check your text carefully for grammar mistakes and spelling errors as well. Even the smallest mistakes will make your site seem less polished and professional.
- Make text readable
Avoid displaying light text on dark backgrounds, using tiny text, using serif fonts for body copy, using italics, using underlines, using all bold, all caps, overusing colored text or color backgrounds. Try to keep your font usage to a maximum of two styles, and keep the font size as consistent as possible.
- Test your site on multiple platforms
As you're developing it and before your site goes live, it's good practice to see what it looks like and test the links and functions on different platforms. Be sure to view it on both Macs and PCs, and using as wide a variety of browsers as you can: FireFox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Chrome are the most common (see W3C statistics on browser usage). Consider your intended audience: statistics indicate that the majority of Internet users currently have their monitors set at a resolution of 1024x768 or higher, many of your members may have older computers (depending on their demographic) so you may want to compromise by building your site's width just under that, at a width of 900 pixels.
- Keep your page layout and design consistent throughout the site
If each page on your site looks totally different from the next, and key elements are not located in the same place, you will cause your visitors unnecessary confusion and force them to think about and interpret the site design, rather than the content. Keep a consistent brand, for a professional, clean look and feel, and you'll make your visitors' experience a better one. Your menu, logo, and footer should be in the same location on every page of your site, and your usage of fonts, colors, and images should remain consistent.
- Use your home page real estate judiciously
Visitors to your site, whether they are invested in reading about your congregation or just "passing by," only have a limited time to spend looking. Seconds matter, so don't waste any of their time by placing huge graphics, photos, or large "WELCOME" text in front of them at the top of your home page. Give them valuable information right away, and keep it short and simple, with a link to read more if needed. Devote as much time to planning the content on the home page as you devote to planning the entire site.
Don't assume that everyone will find what they're looking for via the navigation menu. Many visitors look at the home page itself to get an idea of what's going on at a congregation. Make sure that this area has the top things that they may be looking for, which generally includes a calendar of events, the most recent news, and the temple's location and contact information. This area should be updated frequently, to give a sense of dynamism to both the site and the congregation it represents.
When designing this page, keep in mind that presenting a clear hierarchy in your layout makes it easy for the visitor to scan the page quickly. Devote more real estate to two or three featured items, and smaller areas to the secondary and tertiary items. This will make a more intuitive overall design for the eye to follow.
- Make your site easy to navigate
Your main menu should be prominent (at the left or top of the page) and consistently in the same place. Limiting the number of menu items is important: too many and you are forcing your visitors to read through a list of items, instead of providing them with an easily scanned set of choices. Menu items should cover broad categories, and be named with the most succinct terms possible.
- Keep your visitors on your site
When linking to external sites, have the link open in a new browser window to lessen the chance that visitors will leave your site and not return. The same applies to links to PDFs or other documents: most people open these, print them, and then close the window -- losing their place in your site altogether. Make sure these open in a new browser window.
Conversely, avoid annoying your visitors by having links to another page within your site open in a new browser window, which will give them a desktop full of unnecessary open browser windows to close at the end of their session. Be sure to keep all links to other pages within your site in the same browser window.