Building a Website Is Like Building a Kitchen, Part II

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Usability, Web Design

Building a Website Is Like Building a Kitchen, Part II

My dad is a carpenter and the smell of sawdust is childhood nostalgia for me. I grew up around custom cabinetry. For every remodel done in our home, all cabinets were built from scratch, with every piece meticulously discussed and created to deliver a unique solution. The drawer slides got as much scrutiny and consideration as the front panels (by the way, soft-close drawer slides are amazing — you’ll never go back). I can appreciate the time taken to make a decision for every piece in each room, and the end results were breathtaking. Form and function blended seamlessly.

Kitchen Design

I went to IKEA a few weekends ago with my husband. During our wandering expedition, we passed by the kitchen showcase and I loved the modern look. It’s simple, streamlined, and above all, shiny and new! However, I knew deep down that while I loved the style of their functional kitchens, it wasn’t the solution for me… but hey, I could still add their ideas to my Pinterest list! And yes, our marriage is still going strong after that IKEA trip.

Design embodies emotion. Once the functionality of a kitchen or website is established (aka, “the boring part”), there’s an excitement when moving into the realm of materials, colors, accessories, and “pop." We are visual creatures, and we create immediate first impressions when a website first loads. Design is an important detail. But functionality is the important foundation.

Like kitchens, there are many ways to approach design with websites. There is no right or wrong answer, but here are some questions to consider when determining what is best for your institution:

  • How do you want to represent your institution through your website?
  • What’s holding you back?
  • How can you go the extra mile to provide the best experience?

For institutions, a website should be a reflection of its brand and identity. It should provide insight into what makes your school unique, show why it’s the best of the best, and let prospective students know what kind of community and culture they will encounter.

Use What You’ve Got

One of the unique aspects of higher ed is that the foundation of visuals are well-defined — colors, mission statements, logos, and more are already at your disposal. The identity of the institution has been forged over years, if not decades… so no pressure coming up with a new design!

While many design assets are known, it’s important to consider the limitations of time, cost, and resources. Look at the strengths and weaknesses of pre-made templates and custom design templates. While a custom solution provides uniqueness and full-control of the details, it requires more time and resources to ensure all aspects of the redesign are considered. Pre-made templates provide a jump-start for a cohesive redesign, yet the institution’s brand may be lost in the myriad of other websites that use the same template.

Again, there is no right or wrong answer for the direction — it comes down to accomplishing the goals you've set, which I discussed in my previous post. Overall, the design should complement and enhance the way web visitors encounter your site.

Make the Extra Interaction

The details are details. They make the product. The connections, the connections, the connections. It will in the end be these details that give the product its life. 

  Charles Eames

The Experience of a Lifetime

When I officially enrolled for my undergrad, I remember clicking the “Submit” button and thinking that balloons and confetti should inundate the screen — this was a huge moment! Instead, it was a measly confirmation screen. To this day, I’m still disappointed that a major milestone was a missed opportunity for a great experience.

Look for places in your website where you can surprise and delight. Microinteractions are a great way to align with a visitor’s emotional state and deliver impressionable experiences for prospective students considering your institution. For more info, this great article by Nick Babich details best practices for using microinteractions in your site.

An Experience for All

As mentioned in my recent blog post, 11% of post-secondary students report having a disability. Remain aware of how your website’s design may affect those with disabilities. Color, ease of navigation, captioning, and more can determine if a prospective student has a positive or negative experience when visiting your site.

Content Matters

A kitchen is useless without its contents. The same goes for your website’s content. The website can look great, but without clear, effective communication, the experience is lost. Generating great content not only provides insights to what visitors can expect at your institution, it can lead to a personal connection. Dedicate ample time and resources for the content of your website to ensure the successful rollout of your website.

When building your kitchen (or website), think about functionality first. Design comes second and will only enhance the way you use your site.

Don't forget to check out part I of this series.

Thinking about redesigning your "kitchen"? Learn how Charter Oak State College did it DIY-style in our case study.

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Nicole Conary

User Experience Design Engineer

Nicole has a lifelong love of technology and is always looking for ways to make products easier to use. With degrees in English (Cal Poly, SLO) and Computer Science (CSUCI), she got her start in Marketing at OmniUpdate and has since found her niche on the Development team as a User Experience Design Engineer. As a Ventura County, California native, Nicole enjoys being with family and friends, playing video games, rooting for the LA Kings (Go Kings Go!), plotting ways to own a Tesla, and a good glass of wine.

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