Did you know that the world of web design is much like a vintage Ford Model T? Well, sort of. When any invention first hits the ground you’ll see all sorts of variations on that invention. One of my favorite inventions, of course, is the automobile.
Recently I was speaking with a friend who was mulling over possibilities for a new website for his business. After a number of years of dealing with a site that was quite, er, historic, he was still evaluating various designs in his head. His consternation: he didn’t want something that looked like everything else. But this is not the way to go nowadays.
Looking back at when automobiles started becoming popular, the Ford Model T was as much a vehicle (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of change as any and Henry and his crew manufactured a lot of Model Ts. Other manufacturers, too, saw the success over at the house of Ford and wanted to get in on the action. As is typical with any industry, people generally strive to do something a little better so the competitors to Ford made improvements to their designs such that Ford finally felt enough pressure to come out with the Model A.
If you go to a museum and they have a Model T Ford there, ask the docents how you drive them. In fact, it’s nothing like a present-day motor vehicle. First of all, there’s no accelerator pedal. Nope. And no brake pedal either. Cars of that time have a variety of different ways to get them going and the first thing you would do, in those days, is learn the peculiarities of motivating your motivator to get your motivation on.
As the market became increasingly competitive the way to differentiate one brand of vehicle from the next changed and actually using the product, in this case the automobile, became standardized. Such is true of many industries that evolve to become mainstream.
Websites, too, have evolved into a more mainstream form. As the Internet became more widely used, web designs evolved as well. While it used to be that unusual design, creative menu structure and moving graphics were the way to differentiate one site from the next, today designs follow a standard of sorts. The real differentiators aren’t the layout, per se, but rather content and beautiful photography.
Websites have evolved so that there’s a ribbon menu on top, beautiful photography directly below and relevant content underneath. No matter which successful website you visit, this is almost completely the path the designers follow.
While some might argue that certain elements of design have gone out of websites, usability has increased significantly. What has also happened is that these sites have become more friendly to those with visual and other challenges and also work well no matter what device is being use to look at the site.
Today a big percentage of web traffic is generated by mobile devices. Depending on the site, there are some cases where mobile devices can account for the majority of the visits to that site. Having a standard configuration that works on small screens also helps those users to be able to navigate your site and rush hour traffic at the same time, even though we all know that that’s a bad, bad idea.
Having some form of standard also means that it’s possible to use web-based tools to create sites. Gone are the days where you needed a high-end computer and thousands of dollars in software just to put a decent site together. Now tools like Weebly and SquareSpace make it possible for any size business to compete head-to-head with large companies.
While these tools definitely don’t serve all purposes, there are a lot of sites that can be done with these tools effectively and successfully.
WordPress, too, is probably what the majority of websites are done in; however, I find that the number of pieces and plugins makes WordPress both the most flexible tool on the market but also one that requires a great deal of expertise in the tool itself to be most successful. Template-based tools allow for more focus by a business owner on the message rather than the tools needed to deliver the message.
If you happen to be able to coax someone with a Ford Model A into letting you drive their car you’ll notice that it’s not unlike driving a modern car. The accelerator, brake and clutch pedal (sorry millenials, no automatic transmission!) are all where you’d expect them to be and the experience is familiar. Your website, too, should be easy to use because if it’s not, there are millions of others that are. And you don’t want someone to make a shift away from your message.
Of course this begs the question - if you're using a template program, do you still need a website professional?