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Functional Web Design’s PurposeApril 26, 2013 / Rick Bjarnason
There are as many approaches to web design as there are trees in the jungle. Picking the right approach can be as tough as picking the best banana from the bunch, but if you want to avoid a belly ache, you’ve got to narrow down your options. The fine folks over at CMSwire.com recently published an article celebrating the use of functional web design for accomplishing specific user-oriented goals and tasks.
As the article explains, “Design is not just how it looks. Design must also be concerned with how it works. For things to work on the Web they must be findable. That requires a focus on search and navigation. When these are found the customer must be able to do something with them; complete a task.”
Author Gerry McGovern elaborated on the benefits to the user experience that functional web design can provide, “The nature of behavior on the Web is very impatient and fast-moving. If within a couple of seconds a person does not understand what a page is about they tend to leave. Therefore, we need a very minimalist design that clearly and rapidly communicates the purpose of any particular page.” Drupal sites are particularly well suited for this sort of design because of the many Drupal features and customizations that allow a wide spectrum of design options.
The truth is that simplicity is complicated. The English realize this, as pointed out by McGovern in the article, where designers of the minimalist website Gov.Uk beat out the world’s best architects who collaborated to build the Olympic Torch cauldron highlighted at the London games for a 2012 design prize. “The cauldron is an absolutely stunning piece of work,” writes McGovern, “and in comparison, GOV.UK looks downright ugly.”
The GOV.UK website is brilliant in its simplicity. Consisting of only one typeface and a basic color scheme, the site has hardly any pictures, images, or sharing buttons. While it doesn’t make for a pretty experience, categories are clearly labeled and prompt the visitor to find solutions to almost any problem in a few short clicks.
And perhaps what is most striking, although you don’t notice it at first, is the lack of news content. McGovern writes, “One thing that is interesting to note about GOV.UK lacks news. Often, websites are dominated by the latest thing the organization wants to tell you. If you look at most intranets their homepages are dominated by all the things that the Communications Department needs to tell you. If you look at most public websites their homepages are dominated by all the things that the marketing department wants to tell you.”
This same theory was applied by Norwegian bank Sparebanken, and McGovern explains their results after reducing 50% of overall content and focusing on customer services, “When they took all this content away — thus simplifying the navigation — they had a 520% increase in visits to the product pages.”
There are many things that are beautiful in the jungle, and occasionally you can even find a clearing. Functional design is the web equivalent of a safe, beautiful clearing, where you can see the stars and appreciate simplicity.