Monday, May 18, 2009

When is no style the best style?

In casting about for a new look for my Snowball translation memory website, it occurred to me that not only is there a pretty fine line between information and overload, many sites these days are so far over that line it's hard to say just what it is they're trying to tell you. If it gets too bad but I'm still pretty sure there's some useful information hidden in there somewhere, I'll set the view to "No Style", and, as they say, voila. Now why couldn't they have done that in the first place?

Sure, it's great to have a powerful GPU and be able to view all those amazing animated colored shapes, but if the actual information content is still the same, doesn't that mean the signal-to-noise ratio is actually going down?

So, what to do for my own website? Snowball is my tool for translators that's designed to provide as much useful information as possible, as unobtrusively as possible. Doesn't it stand to reason that my web design should reflect that image as well? Now who can I emulate that has a website with maximum information and minimum window dressing? Let me see what I can find on Google.... Oh. That was easy.

OK, now for the information. What message can I present to potential customers in the 50 milliseconds before they click away to some other site? If that's all the time I've got, it's tempting to just make one big, friendly button that fills the whole screen and says "Buy Snowball!" But for those who stay longer, I ought to have links to downloads, tutorials, testimonials, user groups, and other interesting blogs and sites. But should I structure it in a grid with a soothing background, or throw everything down in a clickable collage? Or should I just list everything down the page, like a list of Google hits, in order of importance, with no style? Will I get feedback from enthusiastic visitors - "Wow, your site really rocks - it's got no style at all!"

What do you think? What do people get from your website - information or overload?


ahe said...

Hi Erich,

as a designer (let's forget my translator experience now) I have to agree with you, content is king. The accessibility to the content is the main thing to have in mind, and a simple layout goes a long way in achieving that.

That said, I feel your website, although it's pretty straightforward in its organization, could benefit from a better layout. I cannot see a clear structure, and that goes against visual legibility. The ball logo is a powerful image (reminds me of the series "The Prisoner" :) but it loses some of its power due to its positioning, the typeface used for the title and the border of the container box.

Now, we have designer many websites and always try to make them as clear as possible. In case you want to have a look at them, these are some of the latest ones:

As you can see, the design is really simple, but everything is tied together by the "invisible" grid: the distribution and alignment of elements does the trick. Of course, consistent use of the corporate identity is essential, too.

Sorry if that sounded like gratuitous bashing, it's just a piece of advice from an experienced designer.

Finally, best of luck with Snowball; I still don't have any experience with TM software, but any new competition is always welcome (and, as I gather, people keep complaining about Trados). So, my best wishes with your new software product.

Regards from Spain,

Ángel Domínguez.

Erich Hegenberger said...

Yeah, I agree, it's time to do something, and that's what got me thinking about this subject. Hopefully I can make some improvements soon!