Balancing Function, Form, Usefulness, and Results: Problems Designers Solve

12 Jul 2016

 I saw this t-shirt advertised on Facebook the other day and thought, Oh yeah, that's exactly how I spend most of my days now. 


While many psychotherapists, counselors, social workers, coaches, psychics, psychologists and other solopreneurs in the healing arts might think that website design is simply a matter of changing colors on a template and plugging in content, there is a lot more strategic thinking and technical problem solving that goes into having a great, client attracting website.


For those of you who have ventured into the do-it-yourself world, I thought I'd outline a few of the more invisible problems and challenges to think about.



First Priority is Function, and Functioning


The very first problem to think about is what do you want your website to do for you, and in what manner. Do you want it to:


  • inform, inspire, or educate?

  • display empathy and/or expertise?

  • build trust and rapport?

  • collect contact info?

  • motivate taking an action?

  • stimulate interaction? 


In many cases, we want a combination of these, and maybe all of them in some way. That's where you start to get into the psychology of your ideal client -- what will help them know or do what you'd like them to know or do from visiting your website?


A second thing to think about is whether you are using your website to:


  1. increase sales / get new clients

  2. enhance your professional image / brand


Taking all of these factors into consideration, and ideally from the website visitor's point of view, will tell you what kind of Wix opt-in forms, buttons, photos, page names, colors, menus, content headlines, and SEO tags you will need.


A third problem to solve is how to ensure the site functions as well for computer algorithms as it does for human visitors. This is main reason you pay a designer -- to put into place all the functionality that works for both audiences. Tending to one without the other just isn't effective for your business. More on the techie component at the end of this blog.



Design as Organizational and Visual Form


In architecture it is said that form follows function. This is true as well in building a website. Once your function is determined, you can concentrate on form.


Wix makes clean, clear, logical organization of the look of your pages, and content on those pages very easy to accomplish. When I build sites for clients, I'm also using space and the flow of text to enhance readability so that the visitor isn't distracted from your message and directions.


In essence, every website page is a map helping the visitor get where you want them to go, so they can do what you hope they will do.


A co-worker of mine often said, never underestimate the ability of people to misunderstand what you want them to do, even when you tell them clearly and repeatedly.


Building a website, even with tools as easy to use as Wix, requires being able to step into the mindset of the client you are wanting to attract, and see your site through their eyes. In general we know that website visitors want:


  • a design look that is pleasing if not intriguing

  • an overall energy that holds attention

  • page names that are clear not clever

  • buttons that connect to pages with relevant content

  • short bullet lists

  • phone numbers easy to find

  • addresses and maps in the obvious place

  • your name in header or footer

  • minimal contact forms - don't ask for too much

  • content with subtitles that make reading easier

  • wide margins to focus attention

  • colorful elements that carefully move the eye


But don't expect visitors to read every page of your site. Nor will they read in the order in which you have organized the menu. People tend to go straight for where they think they will find the information they are seeking to solve the problem or desire they have. Your problem is to correctly assess what that need is, and your challenge is to make that spot on your site obvious and easy to get to.



Experience Must Be Useful to a Particular Audience


Although you do want your website to have a personality all its own that is simultaneously somewhat reflective of yours, it's essential to keep in mind who you are wanting to attract to the website and what they are likely to be looking for and familiar with.  


That is, the visitor's experience of looking at your website must be not only interesting to them, but useful and easy as well. 


If you are a therapist, coach or psychic, it's helpful to assume some level of stress, frustration, depression, anxiety, yearning, or fear in the minds of visitors who get to your website. You want their experience on your website to feel reassuring, comforting, easy, and encouraging.


A live example -- I had the chance today to critique the website of a writer and logo designer who was trying her best to get absolutely everything she personally liked and wanted others to know on a single page website. The result was a confusing jumble of disorganized clutter that was driving visitors away from her website within 2 seconds of landing on it.  (The extra second was probably used to figure out that all the website was was an homage to her cat.)  


When the confusing organization and visual clutter was pointed out as the main factor in her traffic bounce rate, her reply was that focused websites bored her. 


Well, I guess that is fine if your purpose is to produce the digital version of something to hang on your mom's frig. Personally, I found the site anything but easy to look at and couldn't wait to get off of it. I didn't read anything.


Whether you are hoping to sell your writing, or your services, you can't afford the luxury of designing just for yourself. The whole purpose of having a website is to make a connection with potential clients or buyers. And that won't happen if they can't stand or understand what they are looking at.



Invisible Fairies Creating Search Engine Results


Most of what makes a website show up in search engine results in order to attract visitors is invisible to the general public. It will be invisible to you, too, unless you know how to access your source code or where to look in your Wix editor. (Source code is the computer coding language that computers can read but most humans can't)


I'm not going to get into the vast mechanics of search engine optimization here, except to say that falls into two broad categories -- on site SEO and off site. Here is what needs to be optimized on your website so that Google, Bing and the minor search engines will index your site:


  1. website title, description, and universal keywords

  2. individual page titles, descriptions, and page keywords

  3. header headline - usually name of your business or your name

  4. page headline(s)

  5. photos throughout the site, including the blog

  6. blog keywords


Numbers 1 and 2 are usually called meta tags. Numbers 3 and 4 are called H tags -- #3 should be an H1, and all the #4s should be H2.  Number 5 is usually called the photo's alt tag, but in Wix this is called alt text. 


If you have a blog, the blog app lets you add tags to help organize and locate individual posts. Wix calls these tags, but you might think of them as keywords.


You might think of these 6 important pieces of source code as invisible fairies working tirelessly for you to bring people to your website's marketing message. If you don't have those 6 invisible fairies set up, it's unlikely you'll be getting much traffic to your website.


Even when you have set up your on-page SEO, your analytics might be showing that people still aren't finding or staying on your website long enough to be motivated to contact you. If that is happening, it's time to get an experienced designer /webmaster like me to check your site, find the problems you didn't know you had, and propose some solutions.


See this page on website critiques if your site isn't performing for you in the way you expected. 



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Why I've Retired

It's possible this will come as a surprise to you -- it certainly has snuck on me that I'm well past retirement age. Over the last year or so, my heart has been pulled in other directions, and while I still love the creative aspects of website design, I want to use my time making a life rather than devoting my energies to making a living. So I plan to travel, attend writers' retreats, work on learning to take good iPhone photos, and just be open to where my spirit guides take me. I have also stepped back from my esoteric work for 2020, and who knows what the future holds for that.

Please see the blog post for my two Wix designers who have earned my highest recommendations for serving my client niche.

All the Best to You!