Design Changes The Way We Experience The Web

Fitim Blaku is a Software Engineer and Web Designer based in New York City. He specializes in creating immersive web designs and applications. His consulting group WebHD focuses on maximizing web revenue through increased user engagement.

Technology moves fast. Flat screen TV’s are everywhere, touch screen phones dominate mobile, and video games are pushing the graphical boundaries into reality. On the other hand, websites, which serve as the virtual representation of all commerce, look the same way they did two decades ago. Despite the fact that the web accounts for more revenue than all of the previous mentioned mediums combined, providing a truly engaging web experience remains a low priority for virtually all businesses.

An interface is what facilitates the dialogue between your user and your product. Everything your business represents is communicated through your website’s interface and the experience it provides. Key metrics like customer satisfaction, user retention and the amount of time people spend on your site are heavily influenced by the level of engagement you choose to provide. The more engaging your site, the longer people stick around. This generates activity, people consume more information and click more ads. Great design is a tremendously valuable asset that encourages high levels of engagement.

The potential for untapped revenue by applying great designs to your website is tremendous. Is there a market for this? Do people want to see and experience exciting new designs and interfaces? Sure — Have you seen how great iPad apps look? They’re gorgeous, vibrant and provide users with aesthetically pleasing interfaces to interact with. The result is that Apple can’t make iPads fast enough.

Build Immersive Web Experiences

By using technology which already exists today, we can add new layers and dimensions to websites. Marvelous capabilities already exist for every browser (and they have for years), but they are being underutilized. Recent advancement in JavaScript coding techniques and improvements in CSS provide designers an easy way make use of three very powerful and engaging techniques: motion, depth and time, all without the need for plug-ins. The difference when using these techniques is not a subtle change, but a drastic revision of what the web can do. How hard is it to go back to standard television once you’ve seen that same picture in high definition?

(A proof of concept of an immersive website. I presented this at TechCrunch Disrupt New York last year)

These techniques provide the platform for creativity to flourish, and its usefulness has been ignored by designers and businesses. All that is required is some creativity, room for experimentation and a bit of freedom and hard work on the part of the designer. Make it your top priority to keep users on your site longer. Give them a reason to stay and engage with your brands and products. Utilize your designers to their capacity and let them do what they’re capable of. Businesses spend millions to get users to their websites, but once they’re there, they let them look at a static page that looks like a brochure. But you’ve worked hard to get that user to your site — why not get more for your investment?

Great Designs Increase User Engagement

I have a hypothesis… To engage your users further, make your website more engaging. Then websites stand to generate much more revenue by engaging visitors that they already have. The result is your users spend more time on your site and make you more money. This provides a boost to the effectiveness of your marketing effort on the most fundamental level. You can increase the value of every current user and new user that ever comes to your site.

A great example of this would be Amazon. If Amazon’s website was more aesthetically pleasing, vibrant, or visually coherent — imagine the increase in sales they would see because users start spending more time on their site. Traditional retailers like WalMart and Target spend big money to improve the look and feel of all their stores. That’s because it’s well understood that providing a comfortable environment for customers is extremely influential on sales. The lighting’s got to be just right, colors need to be easy on the eyes, all to make people feel it’s the right time to make a purchase. But online businesses still have not yet seen the real value or potential in this: the visual and experience factor. You should act on this. Your users do care. The web is evolving fast, the way you interact with it is going to start changing soon.

(This fully animated website tells a story in the background over a 30 second timeline)

Experiment, Iterate and Track

How do these new design techniques work? The jQuery animate() function in JavaScript is the key enabler. It’s extremely powerful and an underutilized tool set (it’s free and open source) that lets you do a lot of the graphical animations that only Flash traditionally provided. With it you can move any single part of a web page around the screen smoothly. It provides fading for pictures, images, text, backgrounds or even moving Flash objects. By tightly integrating the tools available to us as designers, you open the doors to higher levels of engagement while building on top of what already works.

The application of these techniques begins with a change in the way you approach designing a website. Change your philosophy. Create a true virtual environment where time and space do exist, it’s up to your designers to make users almost feel like they’re there. What do users feel when they use your website? You can help make them feel better by creating a sense of liveliness and rich user interaction within the context of a well-thought out experience. Play around with different color themes and provide more interactive interfaces. Depth, time and motion can exist in a website and they are available for you to use.

With the right design you can captivate your audience, deliver a more convincing message and build new revenue opportunities. All you need to do is develop a well-thought out experience for your customers. You are opening a new and powerful form of communication with them by doing so.