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Customers Are Awesome, So Design for Them!

The real purpose of an art, comic, music, or blog website is to give a reader information about you in under 7 seconds that tells them why they should stay and keep reading you from now on.

There it is – the Meaning of Life. The Lost Scroll. The Fate of Atlantis. Master this and you have Real Ultimate Power.

Art and design is largely about “image”. While this is true, many artists fall prey to Too Much Image when it comes to designing their website. I believe that a website should be the frame for your brilliance. It shouldn’t eclipse your work. It also shouldn’t take excessive time to load or otherwise alter the user’s browsing experience. Today, I am going to talk about some guidelines for making the best impact with your website.

1. Avoid Flash: I personally don’t like Flash unless it is specifically for a flash cartoon or game that you have made. I have never sat through a Flash intro to a website and said afterward, “Gee, I really liked sitting there waiting to get to this website I have never heard of before.” Never. Most people will not wait.

Flash also doesn’t display on an iPhone and most other mobile devices, so if you must use Flash, make sure there is a non-Flash option.

You might say, “What idiot only uses an iPhone to browse the internet?” Well, that idiot would be me. I work hours that would make a large man (or even David Hasselhoff) cry. I rarely am able to get to my own desktop computer. A Flash only website is enough to prevent me from seeing it entirely. I do not have time to “surf the net” in the few hours I have at home each day. Also, I am not alone. Our culture is going mobile in a big way.

2. Don’t have music that auto-plays: There had been some debate about this in the case of bands. Some bands insist that the best way to get their work to their customer is to have their music auto play. I disagree. It is important to quickly get your work to that person’s ears, but politeness toward your customer always supersedes any sales tactic.


These bands aren’t considering people who are browsing at work or school. Just looking at my personal web traffic, I see that most of my readers come right when they get to work or school. I think the entire internet would be empty if you removed this type of traffic. At worst, that MP3 file is an embarrassment to the person who hasn’t had time to adjust the volume on their speakers to prevent the whole planet from hearing it. At best, it’s annoying to the person who was already listening to iTunes.

Both of these scenarios happened to me. Both of them resulted in my immediately closing my browser and never coming back.

3. Don’t change the user’s browsing atmosphere: Changing the end user’s browsing atmosphere is similarly rude and jarring. Things like changing their cursor to a cross hair or forcing you to view their website full screen so that you can’t see your OS’s navigation menus are just plain inadvisable. Most people react with fear to new things. This is no exception.

4. Take different browsing scenarios into account: Will your website run on a computer that has a 800X600 resolution and a dial-up modem? How about on both Mac and PC browsers? Does it display on an iPhone, Palm OS, and on Windows Mobile?

As I said before, the range of ways someone could be browsing the internet is wider than ever before. While you can’t test for every single device or browser, do at least some testing to make sure things aren’t totally blown looking on something, especially if the something is very popular (even if you don’t like/use it personally).

5. When in doubt, don’t do it: If a feature doesn’t speed up the delivery of your work to the person loading the website – it should not be used. Trust me, if your work isn’t good, no amount of “cool” features are going to get you a sale. When in doubt, don’t add the feature. Focus on content first, then add whiz bang stuff later.

So there you have it – some basic guidelines about how to design for your customers so that you can optimize those valuable first 7 seconds and keep a new visitor for life.

Like all guidelines, there may be some special case where some of them can be broken. Have you used any of these features (or others) and made them work for you? Or, have you see a hideous offender of poor web design that sends customers running? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Oh SPOT ON!

    And I have FIGHTS with clients who’s every third word out of their mouths if FLASH FLASH FLASH. And FLASH CS3 is very powerful but ActionScript is insanely hard now, and has become DEEP GEEK. HATE.

    And I do have a couple of sites where the client Insisted. One with AutoMusic, Home page and all the section main pages… where the client yes, insisted.

    Sometimes you just can’t save these people

    ** cries **

  2. Oh heck yes, Samurai! I had one guy who insisted I use “images off the web”. 72 DPI. For print. AND HE WANTED FLASH OMG, AAAAA.

  3. One more bad habit is that many sites fail to use a fluid layout (including this one) and as such those of us who have five or six windows open cannot afford full screen width for a single window. Its dead easy to use a fluid width.

  4. Michael, we would actually agree with you in principal. If you go to our forum site at Harknell.com or the “classic” Onezumi.com site, both are set to a fluid theme.
    The problem is the bulk of web visitors would not agree with you or us. Most surveys of web traffic tend to show that people prefer fixed width themes because it makes the site look consistent. Most online users are actually very non-technical and get disturbed by things moving around or being in different positions. One of the reasons that the web has grown so quickly over the last few years is due to the new trend to develop sites for a mass audience–which has made sites more fixed with large shiny buttons and flashy ajax effects. So the “audience you need to design for” outweighs the power users who normally can compensate for inconvenience. It’s simply a fact of the evolving base of users of the web expecting a different type of interaction.

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