No, A Flexible Web Site Is Not Always Best

September 14, 2015 | Web Design

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Long ago, developers built web sites using basic HTML code. Many business owners found themselves stuck with sites that they couldn’t update themselves and few options for quickly changing how things looked.

Content Management Systems (CMS) revolutionized how web site owners controlled their site. Using a tool like WordPress, they were able to make many updates themselves without any knowledge of HTML.

We love to empower our clients to add and update content themselves, too.

Sometimes, when we are building out web sites there is an insistence that everything be flexible.

EverythingFlexibleSome clients seem resistant to having any element “fixed” on their site. “Oh no, that means we’ll need to have you make the change when I need that updated!” But, I explain, you have no plans to change that for months, if ever. Wouldn’t it be great to have it look great and function and really well right now? If and when you decide you need to update it (in a way  you cannot even articulate right now), we’ll build it in a way that makes sense for you at that time?

Web site owners (with good reason) fear having a web site they can’t update without going back to the web designer. I hear a lot of stories about the frustration of the web design being locked, and without the ability to update certain key content. As a reaction to that type of feeling, I hear demands for greater control and flexibility.

For example, we hear:

  • I want to be able to add unlimited menu items to the main navigational bar at any time.
  • I want to be able to add subpages on the fly (even though I don’t have any now).
  • I want to be able to edit and move every piece of text.
  • I want to be able to uniquely style everything, all my myself.

Do you need to be able to update everything yourself?

All of this initially sounds ideal: give more control to the web site owner. And for simple web sites with minimal content it works just fine. In fact, I tend to think of these sites as starter sites. They are great for new firms or startups who are still figuring out their offerings and positioning. They need to be able to change their web site as they change.

But there are limitations of an overly flexible web site design. It can be too much of a good thing.

The biggest problem is that to allow such fluidity, you nearly always end up with a very generic looking site. With these typical setups you get: a main navigation bar across the top, a list of sub-pages running down one side and then you dump text with a few small images into the live body area.

But this can’t solve everything. If you keep adding more and more items to a horizontal navigational bar, you end up running out of room. Do items then go down to the next line? Do you start by making the type really small, just in case?

Higher level design and coding can improve your message

When we are building larger, more complex sites—and especially ones that are being used to promote multi-faceted organizations with complex offerings—this cookie-cutter approach begins to fail.

As an example, rather than one navigation bar that lists all content equally, you may benefit from having multiple, unequal navigational areas. Each navigational areas may be styled different, positioned in different areas and ideally help the user experience by clearly showing that all content is not equal.

As you make decisions about what can be changed and updated on-the-fly, realize that some pieces of the overall web design may be better executed if there is a higher level of design and/or coding behind it. And to achieve that, you may lose some flexibility, yet improve the user experience.

What has been your experience? Have you suffered from frustration about not being able to update parts of your web site or are there areas that are fixed and that’s fine?

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