Good design helps to communicate a message, rather than obscuring the contents of a website. As such, simplicity is a great design consideration. However, simple, clean design does not mean boring design. The following considerations were part of my process to create a layered and sophisticated look that would reflect the gourmet food theme of the website without adding a lot of clutter.
I created the design for this website with a few functional issues in mind. First, since it is a store website featuring products there are certain elements that users expect to find. I kept in mind that such visitors would be driven away from the site if they had to hunt too hard in order to locate these elements. The information about hours and store location is prominently placed on the contact page. Additionally, the address, phone, number and email address are footer elements that remain consistent on each page. Most importantly, however, I considered the ease of navigation. If users can’t find something quickly, they simply move on; quickly equates to within one or two clicks.
The main navigation is situated on the right-hand side of the page, with clearly labeled categories of About, Shop, Contact, and Recipes appearing horizontally in the header. Simple rollover graphics help to indicate that these are links. There is no Home button, however the logo in the upper left is placed in a typical location and links to the index page from all other pages; this is so common that virtually all users would attempt to click there prior to looking for an actual home button (I certainly do). The addition of a button that actually read Home seemed redundant, and I feel that typical Internet users are past the point of needing such a text-based cue to return to the index page of a website.
The secondary navigation is located on the right-hand side as well, with the main product categories listed vertically. I had initially planned to have this secondary navigation appear when users clicked the shop page, and remain on all tertiary category and product pages. Upon viewing dozens of ecommerce sites, however, I noted that almost all of the designs kept such product navigation intact on every page, including the home page. I decided that this was likely an ingrained expectation of viewers, and that removing the category buttons on the index, about, and contact pages would be aggravating to users.
I also considered whether cascading menus would be appropriate, since the main categories control navigation to particular products. Many sites do use such stacking features to obscure and reveal increasingly specific categories, but I decided in the end that the selection on Taste the World was too small to justify this feature. In fact, it would probably be aggravating to see stacked menus reveal only 3-4 choices, and would create extra clicking, which is a serious design faux pas. Instead, the shop page contains a descriptive category list, with each subheading linked to the appropriate category page. These links are the same as the navigational links on the right, so users can bypass the shop page altogether if desired, or click from within the main content area on the shop page, if that is what they are used to. They can return to any category page at any point within the site simply by using the secondary navigational menu.
The category pages offer thumbnails of products, as well as brief descriptions of the overall category. Ceramics and Accessories, therefore, contains images that link to individual product pages detailing specific price, use, and imagery of serving pieces. The category pages reflect another trend in ecommerce sites, which is to have a series of images on one or more pages that link to more detailed product pages. It is a logical organizational tool and one that is likely expected by most users. The individual product pages are also designed with typical expectations in mind. They include a sizable product shot, and when available and appropriate, alternate views. The alternate views are located as thumbnails below the main image, and are remote rollover buttons. Eventually, the site will include a functional shopping cart, so an add to cart button will be added to each product page; ample space has been left at the bottom to accommodate this future addition.
Beyond navigation, there are some other functional considerations. I used the color contrast analyzer available at Colors on the Web to check my text/background combinations to make sure they met accessibility standards, which they do. The only contrast area that was flagged as problematic was the dark logo on the red header banner. I could not find a color combination that worked in this case while still fitting within the site color palette, and simply made the assessment that the combination was contrasty enough for the majority of Internet users. I also made sure to label all images with alt text to ensure that text readers could effectively process what is a relatively graphics-heavy website. This includes the rollover buttons, which are an image that utilizes text. Beyond the logo, navigational buttons, and a decorative quote on the index page, all text is written in the Trebuchet font, which is approved for the web. Therefore, all text should render correctly in most browsers. Additionally, I increased the spacing between lines and made sure the smallest text was set to a 12pt size to increase the readability of the website contents. I also made the main content block light in color so I could use darker fonts in that area. I felt that light on dark fonts (which I like the look of) should be reserved for the side boxes where short snippets would be easy to read. I felt that the longer text sections required for the main content area might cause fatigue if viewers were expected to read light text on a dark background for such passages.
Balance, texture, and space:
The design is arranged using the rule of thirds, with the main content area occupying two-thirds of the horizontal space, and the navigation and announcement blocks occupy the remaining third. This gives the content area a greater presence on the page, and should pull a viewer’s eye there first. Additionally, the use of burgundy gradients in the header and footer areas creates a sense of balance and unity as the repetition of the colors creates a mirror effect on the page. Additionally, textural elements add interest to the background and help to draw the viewer’s eye across the page. First, the translucent coffee cups in the header bar both mirror the logo design and draw attention across the page towards the navigation bar. The graphic overlaps the background slightly in order to eliminate the boxy feel that might otherwise prevail on the page. The drawings of star anise seeds repeated on the left and right sides of the background help to draw the gaze up an down the page. They also create an asymmetrical balance because the same images are repeated on the left and right, but occupy different spatial areas. The smaller but more numerous left-hand seeds are placed closer to one another, while the larger and more flowing seed drawing on the right is surrounded by more open space. These size and space differences offset one another on the page. Both the coffee cups and spice images reference the store theme and products, and so are not just arbitrary textures.
As for space, some areas have been left open to create an uncluttered feel. There is also room for growth here as there is plenty of space to add a small shopping bag icon and/or search box under the header if the site becomes large enough to warrant such a feature. On the secondary pages there is a lower box in the right-hand column that is intended to contain important information or add graphical interest through images, depending on the page. The separate container box helps to set important sound bites of information or announcements apart from the main content area. As such, the grand opening announcement initially occupied this spot, and has now been replaced by an announcement of a new Bean Club promotion. This important area has been removed on the tertiary product pages, however, in order to make sure the space there remains uncluttered. This is due to the large graphics already in place on those pages; the open area under the navigation bar creates a good balance with the product space, and trying to feature additional content in that smaller box would compete with the main content on those pages.
Color is perhaps the most important element I considered in this design. I began with the intent of using burgundy because I felt it conveyed a certain richness. Jason Beaird backed up this assumption when he suggested that such deep red conveyed associations with fine living, but that such colors were also associated with power and hunger. This seemed perfect for a gourmet food store. I initially began with the intent of using an analogous color scheme, incorporating other colors that suggested associations with food—namely yellow and orange. After working with these colors, however, I could not find a combination of yellow, orange, and burgundy that appeared sophisticated (no matter how “burnt” the orange color I chose). It simply created a site with a harvest look.
I then decided to use the color palette generator at Colors on the Web to try out different looks. I began with my original burgundy (#80021F) and tried triadic and complementary color schemes. Interestingly, I would never have independently used a complementary color scheme with red and green because it sounds Christmas-like. However, the burgundy was offset by a rather rich green. I then tweaked the green so it was not quite exactly opposite, and ended up with a rich light olive color (#78752C). I then took my new color scheme to Adobe Kuler in order to generate a full palette for my website. There I added tints and shades of the original colors, as well as a rich brown that suggested the idea of coffee to me (an important element of the store). I ended up with a dark, medium, and light version of brown, burgundy, and olive green, and added an ivory color as the lightest tint (in lieu of white). This color palette reminded me of a winery, coffee house, or other sophisticated food topic, and therefore seemed perfect for Taste the World. (I also made my new color palette public, since I love the type of resource sharing that drives the Web.)
The actual website displays all the colors and ranges in the described palette. Every color is repeated somewhere in order to add unity to the elements on the page. The deep brown of the background, for instance, reappears in the hand drawings (which were re-colored in Photoshop to fit the overall palette). The ivory from the main content area is repeated in the main navigational headings, footer text, and rollover graphics. The dark burgundy is repeated in the text heading, and so forth. This all sounds very “matchy,” but it makes for an overall unified look and ensures some weird background element doesn’t suddenly compete with the site contents.
Next up I’ll relay some of the issues and challenges I faced during the design.