Why Simple Websites are Better #1 - Playing to Mental Prototypes

We’ve always believed that simple website are better, but now there is a host of evidence to back –up the intuition. Over this and the next few posts, we’re going to explore: mental prototypes, cognitive fluency, visual processing and working memory – and how all those things affect your web design.

So, what are mental prototypes when they’re at home?

A prototype is a basic mental image your mind holds to represent a particular type of thing.

For example, most people when asked to visualise a bird will have an image of a robin in their brain. The more a bird differentiates from this ‘prototype’, the less ‘birdy’ we consider it to be – for example penguins and ostriches are not considered as birdy as sparrows.

The same goes for fruit (apples), furniture (chairs) and websites.

Using mental prototypes helps us make sense of the world in a practical, efficient manner, so we don’t have to fully analyse everything we come into contact with each time. Otherwise, we would constantly be paralysed with trying to process everything we saw.

The reason this is important for web designers to know is that as result of prototypes, your brain likes things it is comfortable with, and will subconsciously reject things that deviate from the norm.

So most people will have a vague visual image in mind when it comes to a website for a plumber or a trendy shoe store, built up from all of those they have seen previously, and they will ‘want’ such websites to match these visual images.

Some designers and business people think it’s a good idea to be innovative and ‘stand out from the crowd’. This is certainly true in principle, but not if it’s just for the sake of being different. Because if your website is too different from what people expect, then they will find it strange and unsettling. This is unlikely to result in sales and enquiries for you…

So if your website has users hunting around for the navigation or looks like something out of the future, they won’t be sitting there admiring your innovation and cutting edge styling, they will be wondering why the website is so ‘wrong’.

So, by all means, be original and make an impact, but make sure you know what the prototypes for your area are, and that you’re using them to your advantage.

For more analysis, we recommend this excellent article, which was the inspiration for this series of posts: http://conversionxl.com/why-simple-websites-are-scientifically-better

If you found this article helpful and want to learn about good web design and bad web design, then have a look at our resource bank.

Website for Mediation Expert in Oxford

We were delighted when Changing Pathways was recommended to us by a good friend, to set up a website for his mediation business.

Colin of Changing Pathways had a DIY website that was no longer meeting his needs, and he wanted something that would perform a bit better, and ensure he and his associates gave a strong impression online and got in front of the right clients.

Colin offers a range of mediation services, including one-on-one, group, conflict coaching and mediation training. From chatting over coffee, we concluded that many companies and individuals don’t find it easy to quantify the costs of conflict and therefore don’t realise the full negative impact that disagreements and distress are having.

Therefore, we decided to create a ‘cost of conflict calculator’, a simple online tool that HR managers and other related professionals could use to enter in the details of the conflict and get an estimated cost. This could be used simply to raise awareness of how such conflicts should not be ignored, and could also be used by managers to justify the budget required to mediate the conflict successfully.

As well as the totally unique ‘cost of conflict calculator’ the web design needed to be calm, professional and give a sense of authority and knowledge without being overbearing. We helped design the logo and company literature and used a simple colour scheme with splashes of colour and bespoke illustrations to visually demonstrate the text content on the site itself.

We also included a resource bank, which Colin can regularly add to in order to build trust and reputation though the website.

How much should a website cost?

Everything on the Internet is free – right? Why should you pay for anything?

Whether you subscribe to that viewpoint or not, if you decide you or your company needs a website, there’s a good chance you’ll end up baffled as to what a reasonable amount to spend on a website is.

Some companies seem to be offering all the bells and whistles for under £100, while you hear rumours that some of the big brands paid millions for their websites.

As with most things, it mostly comes down to ‘you get what you pay for’ with a little wariness needed in order to avoid getting ripped off. 

Here is our brief guide to what we think is a reasonable charge for web design, from amateur to professional, and why:

Dirt Cheap / Free websites (under £100)

You can get a website dirt cheap or even free. There’s no doubt about it. There are do it yourself sites such as Squarespace and Wordpress which claim that you don’t need any technical expertise, and there are even designers who will promise you a wonderful website for only £100 or even less.

If you really absolutely, genuinely have no money at all, then this is the only option to you, so you must take it, because you have no choice. However, if you are starting a business, then creating a dirt cheap website could actually do the new business harm.

This is because a cheap website usually looks cheap, and the website reflects your business. Potential customers will assume that if your website is shoddy, your services and products will be to.

So why isn’t £100 enough for a decent website? Let’s break it down. A reasonable charge for a skilled professional is about £20 per hour. Let’s say they’re going even lower than that and only charging £15 per hour. That gives them about 6 and a half hours to build your site. And these are the absolute minimum things they need to do:

·         Select and register the domain name
·         Find out what you want
·         Create a design
·         Build the design
·         Insert the content
·         Make any final tweaks
·         Carry out SEO work
·         Launch the site

6 and a half hours only allows about 45 minutes per item on this list, and that’s not including any communication time. What sort of design can anyone do in 45 minutes?
No, unfortunately, anyone building a website for under £100 must be either working at below minimum wage, or cutting corners right left and centre.

Low priced websites (£500 - £1000)

If you’re on a budget, then £500 to a £1000 can buy you enough of a professional’s time to build a fairly decent, simple brochure website. 

This gives the designer time to do proper research and spend time brainstorming a good design that really reflects your vision of the business. They would have time to do the following:

                    Communicate with you throughout the process
                    Research, select and register the domain name
                    Personal consultation to understand your business
                    Research concepts and competitors
                    Create a design
                    Rework design concept to your perfect vision
                    Find or create graphical imagery
                    Build the design
                    Integrate social media
                    Insert interactive widgets
                    Insert the content
                    Do detail adjustment to perfect the content
                    Make any final tweaks
                    Carry out SEO work
                    Launch the site 

This is likely to result in you having an attractive, well-functioning website that gives a good impression to visitors and encourages them to get in contact to find out more about your products and services. You should have enough room to explain what you do in good detail, include enough content to keep customers and Google happy and the resources to create vibrant, high quality imagery to engage your audience.

Medium priced websites £1000 - £10,000

If you have a bit more of a budget available, it means that you can get more expertise involved and create something a little more special. With this kind of budget you can start to include elements that will really lift your site above the competition.

With more time and resources, a web designer or web design team will be able to look at nifty interactive elements and will have the time it takes to ensure they work across all platforms (or degrade elegantly on those that don’t support it).

They will be able to create mobile friendly versions of the design and test responsive designs across a range of platforms to iron out any kinks.
They will probably be able to get more involved in branding and social media, and promotional elements such as photography and web videos.
A basic ecommerce solution is likely to fall into this band, because of the additional technical complexity of running a reliable, robust database. Ecommerce stores also come with a lot of functionality and features, all of which have to be developed and tested. However, if you want something very bespoke for your ecommerce store, you’re probably looking at the next band up.

Enterprise level web design and development: £10,000 – £50,000

If you’re getting into this kind of money you’re probably looking at bespoke web applications and web development. 

A basic text and image based website shouldn’t need to cost this much, no matter how many pages there are  - unless the designer is also supplying the content, or unless a lot of this budget is intended to go on post-launch marketing.

Within this band you could look at getting an interactive site that customers can use for something more than just reading text and may even pay just for the privilege of using. Customers may have their own accounts, which allow them to view and manipulate data.

The reason this band starts to cost a lot more is that for more complicated websites you need software developers as well as web designers. These jobs are more technically skilled and therefore there is a much higher barrier to entry, and this means they command a higher salary. Beware of using cheap developers as they are unlikely to really know what they’re doing (and are quite likely to be self-taught without the fundamental underlying knowledge), and you won’t find that out until you’ve forked out a bunch of money and found yourself left with a spaghetti mess of code that no decent developer will touch with a barge pole. 


Of course you can spend as much as you like when it comes to websites and web applications, and the price will climb the more features and functionality you need to put in. However, once you get into the £50,000+ mark, you’re looking more at bespoke web development than just a simple website – and that’s a whole different article!

What’s involved in launching a website?

You just flick a switch and it’s live, right?

Not quite.

This article explains a little about what happens when we spring into action when a client gives us the go ahead to launch a website…

Keyword whatnots

In all likelihood, we will have done keyword research right at the beginning of the website build, in order to make sure all the page names and content already include the key terms. However, we will now go over to the Google keyword tool and feed in some data, to get a good idea of what search terms are hitting the big time and which are languishing. We also look at competitor data to see if there are any hidden gems that no one knows about that we can use to get some quick wins.
Armed with this information, we will then go through the site with a fine-toothed comb, sprinkling the keywords in all the right places, including: unique titles, meta descriptions, keyword metatags, internal links and footer links. All this encourages Google to rank your site highly for exactly the right searches.

Watermarked images replaced with finals

If there are any stock photos in the site, then we’ll go ahead and make the final purchases, and replace the fuzzy watermarked ones with shiny, sharp versions.

Links checked

We use an automated link checker to double check all the links in the site and ensure none of them are broken – a no-no for any site, old or new.

Cross browser check

We carry out a final cross browser check to make sure nothing squiffy happens to the design if users decide to view it in a browser that we haven’t been using during the development process. As standard we support Firefox, Internet Explorer 7 and up, Chrome and Safari.

Submit the new site to the search engines

Not strictly necessary, as the search engines do their own crawls and will find all new sites anyway, but we like to do this in any case. If it gets the site climbing a few days earlier, then that can’t be bad.

Test emails and forms

The vast majority of our websites will come equipped with a contact form, so we make sure we test that that’s working hunkey dorey, as well as any email addresses we’ve set up.

Site registered and verified with Google

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, if you want your website to have any success, you have to keep Google happy. To that end, we register all websites with Google webmaster tools and Google analytics and verify ownership so they can let us know if they think anything’s amiss.

Google site map created and verified

Another small step in the googleification of the site, we create a Google standard sitemap, which lists all the pages in the site, and verify that sitemap with Google.

Non-content pages blocked from indexing

We use a robots.txt form to let Google know that we don’t really want it to index the legal disclaimer pages of the site – otherwise, due to the density of their content, they can bounce up to the top and don’t really look right all the way up there.
Depending on the site, there may be more steps we carry out – but there you have the standard elements of our website launch procedure!

Click here to read full article about website launch procedure and why a website is better than an advert in a newspaper