A phrase known by almost everyone who has looked at posters in a bank or talked with a sales rep from any financial institution, "Planning for your future" takes on a whole new meaning here.
Web sites, essentially, move in two directions. They either get larger or smaller. In the absence of changes, they will usually fail because a site that doesn't change loses visitorship and a site that nobody visits will, eventually, be shut down.
The trend with personal web sites is (with notable exceptions) that they get smaller. The larger a site, the greater the maintenance. As a personal site grows, it happens, very often, that the individual no longer has time to maintain it and (s)he will reduce it in size to a more manageable level. Business sites, on the other hand, tend to grow as a result of their success. The greater the success, the greater the growth. Well, the problem is that too often one doesn't see the potential for success of the site and, so, can't see the potential for its growth. Still, foresight is needed in the initial planning of a site.
Almost every client we see has some kind of idea as to what (s)he would like to see on his/her web site. There is a problem, though. Most don't plan for growth. Almost every site we've done (or seen) was born as a small page and has grown over time. The growth, in itself, is not the problem. Rather, the problem lays in layout.
The greatest layout does not always allow for expansion - an error we, too, have made, eg. The Cambridge Gallery. This site started out as Cambridge's Library & Gallery. When we started it, it was a small part of the City of Cambridge site. It was to be a single page just telling residents and prospective visitors a little about one of the "great things to do in and around the City of Cambridge." Enthusiasm on our part, as site designers, and on the part of supporters within the gallery caused this site to balloon. Well, at that point it was still easy because the site was in the early stages of planning and there was little to no structure. As time passed, support for, and interest in, this site increased and less than two months later, we find ourselves reworking the whole layout. (Hmm.)
How often does this happen? Like we said, almost every site experiences growth, not just within existing pages but also, through the development of new elements within the site. A client begins a page saying "This is what I want to do - I won't want to do that." To often (s)he will find the experience of the success of a page so exhilarating that (s)he realizes there are other things that should be done with the site such as advertising for employees - something that was originally rejected, or answering Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) generated through E-mail - another thing that may have been, originally, rejected because "It's just not the nature of our business."
These are examples of some of the situations that we have encountered but, obviously, not the only ones. Does this have to be a problem? Not really. Some layouts are inherently suited to expansion. One such design is that of The Distance MBA in Agriculture site. The sidebar allows for almost infinite growth in terms of the addition of pages since added navigation buttons will not adversely affect the site's innate design where the gallery site, with its navigation tools so grounded in reality, makes the addition of a page more difficult. Another good example of an easy to expand navigation set is the Northwich site. It's bank of buttons on the side can be easily added to without affecting the integrity of the page's look.
Does this mean that every site should be done with a sidebar? Absolutely not! Wouldn't it be boring to see the same layout on every site we visit? The new gallery site, coming soon, will allow for the addition of links through rearrangement and expansion of the "brickwork" in the navigation header in its sub-pages. Other sites, like the The Cambridge and District Humane Society do not permit easy expansion of their navigation tools. While this may present a problem when the client realizes that (s)he needs an additional page, no problem is insurmountable!
An intriguing method of expanding a site is through adding depth. This means adding a deeper layer of web pages. A good example of this is our City of Cambridge web site. The advantage here is that it entices the viewer to explore the site. While this approach is great for a city site, it may be confusing and cumbersome for a business page where one must assume that the reader has come not to "conquer", rather, to get answers to specific questions. The best example of a corporate web site with too much depth is the IBM site. While this site may be fine for the unfocused surfer, try to get one specific question answered. Depending on what you are looking for, it can take many hours of surfing to figure out how to navigate through the site despite the fantastic site map and "search our site" tool. From the web design perspective the IBM site appears to be designed and maintained by hundreds of people who are not working toward a common goal. As a surfer, one may ask oneself whether this lack of cohesion is not a reflection of that corporation in physical reality.
This brings to mind an interesting exercise. The next time you surf the Net, visit sites of companies located in your town - with which you are not so familiar. Imagine what these companies look like in physical reality. Pick just three of them, then drive past their physical locations. You may be surprised! The surprise is that not only can virtual reality make people think that your company is bigger than it is but smaller too. So if you want your customers to think that yours is an organized, customer driven corporation - you need a site that reflects this philosophy.
What's the point? Well, "Plan!" Plan for the eventuality that you will add a page. Plan for the growth of your site. Plan for the things you don't want to do now but may want to do later. Remember, your site is part of your business. As your business grows, so will your web presence and as your presence grows, so will your site and growth of your site can cause your business to grow too - afterall, is that not the reason you want a web page in the first place?
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Last Updated September 24, 1997
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