Using Semiotics to Improve Your Website
Posted by Mike on October 15, 2006
Mark Boulton has a very good article on Web Semiotics and applying signange for practical purposes. One of his best points is very simple, but very important: “Leave creativity to the bad designers – this is not the place to do something different. If there’s a convention, use it.” This is something I had to factor in the design of my own blog.
At the beginning, I just wanted to have a really cool design without thinking much of its practical use, so I chose a template (WordPress’ Solipsus, sorry I don’t have a link) with a dark frame, a grey background and black type…not good. I realized that the design made hard even for me to read the online content, so I switched to the design you see now. (I made a similar facelift to my previous blog, Bloggalicious). There were some semiotic issues as well; for example, I have interesting links to sites I visit on the right side of the page, but the previous design had them under the name “Blogroll” when many of the links were clearly not blogs. Signage that conflicts with intended message confuses and frustrates visitors, and it’s important to keep them happy and not reading someone else’s blog. With the current design, links go under the more ambiguous header “The Associates”, which is much better but still leaves room for improvement.
The Boulton Article also discusses the use of icons, signs that resemble objects we see in our daily lives. I think that this can also apply to brands we see in our daily life and are already familiar with outside of the realm of the Web. An example of this would be ESPN’s website. ESPN makes sure to use the logo for any product they create (new TV stations, magazines, merchandise, even ESPN credit cards and mobile phones). It works well on the website because it the design couples the ESPN logo with whatever major subject you’re browsing through (NBA, College Football, NHL, etc.), which allows you to always know where you are. In ESPN’s case this works especially well because the brand name is already well established in other media.
When you want to establish an identity the proper use of semiotics (and design as a whole) often comes down to audience. Some rules are universal: make the site easy to read, easy to navigate, create content your audience wants to read, and never, ever, EVER do this. However a specific audience in mind is most important when considering what semiotics to use. For example, if you’re reading this reading this website you are probably either some involved in my Journalism class or someone expecting an article pertaining to the Tar Heels (don’t worry, those articles are coming). I need to cater the design and content of the website to that audience, meaning that I probably should add some Carolina blue to design soon. VNUNet caters to workers in the IT industry, Yahoo! Finance provides fee information to investors, and Weebl’s Stuff is directed to College kids to want a good laugh from immature humor (like me!). Each site successfully targets their audience, and their semiotics make the website fairly easy to use, even if one has not visited any of these sites before.