Small business website design: functional or beautiful?

Design is closely related to functionality, as any good designer will tell you. And when it comes to functionality, your website needs to hum. It doesn’t just need looks, it needs brains too!

This is why the websites we create for tourism businesses have certain design elements in common. While the OM4Tourism template is capable of an enormous range of designs, there are parameters we keep consistent for good reasons.

Think of your website as a print publication – a newspaper or magazine.

A newspaper is a functional publication that needs to communicate clear, authoritative information quickly and effectively. This is why quality newspapers all tend to use similar layout principles.

For example, we know that when someone looks at a page, their eye is naturally drawn first to a spot about a third of the way down (just as when we look at a face, we are drawn to the eyes).

So, you’ll notice that quality papers tend to place the most important headline in that spot. And there are general rules about placement of images, mixing blocks on a page, placement of columns, and so on.

A magazine also has to function effectively, but we allow magazines greater leeway in terms of design, usually because the reader has more time to flip through at their leisure and enjoy the look and feel as much as the information.

So when it comes to your website design, start by deciding where your website lies on the continuum between functional newspaper and glossy magazine.

There’s a high chance that visitors to a small tourism business site aren’t going to kick back with a coffee and flick through the pages enjoying the clever design.

More likely, they are wanting information and wanting to access it easily and quickly. Your site needs to be closer to the functionality end of the continuum, while retaining a fresh and appealing look and feel. A good designer will understand this.

Here are some examples of sites that achieve this. Click the images to visit each site for a closer look:

Note that they all cater to the eye’s natural focus, around a third of the way down the screen. They all have a clear layout including a sidebar on the right for easy navigation. And they all make good use of imagery without allowing it to overwhelm the content.

The first, RiverFly Tasmania, has a look and feel that draws you straight into the experience. Yet it’s easy to see what RiverFly offers, how to find out more, visit the shop, make a booking or make contact.

The Ningaloo Blue site plunges you straight into the ocean with the world’s largest fish – which is exactly what the tour operator does. Yet you’re not left drowning. Navigation through the experiences and tours is straightforward, and you can immediately see how to get in touch or make a booking.

And VA Clare Valley leaves the reader in no doubt that this is a gourmet winery experience, while offering a clear path through to the cellar door and information on getting to Clare Valley and building a holiday experience around the wineries.

But the ultimate test of a good tourism website design is conversion.

Good design takes a back seat to functionality and useful, relevant content, which in turn engage your visitors’ attention, giving you the chance to convert them to bookings for your business.

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