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Web Design vs/with Content Management

When individuals, businesses, and organizations turn to Google, Yahoo or Bing to look for help for their websites, they rarely use terms like "website development" or "website programming" or even "website design & development." Instead, the most commonly used search phrase by far is "web design" in combination with other terms that narrow the field by organization type and/or geography, e.g. "web design wiccans delaware".

The primacy of "design" as a keyword extends beyond search engine queries into a broader bias about the way websites and digital marketing are supposed to work. Many of my clients in Minneapolis, South Carolina and elsewhere have reacted to the first round of designs for their new Joomla website by saying (in so many words): "It looks great, but do we need all that verbiage on the home page?" My short answer is always the same: yes. My long answer is that Joomla offer many brilliant tools and web design capabilities for artfully presenting lots of content. These tools help create a Joomla web design that emphasizes design elements and whitespace while providing an interactive space for content.

Telling the Story in Joomla

When developing a web design strategy for content and content management, it is always helpful to map out the different types of content to be used in constructng the website. Broadly speaking, content in most websites falls into three categories:

semantic (information that provides data, definitions, and meanings)
narrative (information that relays temporal experience by taking the form of a story or stories)
sensorial (information that works on visual, auditory and synesthetic cognition)

Some experts in the field of web design insist that all website information is semantic and therefore best served by helping the average viewer harvest information as quickly as possible. This line of thinking is associated with the "don't make me think" school. This might be a fine rule - if your website is going to function like a phone book. In our experience, this is rarely the case for most clients. Their marketing strategies involve a complex mix of these three types of information that often shift within the same page. We certainly agree that a clear, accessible navigation is required to ensure an effective User Experience. But we also know that our clients are best served by a more nuanced and thoughtful understanding of the different ways web-based information can influence behavior.

Take the example of narrative information. Most websites for small businesses generally include an "About Us" page. Content for "About Us" allows a company or organization to share their stories - their history - with others in a way that may create a bond through shared experiences. Narrative information can also be very helpful in describing a product or service. By telling the story about what happens when someone buys this product or service, you can essentially talk about a wide range of consumer experiences including intellectual enrichment, enhancing social connections, or problem solving. The strategies involved in developing content and web designs for narrative information require thorough understanding of these dynamics.

The same is true for sensorial (sometimes called iconic) information. Because it flows out of design, sensorial information is often taken for granted as a background element. We know that a more careful approach to all design elements, and especially typography, can help produce a more effective UX. What is less clear to most web developers is how these elements work persuasively. Contrary to the "don't make us think" dogma, well-designed websites provide inviting, nuanced visual and interactive elements that in coordination with other elements attract longer visits and sustain interest and engagement. There is no simple rule for creating such elements. Rather, they should be carefully planned and integrated into a strategic marketing and communications plan.

These very complex types of information correspond to what psychologists have long described as the three main categories of memory:

semantic memory (the processing of meaning)
narrative memory (storytelling as a tool for recalling experiences over time)
somatic or corporeal memories (memories that are linked to strong sensory experiences)

Because the interplay of these three makes a critical impact on behavior and choices, they can provide surprising insights into how an effective web design can move the mind and shape opinions over time.