The message. This will always be the most important element of any design that you do. The message that your design gives will resonate through the minds of your users. If your design delivers your intended message then you have succeeded. If your design supercedes your message and hides it, then the design has failed.
There is a reason that people will tell you that content is king. If there is no purpose, no message to the chaos of your site then why should people be there? First find the message that you are trying to send and the design will follow. I will be honest with you and say that I have never created a site that I liked where the design came first then I tried to fit the message in it. Now that I think about it, I probably never created a site I totally liked.
You can see the problem of not delivering the message when companies try to expand to other areas that do not fit their business model or stick with their intended “Mission Statement”. The message is your mission statement. It is the path that you wish to travel. Sometimes it is safe to veer off the path, but be careful because if you go too far you and your users may get lost.
When designing any site, from the very beginning to the very end you must keep the message at the surface. Once you lose track of the message that you are trying to deliver you lose track of the design. Sure the design might be nice, but if it is not effective then there is no point. When you add an element to your site like an image or border, question whether it enhances the design and message or does it take away from them. If it takes away or does nothing then why did you put it there? I am not saying that you should question every second that you design because there are times during your design process where you need to let go and just create. Great things can come from that. However, after you let yourself go, look back and see what can be improved. Focus on the message.
Not all sites that have great designs and deliver the right message are successful and all successful sites do not have great designs (Yahoo, Amazon, eBay). On the web there are many factors that can contribute to success, but I am not focusing on that. If your role is to design then do so. That is what this is about.
The message I wanted to deliver with Simpl(e)y Done (man I need to write more there) was that life could be easier if the sites and products we interact with were easier to use. I couldn’t get that message across with a complicated design. With Whitespace, part of my message was to show how important the community is so on the homepage you have large comment numbers.
If you take a look at Apple’s site there are some clear messages that can not be missed. One is that Apple’s are easy to use. Another is that with an Apple you can expect cleanliness and elegance. Apple is serious about the design of their products and the experience that their products provide to users. This commitment to design is reflected greatly in their website. Their website reflects their mentality.
You can look at most of the successful sites on the web today and see how their design brings focus to their message. If you can think of some sites that don’t deliver their message well please let me know. I tend to forget these sites and only remember the goods one. Can you blame me?