The problem with e-commerce websites is they generally take a lot more work than a stand alone brochure website, which means the budget needs to be there. Most small businesses will not invest 10+K on a website designer so they usually try to go with the cheapest possible solutions available.
Sometimes they will buy a template and get a developer to design it based on what the client thinks looks good, which is why you see so many bad e-commerce websites. The site then generally looks like a botched up template, and it shouldnt look like a template at all.
In an ideal world you need to hire one person who is great at design & development, but these people are usually very pricey, and it's difficult to find. Some clients may choose to get a designer to design the website and then have a developer put it together, however.. the developer is often color, spacially and font-blind. So the key here is to have the designer manage the developer's progress and follow through with any corrections that need to be made. The designer needs to be involved at every step of the way. Clients often fail to do this as well because it also costs more.
A worse scenario is when a client finishes a website that a developer botched up aesthetically, or even in the programming because they didn't choose the right developer or have the right amount of cash to put into the site.. and the client then decides to hire a designer to "fix it up". I see huge issues here. How do you tell a client, that their new online business is built with old technology, isn't mobile ready, design is broken, and everything is a complete mess? I recently had a client who knows nothing about the internet and marketing, decided to have a website built really cheaply using a template the developer had. He then asked me how he can market it. When I saw it.. my heart sank for the poor guy. He had wasted 6 months on a half assed website with a lot of technical issues. There was many design flaws, the branding was all off and wouldn't work on smaller scales, too many elements and too many colors. Not to mention the font on the logo wasn't legible at all. The other issue is that the website was NOT AT ALL put together to work on mobile! His concept would have mainly worked on mobile... but because he hired someone on the cheap.. the developer wasn't going to waste time educating the client what is best to do, what hes missing, they just want the money quick and run. How do you tell a guy he just wasted time, money, resources etc on something so garbage?
In any case.. what makes a good design... that is all subjective but I will put a list:
• Branding is #1. Have all the elements, fonts, colors, any design flairs, even the style of messaging/tone—down BEFORE anything else.
• Be consistent with navigation.. top navigation is standard now.
• Footers need to have a lot more information to make it easier
• Website NEEDS to be mobile friendly!
• Typography... typography... typography! A bad design is clear when proper typographic rules haven't been followed
• Pick 2 - 3 colors and stick to them!
• Photography — Don't use boxed photos.. those are hideous! Spend the money to properly photoshop each product
• Don't use photoshop effects that date back to early 2000's (a good designer would know which ones to use and which ones not to.)
• Buttons need to be consistent, important ones can be larger than the not so important ones.
• The products in a shopping cart need to be big and clear. I want to know all the details of this product being sold.
• Searches.. proper hierarchy of products
• I also personally don't like black text on sites (personal preference).. black text makes things look too stark and unfinished
• 16pt font! Don't make me squint.
• Use visual hierarchy on every page. What's the most important thing? Don't let my eye fly around the screen.
And there is a ton more.. but I think that is enough for now.
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