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Website Design Tips From Max Micheliov

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Design of a website for a musician seems to be a very exciting opportunity to showcase one's own artistic abilities. It isn't instantly obvious that such a project imposes a lot of limitations. —Max Micheliov
Max Micheliov sent this to me last week and it is so well done I had to share it.

Designing Websites for Musicians

We are going to talk about some purely artistic aspects of building websites specifically for musicians. The article is intended for a wide audience interested in the subject. Hopefully this will help to avoid some of the most common mistakes. Musicians will find useful hints allowing them to make a conscious decision when hiring a designer (or agency) to work on their websites.

Limited by Content and Structure

Design of a website for a musician seems to be a very exciting opportunity to showcase one's own artistic abilities. It isn't instantly obvious that such a project imposes a lot of limitations.

The first and the major one: all artists' websites are alike in terms of architecture. In most cases we speak of several pages—bio, discography, bands, press, and photos. But even large websites with a deep hierarchy of documents—often referred to as "site tree"—have more or less similar structural foundation. Menu links—we say "navigation"—naturally reflect the architecture of the web presentation. As long as structure and hierarchy of documents are similar from site-to-site, the navigation gives almost identical patterns.

Furthermore, content brings similarity too. A designer has to deal with the same content elements such as discography or photo gallery over and over again. Therefore creation of unique, instantly recognizable pages based on standard (for this type of website) content represents a big challenge. It is hard to avoid repetition...about as hard as playing weekly gigs.

Here's our approach at design4music.org. When sketching designs for musicians, we accumulate impressions (received from music, personal communication, some biographical data, look and feel of the old website or CD cover art) and all sorts of inspirations—every little hint goes into the mix. The rest is about how well we deal with the challenge.

Who is the Star?

Yet another aspect to consider is that, while you might feel greatly inspired by the project, you should keep your creativity on a short leash. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you are working on a presentation for another artist, not your own. Strictly speaking, you are not an artist at all—you are a designer, and that's different. Your mission is building upon somebody's content; you really should not put it into the shade with your "ultimate creativity." Design can only be stunning if provides focus on the information.

Otherwise it is either bad design—or not design at all.

Our realization of the situation described above helps us at design4music.org to set up healthy priorities. Content goes first. Design follows and responds. We tend to keep it quite strict and functional.

Web design is not a painting. It must be practical. A lot of technical factors have to be taken into consideration. For example, consider loading time. While land lines increased their capacity a great deal over the last decade, mobile devices and not so fast wireless networks quickly conquer the world. And thus the problem of fast loading pages vs. slow ones is back.

Usability or user experience (UX) is the whole new science about web user behavior, rooted in psychology and supported by web statistics and studies of test groups. Today, following basic rules of usability is a must for successful and simply professional design.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—how well the website will be exposed in search engines, is another essential consideration, because, after all, a website is a marketing tool. This is another cross-discipline practice that has to do with copywriting, site programming and, not surprisingly, with design.

Random Examples of Web Design Wrongs

Forget using "entry pages" that were long ago eliminated in competitive industries but are still favorites with many musicians. Stats show that today's user hates an empty page with a single word "Enter" or "Welcome." We live in a fast world where every click matters.

Using "crazy" navigation units (menus) although, yep, there are absolutely wild solutions. This one is easy. Think of navigation as of the control panel in your car. You don't want to confuse the brakes with the gas pedal. using all flash websites because it is a document, not a cartoon. The worst thing about flash is that search engines can't read it. Google will index your www.yourname.com page but won't read the text inside the flash movie, too bad. Your page ranking will suffer.

Some Conclusions

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