What makes a good website for Architects?

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I wrote this article some years ago now, but it still remains relevant…

For a while now architectural design observers have noticed that most architect’s websites suck. Usability is not a high priority for many — flashy interfaces abound, perplexing and confusing their users who typically just want to see the Architects’ work.

Further, use of Adobe’s Flash plugin is pervasive in Architects’ sites, leaving them with a range of usability and find-ability issues. It all adds up to too much Flash – of both the Adobe and interface-bling varieties.

Just because it’s cool doesn’t make it good.

Obtuse or overly cryptic interfaces might be engaging for those with an inner-geek (you can be sure to include most web-designers in this category ;-), but simply turn everyone else off – to another website.

The user interface should be subservient to the content of the site – after all, just what are we trying to sell here? Interface design, or the point of the site – the Architect’s work?

For an effective architect’s website:

Content is everything.

Make it your first and foremost consideration. Don’t hide it behind too many menu structures; show it upfront. We all have short attention spans on the web: “we came for the pictures”.

Show them. Upfront.

Use only your best imagery – make them as large as you dare. With sophisticated coding techniques you can resize images on the server to suit browser window size, or you can implement lazy-load functionality which delays the loading of new imagery, which helps keep things snappy.

Show plans / sections / details / sketches – they will convey the essence of your building and the depth of your understanding of the building process.

Provide descriptions for your imagery. 
Your audience (& Google) will love you for it.

Way too many websites show images without associated descriptions of what each image is about. You end up with a procession of imagery without a text-hook to cause you to pause / study the image (and the building) more deeply.

I know why this is the case – it’s difficult!

It takes much time and care to provide brief, effective descriptions for each and every picture — and it looks weird if you only provide descriptions for some of your imagery. Furthermore, you can’t really leave the writing of these texts to your web designer – they need to be generated by someone with intimate knowledge of the project.

Time spent adding good image descriptions will help visitors understand your work, and provide juicy keywords which will help in your search engine rankings.

Categorise thoughtfully.

How you categorise your work within the site determines how people will find their information.

Consider using functional groupings in-addition-to / instead-of the common ‘Commercial’, ‘Housing’, ‘Institutional’ etc categories. If you specialise in houses you might use categories like ‘bathing’, ‘lounging’, ‘sleeping’ etc.

Break ‘em down by function or activity, whilst asking yourself “What is a potential client looking for?”.

Colour and Identity.

Most of our architect websites use a minimalist white or black background – we generally limit the use of colour in the interface as we want the photos to dominate – the fewer distractions the better. If the architect’s ‘corporate id’ requires the dominant use of a particular colour, we hope that the colour is blue, green or brown – those being colours typically found in building photos.

Whatever your colour scheme, let your work dominate the page.

A website is not a sheet of paper.

Many designers make the mistake of treating the web as if were print design.

Not very good.

A web page is a dynamic thing – its width and height constantly vary; the capabilities of the browser are also all over the show. Pages need to be designed to cope with readers who have their browser’s font size larger than normal.

Good design allows for all these contingencies, ‘gracefully degrading’ unsupported functionality so that the important stuff gets through – the content.

Sum It Up.

You immerse yourself in your Architecture. So should your website; ensure that it is designed to last:

  • Use well-structured content and show it upfront – don’t hide it behind deep menu structures
  • Make usability a priority
  • Use Adobe Flash only when you have to – else you’ll be leaving a growing audience of mobile and iPad users out in the cold.

Above all: show yourself; not your website.