How to have a winning website

24 March, 2017

So you’ve decided you want a new website– great! But there are plenty more decisions to make. We spoke to the creators of some of the best architecture websites out there and this is what they said.

According to Adam Widmanski, co-founder of Warsaw based digital agency PRÆSENS, a website has a lifespan of around two years.

“The digital world is a bit like the dog world. One digital year is like seven years in the human world,” says Widmanski, who with London-based agency Field Works won the top award at last year’s Archiboo Web Awards for The Modern House website.

Users are becoming less tolerant of websites that are past their sell- by-date and consumers are less likely to recommend a brand or business if the website is poorly designed, according to a recent survey.

Over half of all internet views come from a tablet or phone and architects whose websites are not optimised for mobile devices risk losing clients. Google also penalises websites that are not optimised for mobile by lowering its SEO rankings.

And this year all major browsers including Chrome are finally blocking Flash. Architects love Flash and many practices websites still run on it. But such is Google’s power that by October websites will require user permission to run it.

Yet one of the biggest challenges is not technology but content.

“Increasingly these days it’s all about content and that is a huge task and an expensive operation that not all clients can afford to do,” says Widmanski.

Until recently, The Modern House home page featured a distinctive looping video. This has now been dropped in favour of a static image that changes day to day which allows the estate agent to display more of its editorial content, an area in which it also excels, scooping Best Written Content last year.

Widmanski says: “A content strategy is key so that people return to the website knowing they will always find something new.”

But it’s not all about volume. It’s also about how the content is displayed.

Mark Ferguson director of Brighton-based Very Own Studio that won Best Visual Design for Conran and Partners website says he is “starting to see a more narrative, editorial flow of information, not just an image gallery with text sitting on top or beside it.”

Story telling and personality has always stretched the capabilities of web designers and it’s fair to say that architects’ websites still lag behind brands that strive to capture users’ attention with photography, video, illustration and typography.

Then there is VR, which allows architects to bring drawings and models to life and provide an immersive 360-degree experience at the planning or pre-panning stage.

While VR has the potential to revolutionise design, it is not on most architects want list for the moment. But expect to see more websites with 3-D content says Widmanski. He is working on a website for a Polish practice Kuryłowicz & Associates that will allow the architect to upload a 3-D building model that users can rotate on both the horizontal and vertical axes.

However most architects are only just beginning to wake up to the possibilities of video.

Grimshaw partner Mark Middleton says: “Film remains an underused medium for architects.” The practice commissioned 27 short films about individual projects and a full-length film because it believes in the power of film to tell “stories the press isn’t interested in” while video web platforms like YouTube and Vimeo allow films to be seen and shared by a much wider audience.

Fashion drives change in all creative industries and web design is no different.

If 2016 marked the year when more websites strived to look deliberately asymmetrical and less minimalist , 2017 is likely to see more of the same with vivid RGB colours, rich typography and expressive graphics as well.

But beware of trends says Ferguson, who designed AMODELS website last autumn.

“Christian (founder of AMODELS) wanted a website that reflected the creative and playful nature of AMODELS work. We noticed it has a pin-board in the studio and this informed the website’s flexible, asymmetric layout.”

This may be bang on trend but the final design he says, is not a fashion statement but a website that reflects the personality of the client.

The Archiboo Web Awards will be launching in mid-May. To register your interest please click here.