Many websites give clearest message to people who view them – and message is “this site is not for you”.
Sherlock Holmes once told Watson that problem with circumstantial evidence was that it could point uncompromisingly in one direction, but when you shifted your viewpoint slightly it pointed equally uncompromisingly in another.
Website design appears to share this shifting of purpose in many cases, as well-intentioned webmaster is pointing industriously in one direction but Joe Public is equally driven for seemingly mysterious purposes to look in quite another.
To me, key to site design is always to look at goal of site – actual goal - and then your steps towards realizing that goal in eyes of your target audience, bringing client’s needs and Joe Public’s together to be answered in a single product.
By actual goal I mean response your client specifically requires from site - and this needs more thought than many people imagine.
For example, I have designed a number of sites for clients selling real estate in Cyprus. Clearly, you may well say, goal is to sell houses, right?
I would argue no, it is not - unless it is an on-line estate agent who plans to sell houses to platinum Visa holders. The real goal for site is to capture an e-mail address from interested parties – goal of site's owner is to sell houses.
Thus, whole emphasis of site shifts to selling idea of living in Cyprus – and how this particular individual (the client) is best one to help you achieve property ownership in Cyprus in order for us to capture that all important e-mail.
Who is buying?
Never forget your viewers profile - audience for your site - ask your customer what his "average customer" is and what kind of new customer he wants to do business with. If our client says that his average buyer is around retirement age, and you and 35 year old client are planning Flash/Dynamic database driven on–line searchable PHP…. whatever. To you it sounds great and on your new P4 with 516 Megs of RAM over your ADSL connection at office it is truly breathtaking. But if intended viewers bother waiting for your site to download over dial-up and run on their PII 900 hertz with 64 Megs of RAM - then first look at high-tech interface will probably just confuse them, rather than engaging their interest, and away they will click to somewhere less challenging.