Are you being forced to create home page?

Most times when we go for client pitches we tend to create and present what we perceive as the most popular webpage on the website, the home page.

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Way back in 2006, when I started my career in usability, I remember my design lead telling me that a home page is volatile by nature, and it acts as a gateway to other pages on the website. People don’t stick to the home page. They wander and keep exploring. This thought holds true even today. However, we do spend a good amount of conceiving the home page design along with the navigational structure and overall experience of a website. Most of our design theories including above-the-fold, website value proposition is centered around the most heroic page of the website, the home page. I think we have given so much importance to a home page, and made it seem like a hero.

With the home page getting a lot of attention, today designers and clients continue to perceive the home page to be the most important page. Clients could get unhappy if they did not see the home page in your pitch presentation. I also have been in situations where designers couldn’t get a headway into the visual styling of the inner pages of a website if they did not start with the design of the home page. I think that’s ridiculous. I would like to draw a parallel to the cinema world. A movie director does not start with the first scene of the movie on day-1 of the shoot. They create different scenes based on various parameters, and then stitch it together at the end. And when they create the trailer, they use the most intriguing scenes to persuade viewers to watch the movie and not the first scene of the movie.

The notion of home page being the most important page has changed with time. Users do not stick to the home page when they visit a website. They explore, they browse, they navigate, and they transact. Most importantly they hop around constantly. They read articles that’s located deep in the site structure. And most of the time, we know that they get to one of the inner pages of a website via a search engine or social media platform, and don’t bother to check out the home page (because they don’t have a strong need to do that). With the growth of analytics there is lot of data which confirms that users necessarily don’t get to the home page at the start of their journey with a website.

This is not to discount the fact that home page needs to be thrown away, or doesn’t need to look great, or doesn’t need to have a strong value proposition. I think its time we rethink how we approach designs for a website. The next time, you go for a client pitch, arm yourself with analytics, current state UX insights and trends, and show only those page designs that would help you build the overall story when you start conversing with your clients. This might include the home page, and a few other pages (and in some cases, it need not include the home page). It could be that you need to start your pitch presentation with an article story page that you have designed (based on the storyline you have built for the client presentation). This would require you to think about the user’s digital journey and their encounter and interactions with the website. You could rethink whether you need to show an entire page. Alternatively, you may want to show snippets of a page that contains a few web components. What would be a recommended approach is to think about your client, their business, the people who represent the stakeholder community, understand their needs & requirements, look out for information that would keep them engaged when you make your presentation. Based on that, decide the web pages you would like to design. Before your start designing, think and strategize. Then design. Then present your story that would best impact client decision.

To summarize, there isn’t a real need to show your home page always in all client presentations. You should show what’s more important to your client’s consumers. It could also happen that clients are insisting on seeing a home page design. It is our responsibility to inform & educate clients and let them know that you are illustrating a digital journey of their consumers, and presenting pages and web components that matter in that illustrated journey. Yes, and when you win the project you would definitely design the home page.

Your approach to design might be different if you were showing ideas for a desktop enterprise application, or a mobile application. In this case, you might want to show the main page (home page) of the app which could be a dashboard, or a set of menus/features. Again, the approach to take in this scenario is to think about the product’s users, the potential journey and the interaction users would experience when they use the product. Design pages that strongly illustrates the user’s path and talk about the value your design provides to users and your client’s business. Now that would be an enriching conversation to have rather than to debate on the nitty-gritty details of a page like the home page.

So, next time you encounter teams asking you to design a home page (without a strong logic) for a client pitch, step back and think through the problem. Strategize your approach. Decide on the user journey that you want to tackle, and design only those pages that would lead to better conversations with your clients, and would help them make an informed decision.

I see the home page to be more like the main door of your home. The real experience is inside the home, and the front door need not dictate the experience you would get inside. Or does the front door set the stage for your home’s overall experience? In the digital world, where people can enter a website from a search engine or a social networking site, the entry points are numerous, and need not be just the home page.

I remember one of my team members saying that one does not design the cover page of a book first. You need to start with the story that the book wants to convey.

What do you think?