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Featured website illustrates how to create designs that last

This month’s featured website is businessaviationcounsel.com, which was designed for aviation transaction attorney Stewart H. Lapayowker. Mr. Lapayowker’s site is being highlighted due to a combination of its layout, look and feel, and longevity. This project was completed in 2009, and aside from one programming update necessary to remove an outdated Flash-based menu, it has remained relevant without the need for a design overhaul for the last four years. (The fact that the design did not need to be modified to remove the Flash is a testament to the flexibility of HTML 5.)

What is it about this particular design that has given it a sense of timelessness? What keeps it from feeling dated after almost four years – an eternity in Internet years? Several features have contributed to the site’s success, including the use of imagery, structure and organization of information.

Background image: The large format background image was, at the time, a style that was still finding its way into the mainstream. The client in this project was eager to try new things and create a website that did not look like those of the competition, which allowed the design to take shape around a central, striking photo. This willingness to explore a variety of styles and experiment with what works helps create an atmosphere in which unexpected choices lead to positive outcomes.

Were the site to be reprogrammed today, the background image could be modified so that it resizes dynamically to fill the user’s whole screen at any resolution. The site currently uses a repeating horizon image to fill the screen beyond the main background picture on larger monitors. While this tweak may add an element of modernization to the site’s code, the large background image plus repeating horizon still come together to create an effect that still looks current even years later.

Organization: The client was interested in incorporating a jet engine into the navigation of the site, which led to the creation of a circular menu for the main link choices. This gives the site both an unexpected and memorable design element as well as a focal point that helps point the user to the main – and most important – navigation elements.

Since the main navigation contains only essential links to a limited number of pages, a solution had to be found that would help direct users to informational pages that are of interest to potential clients. This was done by incorporating a simple drop-down menu below the main picture in the middle of the page. The visual separation of the two menus helps make both of them easier to find and use, and it helps eliminate any confusion that would be caused by forcing visitors to click through several pages in order to find that they are looking for.

Structure and use of widgets: For the last several years, websites have been moving toward a more modular structure, exemplified in social networks like Pinterest and magazine sites like Forbes.com. These sites split information into smaller, more digestible pieces, delineated by either white space, or, in the case of Pinterest, actual borders. The businessaviationcounsel.com site creates a similar effect with semi-transparent widgets that divide menus, images, blog entries, transaction results and content into their own spaces. This helps give the site visual balance, and it gives each of the pieces room to breathe.

It is easier on a visitor’s eyes if there is clear division between elements of a website. When information is not well organized, it can be overwhelming, causing users to click away instead of sorting through the confusion. Recognizing the value of a widget-based structure has helped the site stay current throughout the years.

If your firm is considering a website redesign, take a close look at the styles that are informing modern designs. Look outside of your field for ideas you may not see on other attorney’s websites. Spotting interesting ideas, creating an atmosphere that allows for experimentation and recognizing trends with staying power will help your site stay relevant for many years to come.

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