Web design and sport: Keeping ahead of the game

With cross-platform considerations, advances in front-end coding and changing user expectations, the role of the web designer more crucial than ever.

James Carter, managing director of cartercarter, talks to us about the shifting trends in website design, particularly in the sporting space.

cartercarter‘s client list includes the National Rugby League, Macquarie Radio Network and, of course, Pillar Sports.

Which of the traditional website design ‘rules’ are now becoming redundant?
There have never been any set rules as such, however the parameters a web designer worked within even three years ago have changed dramatically, key differences would be – screen size, use of images, use of flash animation, how important the fold is and font size. From a site architecture point of view there have also been some major changes, with a core focus now on relevant content and intuitive structure; let the user have what they want when they wan it.

Have tablets changed the way users like to interact with web content in a desktop environment? If so, how?
Definitely, over 50% of all web browsing is no longer on a “traditional” computer. The recent advances in smart devices and tablet computers have changed the way browsers interact with online content. The hardware and software used has changed the way designers design all websites. Tablets are the main reason for the changes we mentioned in question one – screen size, use of images, use of flash animation, how important the fold is and font size.

In the initial stages of any site design we have to ask key questions about how you see your site being accessed and whether there will be a mobile site or app – and indeed how necessary they are to your end goal. This will determine how we design the site, for instance, if your site is to be also viewed on smart phones and tablets, there is a strong argument for never using a font smaller than 16pixels. In fact, at the recent apple developers conference in Sydney, they talked about app design and how with all the different resolution screens we no longer use pixels for on screen design we’ve gone back to the print font dimension of points.

When designing a website, how much focus do you place on tablet optimisation?
As discussed in the last question, it depends how the site is to be used and whether there will be a mobile site or app, but it goes without saying your site must work and look good on all devices. If the code is written well this shouldn’t be any extra work.

There’s lots happening in the world of fonts. How important are fonts to the look and performance of websites?
The most exciting recent development for a web designer has to be Google’s font API which has made over 200 fonts now cross browser compatible and usable for websites. This gives the designer more creative control and is the revolution all web designers who started life as print designers have been waiting for. Although you still have to use compatible fonts for the main site content, you can use accent fonts through out your site, meaning your site can be beautiful and editable, without limitation.

How are new web-based technologies (such as HTML5 and CSS3) restricting or expanding your design horizons?
Without doubt all the advances in front end code expand the design horizons, and html 5 and css 3 are changing the way websites are created and designed. However it’s important to not jump to soon, if you go out and build all your websites in the latest technology undoubtedly you will have cross browser compatibility issues – the bain of the designer’s life.

We’re seeing expanded headers and footers and the fold doesn’t seem to be the iron curtain it once was. How has the traditional website real estate ‘balance’ shifted?
A few years ago there was a lot of research into how people browse websites and the conclusive outcome was if your site has engaging content, and is designed well, the fold and indeed the length of your site simply doesn’t matter. In fact, if you can get someone to scroll on the homepage they will not only engage with more content on your homepage, but they are also more likely to click through to other pages of your site.

Which new styles and trends are you into at the moment?
We try not to get too caught up in online design fads, we focus on designing sites that are correct for our clients. We keep a close ear to the ground and make sure we know what’s going on creatively but we are focused on site design that extends or defines the client’s brand in relation to their browser or consumer.

If you could sum up the big focus for web designers in 2012 in a few words, what would they be?
Intuitive structure, engaging content and inspiring design.

What are the challenges and opportunities when designing websites for sporting brands?
The challenges and opportunities are very similar. You have highly engaged, very passionate supporters who crave content. Delivering that content in a way that champions the brand, excites the browser and can drive revenue is both challenging and exciting.