In a print catalog, "production values" refers to the quality of
the paper and printing processes used, the number and quality of
images, and the care taken with graphic design. High production
values are critically important in catalogs, which have to convince
consumers to buy based on a few sheets of paper.
Production values are even more important on the Web. Consumers
will not buy from an amateurish Web site.
Most of the people who
visit your site will still find the idea of ordering online unusual.
I have been buying online for three years, and I still find it a
little unusual. So your site needs to inspire visitors with
confidence. It should say that yours is the kind of company that
does things right, and that if I order something from you, it will
be a good experience.
Of course there is no direct connection between the quality of your
site and the quality of your company. A company could have a
brilliant graphic designer and lousy products. But usually there
is a connection, and that is what visitors to your site will assume.
If your company is unable to put up a good Web site, then it seems
natural to assume that your company cannot deliver good
products or services.
The most extreme case, of course, is when your company does not
have a Web site at all. Occasionally I go to look for information
about some product, but find that the company either
doesn't have a Web site, or has a site with nothing in it.
Almost as bad as the empty site is the site that looks amateurish.
In contrast, take a look at Despair.com.
Here is a site that says, we mean business. What makes a site say
that? The same thing that makes a Ferrari look like it means
business: good design. On the Web, good design means good proportions,
appropriate typefaces, clear layout, and color combinations that
Overall the most important feature of a Web page is the organization.
That is what visitors will notice first. It should
be possible to "read" the structure of a page at a glance. A high
quality Web site looks clear. A
badly designed site looks
Of the elements on the page, the most important are the images.
A Web page consists of text and images, and everyone's text looks
the same, so the difference in production values between good sites
and mediocre ones depends almost entirely on images.
By images I do not necessarily mean product images. I mean gifs
and jpegs, whether they are product images, display text, logos,
button bars, bullets, or what have you.
To start with, better Web sites usually have more images. For
example, they tend to have button bars at the top of each page, to
brand the site and to aid in navigation. And instead
Titles Like This
in screen text, they often display as gifs.
Text rendered as a gif can be antialiased, meaning you don't see
jagged edges. You can use any font,
not just whatever the browser has, and
you can also get 3D effects like bevelled edges and
drop shadows, which (used sparingly) make a site look richer.
When I say that better sites use more images, I do not mean
that they use more k of images. Big images take a long time to
download, and that is the kiss of death in an online store.
In a top-quality
site, images are the seasoning, not the foundation of the site.
Use small, punchy images that will carry a lot of the surrounding
In particular, avoid the common mistake of putting a huge image on your
front page. By all means put your logo on the front page, and in
fact on every page, but make it download fast. Your logo is not what
your customers came to see.
They came to see your products. But don't throw full-size
product images at your visitors until they ask for them.
Sophisticated sites begin with a page of smaller
which visitors can click on when they want to see more.
If you don't use thumbnail images, your section pages will be
Make your product images as high quality as possible.
Consumers won't buy from an image that looks like a badly lit
polaroid. So have a professional photographer take your photos.
Images shot with a top-quality digital camera look brightest, but you can also scan transparencies
or even scan images right out of your print catalog.
If possible, try to make the background color for the product images
either the same color as your pages, or transparent. Product shots
look better when the object seems to sit right on the page.
Finally, don't make spelling mistakes in your site. A few of those
will undo all the other work you've done to make your site look
Copyright © 1999 Paul Graham. Feel free to reproduce any of this text on your own Web site, so long as you reproduce it verbatim, and include this message. For any other use, please contact the author. Yahoo! and Yahoo! Store are trademarks of Yahoo! Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.