Balancing Act: How to Find the Equilibrium between Speed, Design and Content

development tips

Not many people know this, but I can be ridiculously indecisive. Back when I first planned my first solo trip a couple years ago, I could’ve sworn I spent more time browsing through hotels and places I planned to visit than the time I spent on my actual trip. I mean, I know that preparation is key when it comes to like, everything, but I think we can all agree that I’m being excessive when even after I booked the hotel room, I still spend time looking at other hotels to see if there are better alternatives.

It’s not so bad if I’m traveling with other people since I can leave any decision-making to them and just simply use my veto power on things that are questionable but when left to my own devices, I could spend days pondering on even the smallest decision. Decision-making is always tough, especially when you’re presented with two equally valid choices as things normally are when it comes to web development in which choosing between speed, design and/or content is a universal dilemma.

Striking the perfect website balance

Style over substance, form over function; similar debates have been raging for decades if not centuries and honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever come to a definite conclusion. Sure, people would like to say that they prioritize substance over style and function over form lest they be called superficial and perhaps this is my cynicism seeping through but I think people care much more about looks than they are willing to admit.

For example, I’m the kind of guy that literally judges a book by its cover. Whenever I’m itching for a new book to read, I walk into a bookstore and just browse through the shelves for books that look interesting. If it had a cute cover or blurbs that I found to be interesting, I’m probably going to pick it up. It hasn’t actually failed me yet, I’ve fallen in love with some genuinely good writers with this principle, notably David Nicholls and Nick Hornby, and I’m probably going to keep this up until all of the bookstores around me have been closed.

The moral of the story here is that people are hopelessly superficial; the only difference is to what degree. Looks then are undoubtedly important but when it comes to website, where attractive and eye-catching designs can sometimes get in the way of speed, reining in some of your design team’s ambition might be necessary. This is made more complicated by the fact that there’s still one other subject to be considered when we’re dealing with websites; content.

So yeah, it’s not exactly a question of style or substance but perhaps style and substance or speed? Things can be quite complicated, to say the least, and finding the ideal balance between all three could be tough. If you maximize on speed, you won’t have much room to play with design and content. Maximize speed and your website would be slow while lacking in content. Maximize content and your website will both be slow and unattractive. Although, depending on the purpose of your website, it might not be necessary for you to actually optimize for all three.

Properly using images and videos on your website

To start with, there are a lot of tools out there that would enable you to compress an image with little-to-no noticeable loss in quality for your website. Full size, high-res images are great but only include them if it’s a necessary component of your business. If it’s a yes on that question, use a separate image gallery so that those images wouldn’t have to be loaded together with the actual page.

For videos, you might want to consider embedding them from video sharing sites such as YouTube. Generally, you’d want to minimize third-party scripts as much as possible but because of the complexity in videos, you can offload the work to them while you focus on optimizing your website first. Additionally, make sure that embedded videos are loaded only when they’re requested by the user. A preview image for the video will be loaded first and only users who’ve clicked on the video will be able to see the actual video.

Other technical considerations

The practice of lazy loading, in which contents are loaded only when they’re scrolled into view, should be considered if you’re considering single-page websites. I’ve mentioned that web developers should minimize the use of third-party scripts and I would like to add plugins to that idea, especially when we’re talking about WordPress. For example, including your Twitter and Instagram feed on your website used to be novel but I now think that simply including links to your social media account would be enough.

One other change you might want to consider is dropping support for older browsers. Backward compatibility tends to require certain scripts and/or files, which would just add unnecessary bloat for other users. If you’re unsure, try checking what browser your visitors are using in Google Analytics. Adding in to that, it’s a good idea to just simply minimize the use of CSS and JavaScript in general and use them only when necessary.

When to optimize and when not to optimize

The question you might want to ask yourself is the purpose of your website. For example, a law or an accounting firm would probably see little need in the high-quality images and rich contents so a focus on speed would be preferable. On the other hand, any business working in visual design would need to up their game in the design front while blogs would want their content to be as rich and attractive as possible.

The first option would be easy but it’s the latter two that would be tricky since they still have to ensure that their websites would still load properly on those without a high-speed fiber-optic connection. As a compromise, try to create a landing page for SEO purposes that isn’t as heavy as the actual main page that would offer visitors a taste of your website but without the extra baggage. By taking this compromise, you could focus your speed optimization only on the landing page without sacrificing your rich content pages, which is the closest thing you could have to a win-win situation.