When Starting a Wiki, Don’t Forget Design

This is from Matt Wiseley of EditMe, a company that offers an excellent combination of a powerful hosted wiki and affordable professional services to customize it to meet your needs.

Wikis started out as the simplest thing that could possibly work. With that goal, making wikis visually pleasing wasn’t an afterthought – it was deliberately ignored. Now that wikis have entered the mainstream and are being used for a broad range of purposes, its time to step back and remember why design is important. If you want people to stay (and come back) after finding your wiki for the first time, you need to consider your site’s design beyond the generic one provided by the wiki software you’re using.

How Important is Design for Your Project?
The importance of design for your project depends on how you’re using the wiki. If you’re using a wiki for a small team of already-committed individuals for collaboration, enticing your users to the site with design probably isn’t important. But just because your site isn’t intended for the general public does not mean design doesn’t matter. If you’re launching a company wiki intended for a large internal audience, design can make a big difference in the impression potential collaborators get when first visiting the site. And if you’re trying to lure in the general public to a wiki, design can make or break your site’s chances of success.

Why Design Matters
Anyone in the web marketing field will tell how how important a site’s design is. Content is only half the battle – great content on an ugly site will almost certainly fail. Though most visitors to a site are unaware of the design, it’s what gives them an overall “feel” for the site. More importantly, it is their first impression. A good web design is inviting, original and eye-catching. It communicates your site’s vision, goals and intended audience so that visitors know within the first 10 seconds whether it’s where they want to be.

The Bare Minimum
Depending on your time and resources, you might get by with customizing your wiki’s template with your logo and complementary color scheme. Most wikis let you do this at some level, and doing so at a bare minimum is important. If you don’t, your wiki is essentially indistinguishable from thousands of other wikis. If doing this is over your head, get a quote from your wiki provider’s professional services team for design customization based on your current branding. Depending on what wiki platform you’re using, this can be quite affordable.

Branding: A Base to Work From
If you’re starting a new project and your wiki is the home and public face for it, consider getting a logo and simple branding package done to use as a base for customizing the look of your wiki. Local freelance designers are everywhere and range in price (and talent) considerably. A designer worth considering will have a web-based portfolio where you can review previous work to see if its in line with what you’re looking for.

Wow Your Visitors
If your project has a budget, consider commissioning a full custom web design for it. Some wikis (EditMe, for one) are extremely flexible in the designs they can implement. Ask your wiki vendor if they can accept output from your designer and implement it on your site and how much it will cost. Also, make sure your designer is in contact with your wiki vendor so that he or she doesn’t create something that can’t be implemented in your wiki software.

If you don’t know where to start, your wiki vendor should be able to point you in the right direction. Be prepared to state an approximate budget, though, as it will determine your best course of action. With a carefully executed design project, like many things, you get what you pay for. Just like you wouldn’t start your wiki without any content in it, don’t start it without proper consideration for design.

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