April 2011 Newsletter

Can a Website be Too Simple?

**** The 4specs Perspective

Are you losing visitors because your website design turns people away? Are you not being specified on projects where you are not being found on the Internet? Websites using flash cannot be viewed on an iPhone or iPad.

People leave difficult-to-use websites and find the information they need elsewhere - probably a competitor's site.

Let's look at the flip side – can a website be too simple, while containing all the information needed by an architect and specifier?

In 2000 - yes 11 years ago - I wrote a document proposing a simpler website format. This design was intended to be a guideline not a hard requirement.

WebFormat 2000

Using the MasterFormat numbers, a specifier or project architect can quickly organize and understand the products the company makes. The company phone number, email and address is easy to find. Specs, CAD and other design information is easy to find.

In 2009 I updated the home page to add keywords for Google and other search engines to index. This will help the website attract more users from the search engines. The text made the page wider, and I changed the navigation to the top of the page and used CSS for the navigation bar rather than using linked images.

WebFormat 2009

The WebFormat product pages are also simple and easy to use. I visit manufacturer's websites every day to classify their products. Sometimes find it difficult to find simple things such as the CSI-formatted specs, CAD details, MSDS sheets and other data I know the architect, specifier and contractor need.

I developed this sample product data sheet after reviewing the SpecData sheet, product binders and talking with specifiers.

Product Pages

Not every item is applicable to every product or manufacturer. Is this too simple? I think not.

How does this work in real life. Below are 3 websites I have reviewed and like.

Kinetics Noise Control has a complex acoustical product offering all in one CSI section. Every key word for their products is probably on this page. Simple, effective.

Kinetics Noise Control

The Garaventa website is very different, and yet based on the same design principles.


The CMI website is very different, yet is simple to find the information you are looking for. The navigation is CSS based and should search well in Google and Bing. My major criticism would be the use of flash images. This site would not work well on an iPad or iPhone.


Navigation within the website is critical. The website below has a great product page listing all their products. However, the page is missing a logical classification system. I expect that the web designer did not understand the importance of the CSI MasterFormat system. If these products were grouped by CSI MasterFormat code, it would be much easier to quickly grasp and remember the type products they make. Also, this page was over 1,000 pixels wide, and may cause a browser on a 15" screen, iPad or other smaller screens to not display the complete page and have a page slider on the bottom.

Royal Products

In my opinion, simpler is more effective.

Questions and comments are always appreciated.


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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