How Design Matters
Forum communities are a bastion of discussion and interaction between anonymous users. Often times we see forums that have overlooked or entirely ignored one of the major points of success they could be capitalizing on. I am of course talking about design. Design is what sets your community apart from other communities, creates a welcome mat for guests, and what keeps your members engaged with the overall appearance of the board. It goes a lot farther than just making your community look nice. Design embraces an age old psychology that people have seized and marketed upon for centuries. This article is going to highlight why design should matter to you and why it should not be something to sweep under the rug when setting up (or maintaining) your community. 1. Design Sets the Mood and the Future Have you ever walked into a restaurant and noticed that there are decorations and other items meant to welcome you? You find yourself thinking that the restaurant is nice, welcoming, and probably a place you will return to. You consider all of this before even sitting down or engaging in the service. A forum community, believe it or not, is the exact same. When a guest searches for a particular topic and comes across your community, the first thing he is going to see is your design. He is going to consider how it's different from other communities, if it's visually appealing to his tastes, and whether or not style variety is offered for selection if the design is unsuitable. As easy as it is to consider the design as your welcome mat it's more accurate to call it your business card. It is the first and foremost referral to your community. A well designed community is already one step ahead of others. 2. Design Shows Administrator Dedication Once a guest makes the transformation from unrecognizable lurker to active member the very first thing they guage is activity on the forum and the reception they receive. Next the user will start to notice staff members, their activity, and how they conduct themselves. A staff member is a role above the average user after all. The Administrator's primary job is to direct, lead, and otherwise continue improving the community for the good of the members who enter it. A well designed forum with activity shows dedication on part of the administrator. Whether the Administrator took the time or paid out of pocket for a unique style sets him apart from administrators who stick to a basic or default forum style. It shows that the administrator is not lazy, does care for the community, and sets a precedent that the staff will continue to maintain and improve upon the community's successes. Even a well designed empty forum still outmatches a poorly designed empty forum, as users are more likely to give the well designed forum a chance. 3. Design Prompts Community Ownership and Responsibility When a forum changes looks, the first thing an administrator often does is post a feedback thread. How does the theme look? How can we improve upon it? What is wrong with it? Each reply to the thread constitutes further user interaction in the internal matters of the forum. After a period of time the user feel responsible for certain aspects of the forum and may even feel a sense of ownership in some of the community successes. This is how one gets users who self moderate or actively report rule violations as well. A community that cares for it's survival, existence, and visual impact is a community that will withstand time and challenge. It is a community that will help each other out in thick or thin and can even become pseudo staff members themselves. The design lays the foundation of the community and prompts users to take personal interest in the community. In conclusion the reader should now understand the virtues, importance, and reasons behind and for a proper and unique forum style. Design is much more than appearance and goes straight to the psychological level of how we as users pick and choose the communities we join. It sticks to our personality and shows us for who we are as a staff. It aids and guides the forum community to success. If you want to succeed understand that you must embrace all aspects of administration - not just the glorious ones. Underestimating design could cost a webmaster his or her success.