There is a special kind of art to web portal design. Portals are a special kind of web page, different than blogs, e-stores, or informational websites. Take a look at some of the qualities that set these pages apart.
A Web Page within a Web Page
The function of web portal design is to give information about information. As the word suggests, it is an entryway to other web pages, organized around a theme or subject. All of the channels here at LoveToKnow.com are examples of web portals, but there are many more on the web. All of them fall into two basic categories: horizontal and vertical portals
- Horizontal portals cover a broad spectrum of subjects. LoveToKnow.com is a horizontal portal, as is HuffingtonPost.com. Both of these sites offer a wide range of subjects gathered under one page.
- Vertical Portals focus on a particular niche based on a subject, an issue, or some other category. The Sports section at Huffington Post is a vertical portal, as is the Web Design channel at LoveToKnow. The "Web Coding" page inside of that one is another, even tighter portal to other more specific pages.
The fact that you can get from the front page of LoveToKnow to the specific Web Coding portal in two clicks is the mark of good web design. Information needs to be easy to find and get to. But there is more to the principles of effective portal pages.
Basic Principles of Web Portal Design
There are three main aspects to designing a functional and useful web portal page:
- Organization: The most useful thing in the Information Age is an effective way to present information to the user so that they can quickly evaluate it and find what they need. As TechRepublic.com says, "content is king," and making sure that the information architecture of a portal page clearly presents past, present, and future content is essential.
- Personalization: A portal page should be able to adapt. Whoever is maintaining the page, collecting the links and deciding what categories they need to go into, also has to keep up-to-date with design standards. As far back as 2001 the SAP Design Guild was addressing these issues, noting strategies for "tabbed navigation" and clear-background GIF bitmaps to allow easy navigation and color changing on site designs. This means that the information is separate from the design, a cornerstone of good Cascading Style Sheet strategy.
- Social Media Integration: In a Web 2.0 world, a portal also needs to be able to integrate into services such as Facebook. One way is to create an RSS feed that people can subscribe to so that they are notified in their news readers when content on a portal page is updated. You can also usually share each new entry via Digg, Tumblr, or some other service. Even microblogging clients like Twitter help portals like LoveToKnow keep people abreast of what is new in a portal. This is another level of personalization that enables the user to choose how the information from the portal is delivered.
Letting the Experts Do the Work
These principles are not simple, and there are books and entire conferences every year about portal design. If you need one for your business or organization, you may want to leave it to a professional company. One of the benefits of using professionals like the ones at iFlexion is that they can identify issues and problems before they happen. What if you need to put a video on your portal? Or what if you need to have a quiz, or open it up for advertising? These are the people who can make sure all of the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted.
Whether you do it yourself with a CMS like WordPress or hire a professional, remember that the content of the portal is the most important part of any design. Keep it fresh, relevant, and useful, and your portal will be the entryway for passionate users from all over the world.