“The subtleties that contribute to visual aesthetics go beyond nice colors and layout consistency.”
Considering the typical three-second attention span humans have, a critical decision for a website designer is to pick the initial focal point of the site. The creators of www.feeapraiser.com have answered this with an image map depicting a map the United States. (An image map is not necessarily a map, it can be any graphic that has a defined area to click on.) Below the graphic is the caption “To Start Your Appraiser Search.” Not only is the map an easy place to focus, it also works as a natural sequence to get the user to interact with the site.
An image map is a form that functions as a group of hyperlinks. When your mouse hits various areas of the image map, it reads x and y coordinates. When you click the mouse, it activates your browser software to send the coordinates to a server. Let’s say that you are looking for a residential appraiser in Utah. When you click on the state, an Internet protocol called active server pages (ASP) locates and loads the screen that lets you search for an appraiser in the selected state. The page is an interactive form that accepts your search preferences. The form also uses ASP script to link to a database server that receives the uniform resource locator (URL) with the embedded search terms. Then the database retrieves the record or records that match the search criteria, sends it back to the web server, and then to your browser as a new HTML page. Options for search criteria start with residential or commercial appraiser, and then city or county (or both), and it will pull up matches from over 10,000 appraisers listed in the search engine.
Of course, locating an appraiser is the highlight of this site. Other features include the following: tips on hiring an appraiser, appraiser resources, and tools for mortgage brokers. The tips suggest things to ask when hiring an appraiser, including how much to pay and finding out if the appraiser has the appropriate data sources for the area and property type. The resources segment is primarily for appraisers and includes direct links to appraiser associations, E & O insurance companies, state licensing boards, and bulletin boards.
The tools option is an entirely different action. Rather than bringing up a new page as part of the FeeAppraiser site, it is a direct link to LoanPro eZDesk, which is a different website that features web tools for mortgage professionals. Linking to a different site is very common. The links are often offered in the form of a banner ad at the top of a web page or at the bottom as a link box.
The design of the site utilizes a very basic layout with a static action bar frame on the left portion of the screen containing large, action buttons. The buttons have a great 3-D effect triggered by mouse-over technology. The buttons appear to move in and out. I watched this 3-D action many times before I realized that they actually move diagonally about 1/32nd of an inch. The illusion is created by a disappearing shadow.
The rating for this site is excellent because it is attractive and functional. The subtleties that contribute to visual aesthetics go beyond nice colors and layout consistency. There is a delicate balance between too few and too many colors, fonts, and other elements. The designers of the FeeAppraiser site have done an exceptional job in finding this balance. Functionality is attributed to a basic design with consistency throughout the site and guaranteed orientation with the static option frame. It is also enhanced by the placement of the image map on the homepage, which pictorially previews the benefit of the site and prompts involvement on the part of the site visitor.
by Thor Skonnard