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Designing a creative and useful sidebar

A website is usually made up of standard components. One often overlooked component of a website is the sidebar. When I’m building a website I put a strong emphasis on the layout of the sidebar. The hardest part for me is having the client understand that the sidebar is an important feature of the website rather then just a collection of “stuff” that has nowhere else to go.

The conversation would usually go like this:

Client: “Sidebar? um… Lets do that last, just put anything in. Shouldn’t we just focus on the content pages?”
Me: “Well sure, the page content is the focus and the SEO optimized part of the website. But how often you go to a website and glance over at the sidebar to see how many RSS subscribers the website has? Do you try and look for how many twitter followers the website has? Or Facebook fans? Don’t get me wrong, none of these stats actually make for a good website BUT they do indicate just how many other people might like the content”.
Client : “OK I admit, I do that”.
Me: “Do you also scan the sidebar to see what else the website has to offer, besides the page you are on?”.
Client: “Yes I do that too. OK I see your point and lets get some focus into my sidebar now”.

That didn’t sound too hard did it? Not all clients are created equal :) Just keep that in mind.

So what should be included in your sidebar?
Well the first thing is to get your main social links in there. These are not important to your content, but they do allow people to get an idea of who follows,is a fan off or subscribes to you. This wont make your website “cooler” but it will give a new user an reason to take a bit more of a look around. After all, its in our nature to want to see what the crowd likes.

Next, look at your content. Look at what things you offer that most people visiting your website will find interesting. It could be testimonials, it could be similar photos/content to the page they are looking at. It could even be your comments.

Lastly, contact details and specials are always good for the sidebar because they get exposure on every page.

This all sounds simple and really it is. Most of this is a no brainer and its all in the planning. All you need to do now is get this content and make it look good in a sidebar. Remember, a lot of sidebars look terrible and out of place because they are slapped on and never designed with a content plan in place.

So how do you make a great sidebar?
You need it to be a standout feature, without being a standout feature! Confusing!

The best way to design a creative and usable sidebar is to just show you. Look at these examples of great sidebar design.

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Posted on June 7, 2010 in Web Design

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