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How SimCity Taught Me to Design Websites

The fun I had putting my passion and energy into playing the game SimCity 2000 as a kid explains why I love building websites. When SimCity 2000 came out I purchased a copy for my Mac and was immediately hooked. The game was fun to play, required imagination, and was a perfect intersection of my interests in design, strategy, and planning. I spent hours designing all kinds of different cities, experimenting with different layouts, reading gigantic manuals on strategy, and discussing the game with friends. I got a chance to test out a beta of the new SimCity game coming out this year and it made me realize that the skills I learned playing the game translate perfectly into my real-world job, designing websites.

simcity 2000 city One of my original cities from 1997.

Start with a Goal

The first key to building a successful city is knowing what your goal is. Do you want a giant metropolis, an entertainment destination, a giant bank account, or the happiest sims in the world? You can have multiple goals, but you should decide what is most important to you for the inevitable time when you’ll have to make a tough decision (do you sacrifice some monthly income to improve pollution and make people happier?).

This is exactly how you should begin your web design process. Decide what your site’s primary goal is and what you’ll need to provide to your users to achieve that goal. You should evaluate anything else you build into the site (or product) and make sure it supports your goal instead of holding you back.

Plan Ahead

In SimCity and web design, planning ahead is crucial to achieving your goal. Growing a city requires close attention to a variety of factors including: the distance from your sims to city services, a logical network of roads, and the correct ratios of housing and employment. Good web design begins with gathering content and deciding how it should be organized. Starting with a good foundation makes it easier to scale without having problems. If you don’t plan these things out, you’re going to spend a lot of time and money trying to fix them later.

simcity 2000 planning
An organized city.

Get Feedback and Optimize

SimCity is all about making decisions based on the feedback that the game provides you. It is filled with advice for you to leverage including: a team of advisors, charts, graphs, overlays, and the monthly newspaper. You can also learn a lot just by watching how your city develops and how your sims behave. This is where the game really gets fun. With your goal in mind, target something that you’d like to improve and start to experiment. You’ve got all the data immediately available to decide what is successful and what to continue tweaking.

SimCity 2000 Feedback

Managing a website works almost exactly the same way, you just have to set up the tools to provide feedback. These items can include: Google Analytics for statistics, Optimizely for A/B testing, Usertesting.com for visual feedback, Crazy Egg for data mapping, and online forms for conducting user surveys. Once you have all this data coming in you can start tweaking things just like you did in SimCity and see what works.

Don’t be Afraid to Adjust

Part of any good design process is being willing to acknowledge when something isn’t working and change it. In SimCity, the bulldozer tool is your best friend. You’ll need to remove polluting buildings, fix roads with traffic issues, and clear space to fill in things you might have missed along the way. The web works in a similar way. Something may have seemed like a great idea to begin with, but if it’s getting in the way of your primary goal you’ll need to reassess. Don’t be afraid to cut a feature, simplify a design, or re-write content. Often cutting can be just as important as building.

SimCity 2000 Bulldozer

Connect to Your Neighbors

In SimCity you can connect your roads to your neighbors so people can move between cities and strike deals to share resources. It’s important to realize you can’t be the best at everything and that’s why you need to work with your neighbors. Keep your focus on your primary goal and don’t waste your time trying to build something that you can get for a small fee. In web design these things could include textures, photography, copywriting, code snippets, scripts, and plugins. Web design is also about community. Share your findings on social media, blogs, forums and keep the conversation going. The community makes everyone’s work stronger.

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