Button vs. Text Links
If you do your research on professional looking sites, you will find that for the most part, buttons do not fit into the professional designer's plan.
Don't e-mail me on this... I'm not talking about graphic links or text buttons. The kind I'm targeting here are the square, oval or round cookie cutter buttons with nothing distinguishing them from each other except different text. The kind that are usually too big, too loud in color and stand out on the page like a sore thumb, taking the focus away from the focal points of your site. And the worst part here, is that most buttons are saved in the wrong format, created in the wrong program making them look awful, or they are not well placed on the page.
So you can pretty much determine how professional a site is at first glance by the quality of the graphics on the main page. First impressions really do matter where your site is concerned. The quality of your graphics more than any other element of your page, will determine how people rate the value of your content.
Content may be king, but how easily your site can be navigated with the least amount of aggravation will make or break it. Buttons should never be represented as the main focus of any page unless your site is about... well... 'buttons'.
So, what are some professional ways to link to other pages? Some of the most professional looking designs on the internet use image maps, sliced images that rollover, interesting icons, original graphics or just plain text (especially true for high content sites). You might be able to get away with a few cookie-cutter buttons if they are well executed, but a variety of content will demand a more sophisticated method of navigation at some point.
Any good design will lead the eye around the page to 'drink it in' while being visually attractive and also playing up the most important areas of the site in a cohesive way. The elements on each page must be attention getting according to their order of importance and at the same time stay true to the content.
If you like big, gaudy, overdone, fancy or graphically intense buttons, don't despair, they are perfectly acceptable and right at home on personal pages. As long as you're aware that they are not well received as being very professional and that the site probably won't take any serious design awards, go for it.
Overall, it's wise to understand the importance of good navigation in your web architecture if you want a more successful site with fewer problems. Cookie-cutter type buttons are too repetitious to be interesting. They detract from your primary and secondary focus on the page. Good navigation is intuitive, logical, clean, entertaining and as simple as possible with major links in the same place on each secondary page of your site, and that's why real designers don't use 'buttons'.
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