This article discusses the essence of strong website design, including some fundamental principles that should apply to just about every design you create. Will your skills be transformed simply by reading this article? No, but you'll have a good start and a solid understanding of what separates "okay" website design from "excellent" design.
First Things First: Understanding Usability
"Usability" sounds like a made-up word that bears no relevance on the discussion here. Should not every site be "usable"? Of course. But what we're talking about here is the simplicity of use. Any decent website design can produce links that your users can click on; a great web design presents an intuitive navigational structure and simple choices so that users do not get lost in the maze.
The essence of usability is simplicity. Always look to create the simplest design possible – not any less simple or more simple. Anyone who logs onto the website you've created should be stuck by a few things, like its professionalism and unique design, but they should also know what to do with the content provided.
For example, if the website you're designing is selling one product, you do not want to give your audience a million different links to click on – they'll probably never find the "buy now!" on your sales page. If you have a newsletter you want people to sign up to, but also offer a menu with 50 other options, you can not expect a lot of people to indulge you and sign up. Why? Because they can not even find it!
Instead, try to reduce your website design to its essence. There are essentially two elements to concentrate on: navigation and content. The navigation should help the suer find his or her way around the content, and should do very little else. Yes, you can insert animations and get fancy, but only when the navigation actually makes sense. If your website design is not usable, it's not very good, and it betrays the essence of good web design.
Professionalism and Understanding a User's Desires
The next thing you should strive for in good website design is professionalism and the willingness to cater to the audience. These two things often go hand-in-hand, because you should always try to make things easier with the user in mind.
First, having a professional-looking website design means that it must be clean. The easiest way to keep things clean is through minimalism; do not try to overpensate for a lack of web design skills by simply adding more, more, more. A good website designer looks at the site and requests "what can be cut?"
Professionalism also means that you're clear about what the business does. Do not try to hide the business – put it up front and make it clear from the get-go. Featuring a tagline on the HOME page is a great way to do this.
What about understanding a user's desires? You have to remember that most people spend their time online skimming, rather than really reading. This means that you'll want to avoid heavy blocks of text in your design and instead break things up with headlines, graphics, and short pages.
If a user has a short attention span and clicks over to a long web page, in many cases they will not feel very enthusiastic about reading it all. But if you give them something to scan, you stand a great chance that they'll stick around your website. A good website designer keeps this in mind!
Bringing Out Your Inner Website Designer
If you want to become a website designer, this article is a great starting point to understanding why simplicity is so important on the web. But there are a lot of other elements that go into creating a solid website. One principle to keep in mind as a website designer is to always think of the audience, people seeing the site for the first time. What will their first instinct be? Will they say "wow – this is professional!" or will they see too much clutter and click "Back" right away?
It's the task of the website designer to create a much better website design through simplicity, professionalism, and an understanding of the user's desires. If you keep those in mind, you can easily and frequently create high-quality web designs.
Even if you're not a website designer, keep these principles in mind for your own business's site, and question whether or not it's time to bring in a new designer for a new look. If you're an employee, you might consider recommending a website design upgrade.