How to Make Sure You Have a Good Web Design
Individual tastes often vary. What one person finds appealing may be appalling to the next, whether it’s colors, images, font types, etc.
This is what makes web design so deceptively difficult because a responsible web designer is tasked with the responsibility of having to create something that pleases the client but also engages a mass audience. Additionally, good web design must deliver information, enhance branding and all the while remaining technically sound.
Web designers must also navigate the nuances of particular industries and their requirements. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) there is not a “one-size-fits-all” to every client. What proved successful for one business may not be marketable to the audience of another, so it’s imperative for designers to have a grasp on who the viewers will be and target to those standards.
So while some things may be subjective, there are many guiding principles that are not. Many clients often blindly trust the person(s) developing their website to always be up-to-date on the latest advancements, technical progressions, and to price their services fairly. However, in order to ensure that you are always getting the most out of your money, there are few things every client should be aware of.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT?
Information. Information. Information.
When someone lands on your page, the design should flow in such a way that it passively “leads” the viewer in the direction you want them to go. The aesthetic should be such that it assists in navigating the viewer towards valuable content and essential information; who you are, what you do, why they need your service, and how they can get it.
The way this is achieved is sometimes referred to as ‘guiding the eye’ and it is one of the most important features of any website. If your viewers cannot find the information they need quickly and efficiently, they will often “bounce” off and seek the answer somewhere else…and if that answer is easily offered by a competitor this could spell disaster for your business.
The viewer’s eye should be taken through a series of steps, introducing them to vital information at a glance. This entire process can take mere seconds to complete, so it’s crucial to make something that will instantly capture their attention without overwhelming them.
For example, you may want your user to go from your logo to a primary positioning statement, then an eye-catching image, then to the main body text, with navigation and a sidebar taking a secondary position in the sequence.
There are many ways that designers go about achieving this result:
- Position — Where an item is on a page influences in what order the user sees it.
- Color — Using bold and subtle colors is a simple way to tell the user where to look.
- Contrast — Being different makes things stand out while being the same makes them secondary.
- Size — Big takes precedence over little, especially where font type is concerned.
- Design Elements — When there is an arrow pointing at something, guess where the user will look?
SPACE CAN BE A GOOD THING AS OFTEN AS IT CAN BE A BAD ONE
The most novice design mistake is wanting to fill up every available space on a website with stuff (images, text, graphics, etc.). The designer bombards the user with so much information that they rarely are able to process any of it, let alone retain what it was they saw.
However, an experienced web designer knows that empty space isn’t always wasteful, and is often in fact, necessary in order to draw attention to important talking points. It gives the website a clear and clean direction. Tools such as line spacing, padding (how much space is between design elements such as images & text), and white space can make or break a design.
Line spacing refers to how text is laid out and it directly affects how readable your content appears. Too little space and everything runs together, too much and your texts ceases to flow in a cohesive manner. As for padding, it’s safe to say that certain design elements should never overlap others. It’s never a good idea for text to run into images or borders to touch tables because it clutters up the design. And white space is important because it gives balance, proportion, and contrast to the page.
It’s also worth noting that the term “white space” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s white, simply that it’s blank. When white space is used effectively, it can actually come across as a more ‘expensive’ or ‘up-market’ design…when used incorrectly however, it can simply make a website look unfinished.
There is rarely anything more frustrating than being unable to navigate through a design to find the information you need. Personally, I feel that if I have to spend more than 10 seconds figuring out where I need to go to get the information I need, then I can’t be bothered with the website whatsoever. Is it a product of our “instant” culture? Possibly, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s how people now view the internet.
Remember, you want people spending time on your website because it’s thoroughly engaging, not because they’re lost and can’t find what they’re looking for in the design.
There are two things to always keep in mind in regards to navigation:
- Where am I going? – The ways in which to travel around the website should be easy to find. This means that all buttons are clearly marked and highly visible, the menu should be succinct and efficient (the viewer wants to know where you’re taking them), and most importantly – make sure it’s easy to use. Three-tiered menus are not only tedious but negatively impact your SEO return, roll-over menus that disappear at the slightest motion are terribly frustrating as well.
- How do I go back or get there? – Always make sure that your users can return quickly to the main menu or pertinent section of a website at any given moment. In design we use the term “bread crumb trails” as a way of referring to the navigational aspects of design, letting you know where you’ve been and how to return. Site maps are also very handy in giving the user tools to find information quickly.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The true key to successful web-design is giving information to the viewer without burdening them with a lot of unnecessary extra content. Focus on your core competency and highlight your strengths, don’t throw in a slew of other things (i.e. images, text, animation) that do little to enhance your content. Remember, you want the viewer to be focusing on what you’re saying to them. You want to provide them with information and useful content without distracting them. The more the user has to multi-task on your page, the less likely it is that they are giving your content their undivided attention.
FONT CHOICE IS IMPORTANT
Have you ever noticed the difference between the handwriting of an elementary school teacher and a busy physician? One is very clear and readable because they want to impart wisdom and information to their students; while the other is well…chicken-scratch that you need a decade of experience in the CIA to decipher.
There is a reason that typography is a valued art because it’s the most common (and arguably important) element of any good design. Make sure that your font is easy-to-read.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind as well:
- Font Choices — Different types of fonts say different things about a design. Some look modern, some look retro. Make sure you are using the right tool for the job.
- Font sizes —Text is meant to be read, not just looked at. Make sure the text sizes are consistent, large enough to be read, and proportioned so that headings and sub-headings stand out appropriately.
- Line Length — There is no hard and fast rule but generally your lines of text shouldn’t be too long. The longer they are, the harder they are to read. A good key is thinking about how a newspaper lays out its text. Clear, concise information.
- Color — It may look good but that doesn’t guarantee that it will read so well. Make sure your color choices are of a high-enough contrast that they are easy to read. Some people see colors differently and that needs to be taken into serious consideration as well.
ARE YOUR IMAGES RELATED?
Just yesterday someone in our office visited a website and asked, “What do these images have to do with their business?”
The visuals on your website are very important. Make sure that the pictures or images that are incorporated in the design help convey the identity of the business. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how much of an explanation is needed. If there is no direct correlation to the images used and the business, it may be time to rethink your visuals.
IS IT USABLE?
Good web design is more than just superficial renderings. You need to make sure that your design is actually usable. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of businesses I’ve encountered that have a website that doesn’t work…on a multitude of levels.
We’ve already discussed some aspects of usability – navigation, priority ranking, and text. Here are three more important ones:
- Adhering to Standards – There are certain things people expect. For example, if the text has an underline, they will expect it to be a link. Doing otherwise is not a good usability practice. Your web site should do exactly what people expect it to do.
- Think about what users will actually do – It’s never safe to assume that two users are going to do exactly the same thing on your website. This is why it’s always helpful to solicit feedback from others about the design.
- Think about user tasks – When a user comes to your site what are they actually trying to do? List out the different types of tasks people might do on a site, how they will achieve them, and how easy you want to make it for them. This might mean having really common tasks on your homepage (e.g. ‘start shopping’, ‘learn about what we do’) or it might mean ensuring something like having a search box always easily accessible. At the end of the day, your website is a tool for people to use, and people don’t like using annoying tools.
Consistency means making everything match. Heading sizes, font choices, coloring, button styles, spacing, design elements, illustration styles, photo choices, etc. Everything should be themed to make your design coherent between pages and on the same page.
Keeping your design consistent is about being professional. Inconsistencies in design are like spelling mistakes in an essay. They just lower the perception of quality. Whatever your design looks like, keeping it consistent will always bring it up a notch.
MAKE SURE YOUR WEBSITE ACTUALLY WORKS
I was recently asked by a professional to “take a look” at their website and then share with them my thoughts. Now while I couldn’t share my opinion as candidly as I would have liked, suffice to say it was a disaster.
Individuals (especially those responsible for the website of a business) are often very defensive of their decisions, even when those decisions are bad because they’re so closely tied to them. It’s sometimes hard to be objective in this regard, and the choices can range from everything from whom they used to create the design, the design itself, etc.
It pains me to think about the number of businesses that I know do exceptional work or offer outstanding services, yet their website wouldn’t reflect those qualities in a million years.
Let me put it to you plainly, you should never compromise the quality of your branding or the strongest weapon in your marketing arsenal (i.e. your web presence) because of things like personal ties to a designer or because you feel technologically challenged and out of your comfort zone. Because while things like loyalty to an individual or company is noble, if a design is unable to produce the results you need in order to achieve the success you deserve, then it is hindering your business growth.
Your website should increase your ROI and drive traffic to your business. If links are broken, information is missing, it’s a dated design, or it’s difficult to navigate, you’re going to be missing out on valuable business opportunities.
KEEP IT UP-TO-DATE
While you should always make sure that the content of your website is up-to-date, it is also extremely important that the technology your website is built on is current as well.
Good web design will have a healthy shelf-life and won’t require any major overhauls for quite some time. However, if your website is already being built with obsolete technology, old practices, or outdated methods…then the entire website is already fighting an uphill battle, especially in the realm of search engine marketing and optimization.
Furthermore, a website that isn’t current is costly – both in terms of the financial burden and the cost of your business. An outdated design can convey things about your business that may not necessarily be true but are almost always negative. No company wants to be burdened with the cost of having to re-do a website that was just recently built, this is why it’s important to make sure it’s being done right the first time.
At Mediaura, we never expect clients to be experts in Interactive Technology because that’s our job. However, we always make sure to educate our clients throughout the process so that they have a better understanding of their own property.
We like to use this analogy with clients: if you or someone you loved were in need of a major surgical procedure would you prefer a surgeon who sat down with you and explained the process in layman’s terms; what your choices were and why they recommended a certain method, why choice A is preferable to choice B, utilized the latest technological advancements, outlined the process involved, enlightened you on what to expect, and answered any questions you may have about such an overwhelming endeavor OR would you choose the surgeon who was very friendly but vague, gave you no options, and operated with dated equipment and methods?
You would choose the first surgeon without a doubt. The same goes for good web design and development. It’s an arcane and complex industry, full of technical jargon and advanced algorithms. Clients should always feel confident that the designer they are using is honest, open, up-to-date on the latest advancements, and as forthcoming as possible with information.
It’s also beneficial for the designer as well. An educated client is going to make better, more informed decisions about their website. The client will value the designer as a resource and become more involved in the process, yet even if they don’t, even if they still prefer a more hands-off approach – they will rest assured that their website is truly a top-notch design and in good hands.
There are many things that could be detrimental to your business, don’t allow a bad website to be one of them.