Web design styles have changed since the days of dial up in the 1990′s. The simply structured web site has been replaced with rich media and bright, flashy colors. But the fundamental principals of good web design have not changed and the purpose of a website has not changed either. All that is changed is what we, as users, have come to expect when we visit a web site.
The Design Should Be Simple
Too many web designers make the mistake of thinking that empty space is a bad thing. Web design should be focused on what is in a site rather than what is not.
Let’s consider the example of Dropbox, which is a simple web design that converts very well. When you arrive at the home page, you are confronted with a short video explaining the product as well as a big blue button so you can download it. The standard web design template is thrown out the window, and yet it is extremely successful at achieving it’s aim.
Similarly, Google has probably the simplest web design of any site in the world and it is also the most popular. The Google homepage is designed to make you search because that is what makes them money. Sites like Google have never tried to validate their product with wordy explanations, their web design is more about “here it is, give it a try.”
Despite the massive success these two sites have had with simple web design, there are still too many web designers starting their web design from a standard template. These templates typically have three standard pages: about us; contact us; and a page for the product or service they are selling.
Now think about your own website and what it is you are trying to achieve. Is it necessary for users to contact you, and if it is then why should they have to visit a separate page? If the purpose of your website is to incite a phone call then your web design should be centered around a phone number. If the purpose of your website is to get users to download some software, then your web design should be centered around a big button which invites them to act.
Simple web design doesn’t make your product appear simple or uncomplicated, it merely delivers your pitch faster and more effectively.
Web Design Should Be Pleasant
Whilst it may still technically possible to use these kinds of tricks, it is well known that these techniques do not increase sales. Additionally, Google has a way of detecting these things and you will be relegated to the very end of search results if you head down this path. Web design should be about providing a good user experience, and pop up ads are far from pleasant.
To create a web design that is pleasant, you just have to remember what it’s like to be a web user rather than a web designer. Never incorporate anything into your web design that you wouldn’t want to see on a site that you visited yourself.
When you’re discussing ideas for web design, try and put yourself in the shoes of the web user who will be visiting your website. Bearing in mind that the user has already shown interest in whatever it is you have to offer, think about how you can close the sale in a pleasant way.
To understand pleasant web design, think about what a pleasant purchase experience is. If you spend a morning going in and out of shops at the mall, you’ll notice what a huge impact the sales person will have on your entire buying mood. If they are friendly and helpful, you will be more like to buy. If they are rude and dismissive, you will most likely leave and buy somewhere else.
When you’re finalizing your web design layout, think about every picture or button you’re placing and ask yourself: is this pleasant or is this an annoyance?
Website Should be Easy to Relate To
Web designers are often creative, eccentric types who want to show off how insightful they can be. This can often lead to designs that are more eccentric than functional and can even alienate the user.
Before you implement your web design ideas, you should take the time to consider your idea in the context of the web user. What you have created may be clever and insightful, but the reality is that most web users are only half paying attention to what they’re looking at, and it’s possible that the idea you have has gone right over their heads.
This can be something of a web design dilemma: to what degree should your website be “dumbed down” to cater for the masses. There’s no formula, but the degree to which we compromise our intelligent ideas is always higher than we would like. Whilst certain products and services might benefit from eccentric web design, these are generally the kinds of brands that are trying to foster a degree of elitism.
If a user arrives at your site and is unable to relate to it, they will have a bad user experience. If the user experience is poor, then the user is unlikely to interact. The key to optimal web design is copy and imagery that the user can relate to, and will have positive thoughts about.
In specific terms, tailor your web design to a broad audience with a specific outcome. You’ll get an idea of what broad content is by watching commercial television. Because TV audiences are so broad, they have to create content that will appeal to the masses and not alienate people that may not appreciate your intelligent humor.
Keep eccentric ideas away from web design at all costs, and always get feedback on your designs from a broad range of people before you launch.
Web Design Should Be Concise
We have already looked at the principals of simple web design, now we need to be sure our web site is concise.
Scientific studies have revealed that goal-directed attention in the brain has changed by the way we consume media. When people are browsing a website, their attention is likely to be shared by at least one other form of media.
If your user is listening to music whilst visiting your web site, then their attention will be significantly reduced. This is is one of reasons that the average bounce rate on a website is so high. The term “surfing the web” implies that a user is moving between websites rapidly and giving each website they visit only a part of their attention.
In practice, this means your web design should aim to get to the point as fast as possible without sacrificing the user experience. Whist having a decent amount of web copy in your web design is important, there should also be an option for people who don’t want to read everything you have written to figure out how to interact.
One of the best ways to achieve this in your web design is to have large headings of no more than two lines, followed by a decent amount of copy. In a prominent place to the right of the copy, have a dedicated area for interaction. This may be either a buy now; call now; or download now button.
Such a segregated web design will allow your user to read as much or as little of your sales copy before deciding whether or not to interact.
The most valuable skill a web designer can have is the ability to have multiple users using the website in different ways. Most users will only read the headings, but they still like to have the option of reading the copy.
Web Design Should Incorporate Logical Navigation
When a new user arrives at your website, they will be faced with a new environment that they are not familiar with. It is therefore imperative that web design incorporates logical navigation.
The standard practice of having some kind of navigation at the top of your web site works well because this is the first place that a user will look. If they don’t find anything at the top of the page, they will look down the left side; then the right side and then they will probably stop looking.
If your web design brief is to create a a site that people will stay on, then the web site navigation should be large and prominent. Most news websites and corporate services websites will incorporate this principal.
However, if your brief is to create a web design that makes fast sales, then you don’t necessarily want to encourage people to bounce around the different pages on your website and gradually lose their impulse to buy or interact. In these kinds of web sites, navigation should take a back seat to the main sales copy. Many web sites will have lost the sale as soon as the user navigates away from the page they entered into, so the objective is to make the navigation area visible but not prominent.
Dropbox is a perfect of sample of how single objective web design can incorporate logical navigation. Most of the real estate on the home page is taken up by the explanation video and the download button, but if you look down the bottom of the homepage there is logical navigation.
Web design is about providing everything to everyone, but controlling how everything is delivered. You need to give users a way to move around your site, but if you would prefer it if they stayed put, then make your copy more interesting than the navigation menu.
Web Design Should Be Consistent Across Browsers
Unfortunately, what works in one browser might not work in all four, so your web design has to be robust. Having sloppy code that won’t render in Internet Explorer will likely cost you 20% of your conversions.
International web standards are set by W3, and all the major browsers claim to abide by their rulings. In practice however, browsers consistently divert from the central standards.
Internet Explorer is consistently the biggest offender when it comes to divergence from web standards. So whilst it is easier to preview your web design in Chrome, the job is not finished until it works in Internet Explorer.
Firefox is probably the most compliant browser because their developers are bound to accept the principals in any new code changes. That said, once the principals are established it takes time for the browsers to implement them. In the case of Internet Explorer, it can take many years.