Web Design Basics
Design guidelines and myths busted
From our own experience in designing hundreds of custom built websites we present to you some crucial design guidelines to help you improve the effectiveness of your designs. If you are a beginner-to-intermediate level designer we suggest that you first read our Design Concepts article.
There are a lot of sources out there on the guidelines for website design - however not many of them are short and easy to understand. Here's a quick look at SmartWebby's seven important design guidelines for effective website design:
- Analyze and strategize: Its important to set goals, research and have a plan before your design. Ask the right questions while gathering the technicalities (requirements, objectives and specifications). The more in-depth the better.
- Cultivate the right mind-set to build creatively without neglecting objectivity and logic. Remember that an effective website is one that's usable, impressive, slick, cohesive, well laid out, fast-loading, easily readable and easy to use.
- Create a clean consistent layout and navigation structure for optimal and undistracted viewing. Communicate the website's purpose on every page. All major navigational links should be easily accessible from all pages.
- Design to draw focus to the content not away from it. An impressive design is a must for a positive first impression but it should not be in the face and should facilitate easy viewing of the content. Use of white space is crucial for good readability.
- Always design with the website user in mind: usability, accessibility, user experience and user interaction considerations should be part of your design process and be given utmost importance.
- Feel free to use appropriate effects but don't over do it. Aim for a stylish yet subtle look with an overall soothing feel. You don't have to be restricted to 2-3 colors; A well designed colorful website can also be impressive. Ideally, logo colors, their shades and shades of black and blue can be used for any website to look cohesive and smart.
- Target CSS optimization techniques during the design phase itself to minimize rework. If the design is graphically heavy (or even otherwise) target the use of (a) CSS background fills to minimize page size and for fluid designs; (b) CSS sprites to minimize server calls (objects downloaded); (c) CSS navigation effects with text link hover, background colors and borders.
Tip: If you are someone like me who must know every important guideline then read the comprehensive Usability.gov Design Guidelines eBook (PDF).
Design Myths Busted
Lets now move on to debunking some of the myths of cutting edge website design.
- Keep it Simple: Its often recommended that for effective websites the designer needs to "keep it simple" for the targeted audience to reach your products, services and/or information - whatever they are looking for - quickly. Instead of simplicity we recommend that its more appropriate and important to Keep it Slick - smart and intelligent design in sync with user needs. We attribute this paradigm shift to the huge advances in technology, user awareness and internet speed. To lift a websites impact factor, designs of today need to be stylish, subtle and soothing with regards to effects used.
- Users are Stupid: It has been theorized that users need hand-holding for how to operate your website. A few years ago we might have agreed upon this theory; We now believe that hand-holding on the web is overrated. User awareness is at an all time high and this can be attributed to the social networking explosion. In the internet world today, Users are extremely web savvy if not outright intelligent. Proof? From a mere 304 million users in March 2000 the internet community has zoomed to 1966 million users in June 2010 (sources: Nua & Internet World Stats). This almost seven fold increase in users is mind boggling, and even more so when we note that there have been 1000 million users since 2005. These figures prove that users no longer can be generally labeled stupid and that the bulk of internet audience today has matured. Therefore don't treat your users as stupid and design for them with that in mind.
- Content is King: In mass media its a general notion that "content is king", meaning content - any kind of information including textual, visual and aural - is of utmost importance, however this is not entirely true when it comes to websites or the internet media. We believe that in building effective websites the User is King and the content (text, visual design, functionality, interactivity, audio and video) should be generated only as per what the targeted user's needs are - content serves the user his master. A web designer must focus on the user's need at all times - usability, accessibility, user experience and user interaction considerations are all part of this. If you don't give users the importance they deserve, they will leave. period.
The above three myths are easily busted and understood by just looking at one phenomenon - Facebook:
- Facebook is definitely Slick not Simple, else other social networking sites would have enjoyed the same magnitude of its popularity - its so intelligently made, reeks smartness and is impressive on all levels.
- The explosion in Facebook users shows they are not stupid and are quite adept at using the web. A similar comparison is how anyone today aged 5-70 years old can learn to play a video game within minutes.
- Facebook was made for the User so it rules all social networks - facebook content and features has always served the User its master.