The Web is a visual medium. For a Web site to work, first and foremost, it must be well designed. Unlike newspapers where even the barest design can get its information across, a Web design must wow, tease, and compel your audience to step in and explore what you have to offer. Your design must trigger the curiosity of your visitors and make them want for more.
Once inside, they must be informed, entertained and convinced of your products or services. Your design must allow them to travel from page to page with the greatest of ease. More importantly, your site must convince them that coming back will be beneficial and rewarding as well.
Creating a Web site that works starts with its design. Good design means having quality content, while allowing your visitors options and pathways to investigate what you have to offer. To succeed in creating an effective web site, you must first understand the basic rules governing Web design.
Rule 1: The Web is About Content.
Your goal in designing your Web site is primarily to convey information. Whether your business deals with fishing, web hosting, online calendar or Java scripts, your Web site must be clear in conveying what you have to say or offer. This entails having content that is useful to your visitors, and ensuring that your visitors can find the information you have to offer.
a. Visitors must know what your site contains.
Content should clearly come up on every single page. Remember, first time visitors of your web site do not know what you have in store for them. It is important to bring up content to your front page – to let visitors know what they can find from your site. Do not make them plow through four levels of buttons to discover on the fifth page that your site contains links and resources pages. They may not have the patience to discover information that might be essential to them and could pull them back to your site repeatedly.
b. Provide quality and relevant content.
Use quality content relevant to your business. Be original as much as possible, although it is also good to have content from contributing authors who wish to promote their works at your web site. This count on your popularity and can generate more visitors while you also help giving traffic to the web site of your contributors. Remember, in the Internet, “No Man is an Island;” it is “Live and Let Live.”
Rule 2: The Web is About Skim and Surf
People will only read what catches their attention. You are kidding yourself if you think that your visitors will read every single word on your Web site. Here is the reality: nobody reads everything on the Web. Either people are too busy or they simply have limited attention span. Some studies show that it only takes nine seconds for a visitor to click away from your site. When they come across a Web site, they want to get something – and fast! If you do not give them something quickly, they absorb nothing. They don’t really care about your groovy images. They visit a site to get something out of it. If they don’t find what they want in an instant (even though you swear that the information is there buried 10 layers below your front page), they are gone! Many interactive Web designers still deny this cardinal truth.
a. Guide your visitors well.
Navigation bars are a must-have of every Web site. The nav bars serves as a “guide” or “direction tool” for your visitors, helping them finds your content easily. In addition to nav bars, other sites place drop-down menus for more specific listing of the topics and a site map. These tools are meant to help your visitors find the information they need from your site. Use these tools to organize your site in a clear and simple way.
The story changes, however, when you have 300 pages or more. Navigation then becomes a challenge. You simply cannot put a button in your front page for each of your 300 pages. In this case, you will have to make some editorial decisions as to the hierarchies of information. Your goal in designing your main page will be to balance the fact that your site is not easy to digest (your site oozes with tons of useful information) but which looks appealing enough to begin.
One word of caution: never assume that your navigation structure is clear to your users. What for you may be an organized way of arranging information and content, may appear as a maze to some users. Pre-testing your site is crucial to give you some objective feedback needed to further improve your Web site.
b. Don’t make your visitors wait.
Fast loading web pages should be the goal of every web site creator. Usually, too much graphics can hamper the downloading speed of your site. If you can avoid it, try to limit the use of graphics, especially in your front page. As @Home’s Richard Gingras said, “the only acceptable delay is no delay.” People will not wait 3 minutes for your flash pages to load – no matter how cool it is. Make people wait, and say goodbye to them forever.
c. Make your pages concise and short. Web visitors love to surf, but hate to scroll. Keep your paragraphs and web pages shorter. Most people do not have the patience to scroll all the way dowwnnnn. Avoid punishing your visitors with information overload. The less work you make them do, the greater the chances they will come back to you often. Shorter pages break-up the content into easier bite-size pieces.
Rule 3: The Web is about Contrast.
The Web is a novel visual medium, but it does not mean that it changes the tried-and-tested rules of design. White, the absence of color in print and the combination of all colors in video, is still the best background for Web pages. If you prefer other background colors, the rule is to use colors with the highest contrast from each other. Hence, you use black type for white background. Red, the color that has sold more magazines when used in the headlines, can be used for your captions. Different colors elicit different reactions from people, a fact that Web creators should understand.
a. Make your pages easy on the eyes.
Catching your visitor’s attention does not mean using all the colors of the rainbow. The rule in design is to use colors with the highest contrast from each other. Understand the elements of design. Avoid the trap of “design before legibility.” Study your color combinations and try to avoid funny mixing up of colors. Can you imagine your reaction to a site using red text on a dark blue background? Or, bright green text on a bright yellow background? Not only is it difficult on the eyes, but it also doesn’t make sense to struggle reading something that is simply not readable.
b. Your pages must look cohesive and readable.
Web pages are pulled together by one or two elements. No need to run amuck with every available font invented. Using two kinds of fonts is ideal. Like colors, you can develop contrast by using the thin and bold combination of your fonts. Also, do not use one set of colors and fonts in one page, and use a totally different set in another page. You will lose the continuity and look of your site, leaving your visitors feeling lost and confused.
c. Big is better.
What use is your highbrow content if your fonts are microscopic? Reading text on a computer screen is hard in itself; do not compound the problem by using tiny letters. Leave space between the lines, make your lines short, and do not use typefaces that are hard to read. If you want your content to be read, make it easy to read.
Recommended Books on How to Design a Website:
- The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
- Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design
- Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition
- Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
- Starting Your Career as a Freelance Web Designer (Starting Your Career)