The Non-designers Guide to Website Design
At some point in time, we’ve all stumbled upon a site on the Web that made us reach for the antacids (remember the dancing hamsters?). We’ve also encountered sites that left us in awe of the designers who created them. So what separates good design from bad design? One word: communication.
The purpose of design is to communicate. A typical web user has a very short attention span and loses interest quickly if they can’t discover what it is you can offer them. So, how can you answer their question quickly and with style?
Design your site, then get rid of half of the information on the page.
Most business owners want to pack each page with as much information as possible – afraid that if they leave anything out, they’ll lose a sale. More often than not, this leads to simply too much information presented in a tiny area – in this case, a browser window. Your site should be free of clutter and make good use of white space. Take a look at some of your favorite sites. I can assure you that the majority of them have an ample amount of white space.
Usability studies have shown that presenting a user with too many possible decisions increases the likelihood that the user will leave your site in frustration or exhaustion. The key here is to avoid overwhelming the user. Only include high-impact, persuasive content.
Don’t place equal weight on all things on your site.
Make a list of the elements of your website (i.e., navigation, logo, contact information, content, etc.). Then order them by importance (hint: your call to action is almost always the most important part of your website). Then arrange those elements, so that essential elements are seen first on the page. You can do this by using contrast (but please, no neon pink on bright green), size and texture.
For example, if you are extending an offer of free shipping, place a large, colorful graphic on the home page with a short, seven word or less phrase announcing this offer. Make sure it is bigger than all of the other elements and try to use photography if you can. Photos are a great way to add texture without disrupting the harmony of design. Also, make sure the colors of the picture stand out (but match your site’s color scheme). If your site is based on a blue and green scheme, add a little splash of red or brown to the mix. Which leads to my next point.
Decide on a color scheme and stick to it!
Pick one base color (background color), two main colors and one highlight color for use on your site. It is very rare that color schemes with 3+ main colors or more than one highlight color will work well. Only use your highlight color for valuable information. It loses its ‘shock value’ and importance if you use it all willy-nilly all over the place.
The use of a consistent color scheme is critical if you are trying to brand your company. People associate names with colors: Coca-Cola Red, UPS brown, etc. Use your brand’s colors to solidify your place in the buyer’s mind.