You don’t need to be told that website design is important. Everyone understands how critical the internet is to the way people live, learn, work, and shop. If you want to communicate through this remarkable medium, building a website is an absolute necessity. Obviously, the design choices you make will influence your site’s effectiveness. Why?
Every website is a collection of information. Step behind the curtain of the user interface and your site is simply binary data living on a server somewhere. This isn’t the way you think of your site from day to day, though. Your website is a collection of ideas and tools that are organized according to a pattern that’s clear and obvious in your head.
Is that organizational pattern clear to your visitors? Can a complete novice who’s never seen your site before understand how to use it? How to find the information you want to share and use the tools you’ve built?
Good website design solves these challenges in a way that should be intuitive to everyone who visits you. You can come up with your own brand-new organisational principles if you have absolute faith in your design ideas. It’s safer to study other sites and pay attention to their navigational organization, though. Take your cues from sites you find easy to use. How do they link their pages together? How do you get from one point to another? The goal of a well-designed navigation system should be to minimize the amount of effort your visitors need to find what they’re looking for.
Besides wanting your site to be useful and accessible, you probably want to make it clear that it’s yours. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s not hubris or misplaced pride. If your site has commercial goals (e.g. selling products), making it distinctive is incredibly important. Branding is still something you should strive for even if your only goal is to inform or entertain.
You need to develop your design principles to the point that you can apply them consistently to every page on your site. Good branding makes it impossible for your visitor to forget where they are and who they’re communicating with. There are many design features that can help you do this. Sticking with a single color palette and using the same graphic style throughout your site are just two examples. A consistent brand encourages familiarity, turning first-time visitors into fans who come back over and over. Most importantly, strong branding builds trust (see below for more).
Website design isn’t about applying some universal formula for the “perfect” website to your own work. Your design decisions should be informed by what you know about your audience. Study up on the way people read websites in general. If possible, get the right analytic tools to learn how they read yours.
There are only so many ways for a visitor to read a website, so most people will gravitate towards well-known patterns. The F-pattern is a common way for newcomers to scan a site. They will concentrate hard on the information at the top of the page, then move rapidly down the page looking for points that interest them. As they move down, they take in less and less detail. When this pattern is heat-mapped, it looks like an F. You should aim to foster more engagement by shifting your readers towards the layer cake pattern. In this model, readers pause regularly as they move down the page to fully absorb information from headlines and text. The heat map for this looks like a regular series of horizontal bars.
Web design also encompasses search engine optimisation, or SEO. This process is complex enough to deserve much more in-depth study. In brief, optimisation is the way that you can tweak both the design and content of your site to make it more attractive to search engines. This makes it easier for search engine users to find, boosting the amount of fresh traffic coming to your site. Good optimization can dramatically increase your exposure, but you’ll need other good design choices to hold visitors’ attention.
Think again about websites that you’ve found truly useful. Was it because they had gorgeous graphics? Was it because they loaded super fast? Was it because they were easy to navigate? While these are all great design features for a website, the odds are that your judgment of a website’s value will come down to the information it contains. On your own site, you want to make sure you provide content that lives up to your carefully thought-out design choices.
Readers are looking for content that expresses insight and passion. They’re not looking for words that are polished up in dry, emotionless business language. They want to get the feeling that they’re connecting with someone who knows important things and is eager to share them.
Trust is a critical part of the long-term relationship between a site and its audience. The good news is, paying attention to the design concerns explored above will go a long way towards fostering trust. A website that’s easy to find, easy to navigate, and packed with useful information is going to win over a lot of newcomers.
You need to aim your design decisions at promoting trust because it’s vital to encouraging your readers to take action. It doesn’t matter what that action is. If you want to sell visitors something, or get them to sign up for a mailing list, or just bookmark your site and come back regularly, you need to get them to trust you. Being honest, enthusiastic, and informative will get the job done.
If this article has done its job, it should help you think about your website’s design in a high-level strategic fashion. Making the detailed decisions about which design elements to use and how to present your site will depend on your specific circumstances. Hopefully, the principles discussed here will be useful no matter what kind of site you want to build.
Trish Riedel specialises in custom designed WordPress websites that not only look great and function efficiently, they also rank very well in the search engines. To get your own gorgeous website contact Trish on 07 5574 7626