Principles of Good Website Design

Principles of Good Website Design

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Like every other technology that impacts our lives, website design continues to evolve. Modern websites have many more ‘moving parts’ than those of a decade ago. Complex and user accessible back-end processing has grown to the point where every man, woman and child in the developed world could create and run their own online store.

Styles of the front-end design of websites have also changed dramatically. The brilliant graphics and sharp HD animation available and in wide use today were unheard of back in 1996.

There are, however, certain design principles that have remain unchanged since the very first website was launched back in 1991 and they are all based on the one thing that has not changed significantly since then: the people that use websites. Methods change, styles change, but people, well we pretty much stay the same – and so do the following principles that should always be evaluated when designing a website.

  • Don’t Tax Your Users’ Minds - According to Krug’s first law of usability, a website should be obvious and self-explanatory. If the navigation and site architecture aren’t intuitive, it becomes unnecessarily difficult for users to comprehend how the system works and how to get from point A to point B. A clear structure that incorporates visual cues and easily recognizable links will help users to effortlessly navigate to the information they desire without having to break a mental sweat.

  • Don’t Try Your Users’ Patience – Marketing strategists stress a principle that states: if you are going to offer your visitors a valuable service or tool (such as a newsletter or coupon) you should ask for something of value to you in return. For example you might swap a free estimate in exchange for their email address and zip code. However, be certain of the value of each piece of information you request because you may drive potential customers away by making them fill out a needlessly lengthy form full of information you won’t really use.

  • Don’t Strain Your User’s Eyes – If your website is hard to read or look at, people aren’t going to stick around very long. Your best bet is to rely on a designer who is familiar with appropriate web colors and color palettes that are pleasing to the eye. It is very important to maintain sufficient contrast between text and background so that visitors to your site can easily read or scan your content without having to squint and strain.

  • Do Focus Your Users’ Attention – This is the visual equivalent of not forcing your users to think too much. The human eye is a highly non-linear device, and web-users can instantly recognize edges, patterns and motions. Proper selection and positioning of graphics will focus users’ attention to specific areas of the site and thus help them get from point A to point B without thinking of how they actually got there.

  • Do Communicate Effectively With Your Users – As the web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Long dense text blocks will be skipped by the user. It is important to understand that web users don’t read, they scan. Text must be concise and to the point with appropriate use of headings, spacing and other highlighting such as bold and italics to ease a users’ ability to scan the text.

There are many other more complex elements that go into creating a website that is both attractive and effective, however, if you stick to these five basic principles, you’ll be off to a great start!

~Steve Barnes