If you use a Content Management System (CMS), you may well choose a pre-designed “theme” for your website and feel you don’t have to be too concerned with designing your page from scratch. It is however still important to have an understanding of good web design principles; getting the basics right will help you look professional and make a great impression on your new visitors, resulting in people who stay long enough to buy what you’re selling.
Designing with the user in mind
A website needs to be functional and user-friendly in order to survive, so keep your users front of mind when designing your masterpiece web pages. Customers are often lazy, impatient, and time-poor, scanning rather than reading, and clicking only on the most obvious areas in order to find what they are looking for. If the site design and layout isn’t intuitive enough, the user may simply click the back button, and go on to an easier-to-navigate site (even if that site has a poorer offering or less professional design standards). The point here, is design must be relevant to the user and create a positive and intuitive experience so that the user enjoys browsing, and can find his/her way through to your solutions in the simplest and easiest manner possible.
Understanding the culture of your users
Western design principles traditionally encourage use of minimalistic content, white space, and a simplified and focussed web page. Take Google.com.hk as an example; a simple logo and search bar focus the user’s attention to the centre of the page, with the vast majority of the page left as white space. Simple and subtle header and footer bars offer links to further Google offerings, but do not crowd out the main focus of the page, which is obviously the Google search function.
Contrast this to Yahoo.com.hk and you will immediately notice a vast difference in strategy and design. This page mirrors the busyness that Asian users have come to expect from local websites; large numbers of links, images, advertising, and articles fill the page in a flurry of options and activity, and true to many Asian web pages this one also extends and scrolls down far longer than your standard Western web page.
How should you design your web pages? That of course depends on the company image that you wish to portray, and the users that you expect to attract. Below are a few universal truths to remember when putting together a professional design.
Colours and Fonts
With so many colours and fonts available, you may be tempted to create a collage and a rainbow of all of these across your pages. This is not a good idea, and aesthetically displeasing to most people, even if they can’t quite put their finger on the issue right away. As frequent users of many professionally designed services, sites, and systems, we have been conditioned to feel comfortable within good design, and your site should also make people feel comfortable and confident to spend their time navigating your pages.
In regard to colour scheme, you will want to pick a base colour which will be relevant to your target customer base and this may also be a dominant colour within your logo. Remember that colours resonate strongly with people and may result in their actions changing accordingly; greens may give the impression of environmental care, light blues may evoke feelings of happiness and relaxation, and bright reds may suggest passion, violence, or love (depending on the context). Certain colours may also have positive or negative cultural connotations attached to them, so do your homework and make sure your colour schemes are suitable to all of your prospective audiences. It’s important to bear these things in mind when choosing a base colour for your site, however a base colour may not be the dominant colour used on every page; you may wish to opt for a simple black and white theme, and use your base colour for specific highlights and calls-to-action within your site.
When selecting fonts (or typefaces), choose a maximum of three fonts on each page. Across your site, you should have two main fonts which you’ll use for headings and paragraphs, and these should be consistent from page to page to give the user a feeling of continuity and predictability. You may choose a third font for special use or to highlight certain parts of the page, or as part of banner images, but use these sparingly!
Typefaces come in three broad categories, including: serif, sans serif, and decorative. Serifs are the small hooks on the ends of letters, and generally make these fonts look more formal, traditional or serious. Fonts without serifs (sans serif) don’t contain these hooks and are generally more contemporary in feel and easier to read quickly. Example serif typefaces include Georgia and Times New Roman, and sans serifs include Arial and Verdana. Decorative fonts, such as Comic Sans, might seem interesting at first but should not really be used in professional design; they can be distracting, illegible in smaller sizes, and difficult for users to read in longer lengths of text. A safe option may be to choose Georgia for your headings, and Arial for your body text, and skip any use of decorative fonts. Follow these good web design principles and you’ll be on the right track to an attractive and easy to use website.