There are two simple aspects to web design that it’s important to understand before you set about building your first, or next, website. The organisation and design of your site should be based on the aims you have for your site and the goals of your audience. Planning ahead and focussing on these goals is the best way to ensure you create a successful site.
Plan Ahead and Set Your Goals
Establish early on in the planning process what the purpose of the site is. A simple one line sentence that sums up your aim should be the starting point here. The more clarity you have about your goal from the start it will be simpler for your visitors to understand. The user of your site is more important than anybody else in the process. Too often websites are designed for the people creating the site! Think about your audience carefully and consider not only their likely skill level but their interests carefully. A site designed for a typical or average user is likely to appeal to a far broader range of users than one designed for you.
The future is an important aspect to consider when building the site initially. How often will the site need to be updated? If you need to update the content regularly, consider how easy this will be and find an effective content management system (CMS) that you can easily manage yourself. There will be costs in terms of both time and money in maintaining and updating a site, so ease of use is an essential factor. Similarly, to avoid the need for a complete re-design in the future, consider if the site is likely to grow in the coming years (or months). Will you want to add new pages and sections? If this is the case, again, the design of the site should be capable of being extended as and when necessary. A basic framework that you can add and make changes to yourself is preferable in this case, rather than having to get a designer in each time an overhaul is required.
In terms of the look of your site it is, again, crucial to consider the needs of your users and their habits. It’s a well-documented fact that web users scan read a site searching for information relevant to them quickly. In terms of behaviour most users scan from top to bottom and left to right with the main focus of their attention to the left and top of a page. Given this factor it’s important to place your most important information, and calls to action, in this section of the page. Think about what you want from your users and what they need from your site; this goal and requirement should feature heavily in the areas visitors are most likely to be viewing.
The Easily Distracted Mind
The human mind responds quickly to visual stimulus and this is important to remember when creating effective images. Moving images will distract your viewer’s attention. In general, unless they are likely to lead the viewer exactly where you want them, moving images should be minimised. Small sections of text broken up with relevant images are the best approach. Adverts that flash and pop up are common on the web and are commonly hated by users; remember this factor when designing your site.
Navigation for the Terminally Lazy (a.k.a. The User)
Simplicity in your site design is crucial. Users should quickly be able to navigate to the part of the site that they need (and you want them to visit). If it takes more than three clicks to do so you risk losing the notoriously fickle attention of most web users; they’ll click the back button very quickly and will probably not return to your site in a hurry. Links should be placed where it requires minimum effort to find them (users are lazy!), preferably close to the top and left. Simple, self-explanatory menus (home, about, etc.) should be clearly visible and accessible on each page.
Quality Content is still King
“Content is King”, so they say, and this mantra has been true for centuries in the marketing world. It’s a concept that is still alive and kicking in the 21st century and applies to websites as much as to any other form of marketing material. Poor quality content has a negative effect on users, losing their trust quickly. This can include poorly written content and badly thought out images (avoid stock images like the proverbial). Quality speaks volumes to web users and creates a bond of trust between you and your sites visitors. This trust is hard to gain, but once you have it, it’s a certain way to your use