Website design is a challenging craft that demands the talents of both an artist, and a programmer. There are many design elements to consider when creating a professional website: layout, color scheme, font, typography. In order to push a good design into becoming an exceptional design, the designer must delve deeper, past the visual aesthetics.
I interviewed Dustin McCarthy, Live Support Ninja, from ASmallOrange, and this is what he has to offer some useful tips for designing a better website. Funny enough, the tenets of great design also happen to be good principles to guide your everyday life.
1. Be thorough
Don’t be lazy and only fully design two pages, only to skimp on the rest of the site. Great websites are thought out down to the last footer. You can tell when a site is not thoroughly designed: the home page and one other content page will be beautiful and complete, but as you get around to the “About” or “Contact” pages, they are pretty lackluster in comparison. But this is not so in the case of well designed sites. They provide the user with an enjoyable experience throughout the site, even in the pages less navigated. It’s subtle, but makes a world of difference.
Thorough work will also improve your relationship with the web developer. They can code, but they can’t read your mind. If you assume the developer will fill in the gaps that you left, they will probably be annoyed and you are probably not going to be happy with your design either. (This probably explains the dull About and Contact pages.)
A thorough design fosters clearer communication, allowing others to better understand your vision. As it is in life, being more thorough is better than being less thorough. I’m sure you can think of some examples from your own life where this holds true.
2. Have a goal in mind
Admittedly, this is rather cliché. But it’s amazing how effective setting a goal can be! Have you seen “The Biggest Loser?” With a clear goal (and a team of world class trainers, nutritionists, and doctors), the contestants are able to lose hundreds of pounds! Through extension, each page of a website should have a clear and concise goal.
When creating the design for a particular web page, consider what action you want the visitor to take and design around that. After all, you’re designing an experience for them. Aesthetically, having a goal will keep your site from becoming too cluttered and busy.
Let’s face it, there are so many options out there (what colors, fonts, bars, tables, menus, and buttons to choose from!), that it’s easy to get carried away. A goal can keep you away from flashy temptations. Functionally, the site will be easier to navigate. Elegant design is where form and function meet and having a goal in mind can help you achieve this.
3. Be mindful of others
Just like you wouldn’t ask your recently unemployed friend to go to Atlantic City for the weekend (that’s just rude), great design is mindful of others’ access. Use a font that all users have on their computers. Yes, you are now limited to a handful of fonts, and therein lies the challenge of design. If a website uses a special font that only a few people have access to and the design itself relies on the font to tie the site together, only these few people will be able to experience the site as intended.
Instead, most users will find themselves on a poorly designed site, littered with the unintentional default font. You don’t want that, do you? Alternatively, if you just have to have that fancy font, you’ll need to turn your text into an image and upload that. Just be aware that it’s going to be more difficult to update content. Being mindful of others makes a universally accessible, well designed site and the world a happier place.
4. There is no need for ugly tables
With box stores selling good design for less, there’s no reason that you should still have that ugly table in your living room. Likewise, it’s 2011. There’s no need for ugly tables on websites when there are so many more elegant options that are just as easy to code. If you haven’t made the leap to CSS yet, you should. Some tables are so outdated that they can’t be saved and will kill your design – in your house and on the web.
5. Learn another language
Learn CSS. If you’re not familiar with coding your own designs, you should at least understand the characters of CSS. This will change the way you design because you’ll have a better understanding of what’s possible for the developer. The transition from design to code will be much smoother. Again, this could help improve your relationship with your developer, as the two of you come closer to speaking a similar language.
Think of it as a visit to another country. You want to learn some of the basic phrases to get around so that you’re not a completely helpless tourist, or in this case, a helpless designer. Essentially, it doesn’t hurt to expand your skill set. Learning an additional language makes you more marketable in life and design.
Balance is key for peace of mind. To maintain a positive disposition, I always look for a balance between work, home, and play. There must be an equilibrium of times when I’m fast-paced and in the public eye and slower “me time.” Similarily, when designing, strike a balance between speed and features. You want to make the most impressive website, filled with the glitziest and flashiest features. However, what use will this be if it can’t be viewed on a mobile device? Believe it or not, but not everyone has a fast internet connection. (Remember being mindful of others?)
Having too many features will take too long to load and there’s a good chance it could be too busy and overwhelming – bad design. A simple design can also be impressive and beautiful. Just take a look at what Apple can do with this design philosophy.
Good design principles lend themselves well to everyday life. Following these six tips will not only improve the design of your website, but you could even see an improvement in your day to day life.