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Web Design Principles to Build Better Websites

Web Design Principles

In an era where more than half of the world’s population is active on the internet, website design is to businesses what recipe ingredients are to a chef. Just like a chef can’t make his living without the proper ingredients, businesses can’t succeed without a proper web design. 

This is as a result of how incredibly important websites are to the success of a business these days. In fact, for many businesses out there, their website is not just their digital shop, it is their major line of operations. 

So it is not fancy to have a great website for your business, it is necessary. Building a great website ultimately draws from applying the right principles in your web design. 

Having registered that, you must understand that website design is not merely an opportunity to be creative. It’s not an art project. The website design should be done with the aim of making your website functional, result-oriented, and most importantly, great for the user experience. 

Conversions, sales, engagement, and brand perception, these factors are all determined by the user experience of any website and hugely fundamental to the success of any business. 

By tailoring a website design that offers a great user experience, you can avoid irritating consumers in their first few seconds of interacting with your website. Ultimately, you’ll get them to enjoy clicking, scrolling, and generally being immersed in the experience until they make a final, decisive act. 

By following these 7 web design principles, you’ll be able to turn all that talk into action and build a better website:

A Practical Visual Layout

Your website’s layout has to be designed in a way that encourages meaningful engagement instead of creating confusion and a weird sense of unfamiliarity. 

A majority of the world’s online consumers have gotten used to some particular manner of viewing web pages. As a result, there are conventional patterns they would naturally and subconsciously expect when landing on your website. 

It’s usually better to give users what they want in this case instead of trying to ‘’go out of the box’’. While users might appreciate rare flashes of creative brilliance (that are practical), deviating too much from what they know might generate a negative reaction.

In addition, your visual architecture should subconsciously tell your users what they should do. Just by viewing your website, they should be able to understand the rules of engagement and know their next step without having to use any extra mental effort. 

A practical visual architecture is very important for building a seamless connection between your user interface and your users. When you achieve this, you make users more open to clicking and taking decisive steps.

The following guidelines will help you in building an efficient visual layout:

Visual Hierarchy 

This principle is as simple as it is vital. The most visible elements in any design get the most attention and are more likely to be engaged. 

So with this knowledge, apply your visual hierarchy in such a way that the most important elements of your website are the most noticeable.

A good way to get started on this is to rank the elements that will appear on your website according to their level of importance. Your CTAs, copy, pictures, product menu, contact information, etc. Which of these do you want users to see and interact with first? Which of these are more likely to spur decisive engagement?

Your answers to these questions will determine your hierarchy. You can then proceed to apply this hierarchy visually. The most important elements will be bigger in size than the less important elements. They will also be more easily spotted by the prominence of their colors.

Prominent colors apply particularly for CTAs, as they are usually part of the most important elements. It’s very common to see CTAs with colors that stand out pleasantly against the website’s background. 

This is one thing most online users are subconsciously used to, and something they naturally expect to see on any website. By now surely you understand the reason for this practice: it’s because those CTAs contain the most decisive actions. 

Craftis’ homepage has a fantastic visual layout, so it will be used to reinforce all the guidelines in this section. Here, the page offers a great example of visual hierarchy: 

Observe how the main copy and CTA are part of the easiest things to identify because of their size and position. The CTA buttons are made prominent not by size but by color. 

Fitt’s Law

This law has a notion that is related to the idea of visual hierarchy. It’s simple, the bigger and closer an object is, the easier it is to use. 

So the bigger buttons and elements are more likely to generate the most clicks as they seem more within reach, and so on and so forth. 

Fitt’s law actually has an interesting premise. It’s a binary logarithm. What this means is that the usability of an object doesn’t always increase as size increases and distance decreases.

The effectiveness of the law doesn’t run across a straight line but on a curve. This means that at some point, an object can start becoming too visible to the point of being ineffective.

In a way, this just interprets the common sense that although you want them to be noticeable, your content shouldn’t take up too much space. That might just look awkward and irritate users. You must make sure to use user-friendly content.

Common Visual Patterns 

Studies and research have shown that people are psychologically prone to visually scanning content in some particular patterns. As a result, you should align your website elements, be it text or visuals, fit these patterns. 

Doing this would help you make the most of users’ attention on your website. Below are the two most common visual patterns: 

The Z pattern 

People are expected to visually follow the Z pattern upon visiting a site. Just like the shape of the alphabet indicates, the user’s eyes immediately land on the top left, and scan to the top right, then follow down to the bottom right, before finally landing on the bottom left. 

The pattern is not always this definite but the basic principle always applies.

Your reaction to this is to place what you want people to glimpse first at the top of the Z (which is usually your brand logo and Important information), then put more visual elements along the downward path (the middle) that will be easily seen as they scan down to the bottom, just like in Mailchimp’s example:

Mailchimp

The F pattern

Researchers have discovered that people read a web page in the form of an F-shaped pattern. Subconsciously, they block out areas that don’t fit into this pattern. 

So if you have lots of content to put on a web page, you want to place the most important information along with this pattern. This is effective because it helps to capture your users’ attention.

Look at a regular heatmap to get a realistic idea of what an F pattern is:

heatmap

White Space

Popularly called the practice of making your content “breathe”, white space reduces visual nausea. By having enough space between your elements, users can more easily identify, understand and appreciate them at a glance.

A website with little white space is stinging to the eyes. Having elements (text, visuals, graphics) clustered too closely together is confusing to viewers. On the other hand, you can arrange your elements in a subtle and brilliant manner by using your white space smartly. 

See the amount of whitespace on the MailChimp page, there are good pockets of space between the elements:

mailchimp

An Intuitive Navigation System

Your website’s transport system is every bit as important as your website’s appearance and performance. Users should be able to get to their desired point with ease and at an intuitive pace. 

Nobody wants to think too hard about how they’ll get to a particular page or complete a particular process. The truth is most users don’t want to think at all. That’s why the word “intuitive” comes in handy. 

So in this sense, your navigation must first match users’ expectations so that moving through your website becomes an automatic, semi-deliberate process. Semi-deliberate means they’re not thinking too much about it. It just works the way they expect it to.

Going out of the box to do something strange is very risky and I generally would not advise that for most websites. 

Unless you’re pretty sure (backed up with research and data) that the new approach would be accepted by your target audience, so much so that they will be willing to go the extra mental mile to get how it works, you should stay closer to the crowd on this one. 

Usually, dropping a user interface people are not used to will reduce conversions and engagement. This applies particularly for businesses that use eCommerce platforms where buyers are used to popular patterns of navigating their online shopping aisles and choosing specific products. 

The best practice for creating navigation systems is to go out of your way to make them easy to use for users.

To create a navigation system that makes browsing super convenient for consumers, work on the following elements: 

Navigation Bar and Menu

lt should go without saying but avoid complicated and stuffy menus. Product and functional menus should be concise, simple, and as minimal as possible. 

Most users expect navigation bars to be dropped horizontally from the top of the page, so you might have to take that into account. If you use a dropdown product menu with subcategories, make sure the categories are ordered in a way that would make perfect sense to the user. 

For a service that provides complex solutions, Asana gives a prime example of how to use your menu to outline your services:

asana

Observe the smart subcategories that briefly and clearly explain what each category does.

White space is also important for your menu, especially for menus that have several categories and subcategories. By making good use of white space, you would make an ordinarily stuffy navigation menu breathe, just like in Asana’s menu.

Search Bar 

The search bar is potentially the most used navigational element so you must be extra deliberate in your approach to making it useful, without hinging on its practicality of course. Ecommerce websites are more expected to use search bars because they have a wider array of products.

Users these days expect a search bar to work just right without any issues. They also expect it to give them hyper-specific search results first before related suggestions. 

Shoppers expect eCommerce platforms to auto-predict their searches and give them relevant search results before they even finish typing their keywords. 

Those are practical expectations that any standard website must meet, but some websites go even further to add more engaging solutions to the search process. 

For instance, some eCommerce stores show product images alongside the search results and suggestions on the drop-down search menu to provide a more visual experience. 

Horne’s eCommerce website uses both the image and auto-predict function for its search bar:

horne

Some are using autocorrect functions to correct misspellings and provide relevant functions even in case of misspellings. 

Something that adds to the convenience of consumers on eCommerce platforms is communication software. Most eCommerce stores install these so that shoppers can reach out to register complaints or ask questions in case they’re confused.

A more progressive practice that we might see soon is website designers drawing on the rising relevance of voice assistants and testing voice technology on their search functions.

A Minimal Approach

Minimalism has become a very cliche aspect of design these days, and while this has sometimes made it more fancy than useful, the fundamental principle behind it still applies in practical areas of website design; the simpler and straighter to the point something is, the better it is for users. 

Minimalism doesn’t only apply to your design scheme and how you arrange your elements. More importantly, in fact, it applies to your content. The way you choose to provide information will largely affect your bounce and conversion rates. 

Use Concise Copy

A form of minimalism is to keep your copy as short as possible. This is very effective because nobody wants to see large blocks of text. Nobody is even going to prepare to read large blocks of text. So avoid visual stressors that discourage users in the form of long, drawn-out copies.

The only place where large blocks of text would be appreciated is on blogs, where users already expect such type of content. 

Avoid this practice for your web pages and even your landing pages. Your landing pages might need a more descriptive copy but this should still be kept to a minimum.

Every copy on your website should be concise, straight to the point, and as short as possible. As few words as possible, and a few sentences as possible. 

“But how do I write my killer copies if I’m only restricted to a very few words?” News flash, that is in fact, the essence of killer copies. They’re quick and immediately valuable to the reader. 

They answer three vital questions. What is the reader looking at? What does it do? Why do they need it?

Paypal’s website offers a great example of minimal and effective copy: 

PayPal

Most of the copies are single sentences. Not just that, the brief descriptions are convincing and explanatory enough too. The sentence “The simpler, safer way to pay online.”, sums up everything a user wants to know about Paypal.

If you feel it is necessary to share some information that can’t be minimized further than 3 sentences, don’t put it in a major part of your main page. Place the copy in less conspicuous areas of your website, below the fold, for instance, or on other pages. 

Users will eventually read those if they feel they want more information.

Paypal does exactly that. Scrolling further down, you see this:

PayPal

Use Visuals

An effective way to avoid talking too much with your copy is by using good visuals, either images or video. Visuals are proven to be more engaging and informative than text in most cases. 

Users will immediately understand the message a picture is passing across, without using too much mental effort, as long as they relate to it of course. 

In this vein, knowing how to use the right visuals to trap users’ interests and make them understand your message is an essential skill. 

Hick’s Law 

This law is applicable as a web design principle. It basically posits that the more choices people have, the longer it is for them to make a decision. 

Seeing as this is in fact very true, and has been proven time and time again by countless experiments, it’s something you must think of when applying your web design. 

The greediness of people comes into play when they have several options. Humans are programmed to want the best and it suddenly becomes harder to choose the best when there are many choices. 

This behavior is related to the Paradox of Choice, which argues that people are more likely to choose nothing the more choices they have. 

To avoid these scenarios, limit the number of choices or decisions users can make on your website. This would mean lesser CTAs, lesser possible actions as much as possible. Sounds limiting but this decision would pay its dividends in the end. 

If you own an eCommerce store with a wide array of products, use a filter system to help users narrow down their choices. 

Occam’s Razor

This philosophy argues that when faced with a variety of solutions to a given problem, the one that offers the simplest explanation is usually the best. 

Applying this to your website design, your elements must be simple and easily understood, not having more than one meaning. If you’ll be using icons and symbols to aid visual illustration, they should be universally recognized symbols that users will identify immediately.

A Consistent Scheme

The idea of being consistent with your design can be approached from two premises: the first being that it creates a seamless and subtle graphic connection that doesn’t conflict with the user’s mental expectations. The second being that it promotes your brand’s identity. 

The first premise is more easily understood when broken down into parts: 

  • Having a complementary palette of not more than three main colors and reinforcing these colors in all your web pages. 
  • Having a consistent formula of elements. Your CTAs, shapes, logos, symbols, background design shouldn’t be far off in terms of similarity and this must be reflected on every web page. 

Choose the Right Color Scheme

For the first part, colors are great visual weapons, they can be employed intelligently to please viewers but they can just as easily prove destructive and irritate viewers if used wrongly. 

This makes choosing your color scheme an important process that you must be deliberate and careful about. Having the wrong colors all mixed up on your website can quite literally disconcert and stress users. 

Knowing how to use the right combination of colors that blend and agree with each other is an interesting and vital asset any web designer must-have.

Your chosen color combo should run consistently through every of your web pages. You don’t want your visitors feeling like they’ve been redirected to another website.

Be Consistent with Your CTAs

This brings us to the second part. The same way your color scheme is reflected uniformly across all pages is the same manner in which you must apply your design elements. 

More specifically, elements like your CTA should have the same meaning for the same action throughout. 

If you’re going to use a CTA that says “Shop Now” for an action that takes users to the payment page, you must use that same copy every time that CTA appears. 

The idea is to get users to become used to that command since people react more positively to concepts they are familiar with. 

Insightly provides a strong example of consistency. The color combo of orange, white, and indigo agrees and is reinforced in the elements and on every web page:

insightly

  Insightly’s home page. 

insightly

The icons properly represent their text and the CTAs are consistent:

insightly

Your Brand Identity

The second premise of consistency applies to your brand strategy. Simply put, it’s how your website design must work to consistently ‘‘push’’ your brand image in users’ minds. Think of this effect as similar to how you design a logo to be unforgettable by your online audience. 

Naturally, your color scheme would be determined by your brand’s chosen colors. Then by using this scheme consistently along with your brand icons throughout your web pages, you make users “get used” to your design pattern.

The result? A familiar visual stamp in their minds that can easily remind them of your brand. Think about the color orange now. Did you think about Insightly’s page? Yes, that’s how it works. 

Fast Loading Speed

It takes users a few seconds to create an impression of your brand on the first visit and one of the most important factors that determine how they feel is how fast your page loads. 

The highest stretch of patience most online consumers have for website loading speed is 4 seconds. Generally, people expect a website to load in two seconds or less. 

Note that it’s not just about your home page. It’s about how every page on your website loads. People are happy with a website where every page loads in nothing more than 2 seconds. 

The next obvious step is to optimize your page loading speed. There are several ways you can do this: 

  • Using a credible and quality web hosting service that guarantees fast loading speed. There are several cheap web hosting platforms that make lightning-fast speed affordable for businesses of any size. 
  • Optimizing your images.
  • WordPress optimization for WordPress-powered websites.
  • Compressing your files before uploading.
  • Avoiding getting media heavy. Use as few images as possible without taking away from the visual quality or relevance of your website.

You can use a website loading speed tester to check the performance and speed of your website. There are also website traffic checkers that will give you a comprehensive and full review of competitors’ websites. This is a good hack to discover areas you can improve on your website.

A Mobile Responsive Design

An overwhelming majority of online consumers today browse the web from their mobile devices, and as a result, optimizing your website to work well on mobile has become a key web design principle. 

So how do you get your website to perform better on mobile?

  • By optimizing your website loading speed on mobile devices. If it loads fast on the desktop, it should load just as fast on the mobile. 
  • By using a mobile responsive design. Essentially, the aspect ratio of your website must fit a mobile screen in such a way that the elements; text, CTAs, graphics, visuals, can be easily seen and interacted with on mobile. You must make sure your mobile version is not just a “squished”  or minimized version of your desktop site. 

Experimenting Before Implementing

Building a website these days is a lot more convenient than it was years back and expectedly so. With the advent of software and digital technology, we now have cheap website builders that will perform most of the intensive and vital back-end functions for website owners. 

To build fantastic websites with these services, all most people need are simple drag and drop functions. 

Also, website design trends have become much more innovative and easily attainable, so much so that prospective website owners can become inspired and create their dream website without much hassle. 

But in the midst of all this ‘‘unique and easy website’’ frenzy, it becomes easier to get excited and make drastic mistakes that could be avoided by testing web design strategies before executing them.

It is for this reason that having an A/B testing strategy to validate the effectiveness of every decisive element in your website (copy, CTAs, visuals, etc) has become a key web design principle. 

You must continue to remind yourself that every inspiration or idea has to be tested for results (conversion rates, bounce rates, engagement metrics, etc) before you can call it a go. 

For inspiration on effective websites that will convert, it’s advisable to follow proper website templates. While also offering creative brilliance, they’re usually more practical than any untested “outside the box” ideas you might have. 

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