10 Principles Of Effective Web Design
Written by Jeff Bullas Source : Smashing Magazine
A contemporary, professional and well branded website design can make you stand out from the crowd and is very effective in creating an image and brand of substance and credibility that a poorly designed and executed website cannot.
I have certainly come across substantial companies with hundreds of employees and revenues of hundreds of millions who from their website you would think that they were small and inconsequential. I have also have viewed websites from small companies and from their website you would think that they were a multi-national.
As the the world continues to move online your website can say a lot about you or in fact it might say very little about you. A well designed and professional website is your new front door to the market in the 21st century.
So what are 10 principles of effective web design that will enhance your brand and provide an experience for your customers and prospects that will position you ahead of the competition?
1. Don’t make users think
According to Krug’s first law of usability, the web-page should be obvious and self-explanatory. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks — the decisions users need to make consciously, considering pros, cons and alternatives.
2. Don’t squander users’ patience
In every project when you are going to offer your visitors some service or tool, try to keep your user requirements minimal. The less action is required from users to test a service, the more likely a random visitor is to actually try it out. First-time visitors are willing to play with the service, not filling long web forms for an account they might never use in the future. Let users explore the site and discover your services without forcing them into sharing private data. It’s not reasonable to force users to enter an email address to test the feature.
3. Manage to focus users’ attention
As web-sites provide both static and dynamic content, some aspects of the user interface attract attention more than others do. Obviously, images are more eye-catching than the text — just as the sentences marked as bold are more attractive than plain text. The human eye is a highly non-linear device, and web-users can instantly recognize edges, patterns and motions. This is why video-based advertisements are extremely annoying and distracting, but from the marketing perspective they perfectly do the job of capturing users’ attention.
4. Strive for feature exposure
Modern web designs are usually criticized due to their approach of guiding users with visually appealing 1-2-3-done-steps, large buttons with visual effects etc. But from the design perspective these elements actually aren’t a bad thing. On the contrary, such guidelines are extremely effective as they lead the visitors through the site content in a very simple and user-friendly way.
5. Make use of effective writing
As the Web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Promotional writing won’t be read. Long text blocks without images and keywords marked in bold or italics will be skipped. Exaggerated language will be ignored.
Talk business. Avoid cute or clever names, marketing-induced names, company-specific names, and unfamiliar technical names. For instance, if you describe a service and want users to create an account, “sign up” is better than “start now!” which is again better than “explore our services”.
6. Strive for simplicity
The “keep it simple”-principle (KIS) should be the primary goal of site design. Users are rarely on a site to enjoy the design; furthermore, in most cases they are looking for the information despite the design. Strive for simplicity instead of complexity.
7. Don’t be afraid of the white space
Actually it’s really hard to overestimate the importance of white space. Not only does it help to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors, but it makes it possible to perceive the information presented on the screen. When a new visitor approaches a design layout, the first thing he/she tries to do is to scan the page and divide the content area into digestible pieces of information.
Complex structures are harder to read, scan, analyze and work with. If you have the choice between separating two design segments by a visible line or by some whitespace, it’s usually better to use the whitespace solution. Hierarchical structures reduce complexity (Simon’s Law): the better you manage to provide users with a sense of visual hierarchy, the easier your content will be to perceive.
8. Communicate effectively with a “visible language”
In his papers on effective visual communication, Aaron Marcus states three fundamental principles involved in the use of the so-called “visible language” — the content users see on a screen.
1. Organize: provide the user with a clear and consistent conceptual structure. Consistency, screen layout, relationships and navigability are important concepts of organization. The same conventions and rules should be applied to all elements.
2. Economize: do the most with the least amount of cues and visual elements. Four major points to be considered: simplicity, clarity, distinctiveness, and emphasis.
- Simplicity includes only the elements that are most important for communication.
- Clarity: all components should be designed so their meaning is not ambiguous.
- Distinctiveness: the important properties of the necessary elements should be distinguishable.
- Emphasis: the most important elements should be easily perceived.
3. Communicate: match the presentation to the capabilities of the user. The user interface must keep in balance legibility, readability, typography, symbolism, multiple views, and color or texture in order to communicate successfully. Use max. 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes — a maximum of 18 words or 50-80 characters per line of text.
9. Conventions are our friends
Conventional design of site elements doesn’t result in a boring web site. In fact, conventions are very useful as they reduce the learning curve, the need to figure out how things work. For instance, it would be a usability nightmare if all web-sites had different visual presentation of RSS-feeds. That’s not that different from our regular life where we tend to get used to basic principles of how we organize data (folders) or do shopping (placement of products).
With conventions you can gain users’ confidence, trust, reliability and prove your credibility. Follow users’ expectations — understand what they’re expecting from a site navigation, text structure, search placement etc. (see Nielsen’s Usability Alertbox for more information)
10.Test early, test often
This so-called TETO-principle should be applied to every web design project as usability tests often provide crucial insights into significant problems and issues related to a given layout.
Test not too late, not too little and not for the wrong reasons. In the latter case it’s necessary to understand that most design decisions are local; that means that you can’t universally answer whether some layout is better than the other one as you need to analyze it from a very specific point of view (considering requirements, stakeholders, budget etc.).
Some important points to keep in mind:
- Testing one user is 100% better than testing none and testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end. According to Boehm’s first law, errors are most frequent during requirements and design activities and are the more expensive the later they are removed.
- Testing is an iterative process. That means that you design something, test it, fix it and then test it again. There might be problems which haven’t been found during the first round as users were practically blocked by other problems.
- Usability tests always produce useful results. Either you’ll be pointed to the problems you have or you’ll be pointed to the absence of major design flaws which is in both cases a useful insight for your project.
According to Weinberg’s law, a developer is unsuited to test his or her code. This holds for designers as well. After you’ve worked on a site for few weeks, you can’t observe it from a fresh perspective anymore. You know how it is built and therefore you know exactly how it works — you have the wisdom independent testers and visitors of your site wouldn’t have.
Remember a well designed website is just the start of an effective online presence and there is much more to an otpimized digital brand than a “pretty website”.
In another post we will look at what are the major elements for an effective digital solution that can be found online and engage and communicate with your clients and future customers.