Web design is a large and complicated subject with many aspects that need to be understood well. Developers and designers need to pay due attention to both the website’s visual appearance and functionality. As a result, many people tend to think that you need to be a technical wizard in order to design a great website. That, however, is a misconception. What you do need to have is a good understanding of certain things about good web designing.
It has been observed that 38% of the visitors to a website will leave if they find its layout or interface unappealing. Thus, the concept of web designing has been likened to selling a car; if your car has a world-class engine but a poor quality chassis, it’s not going to attract customers. Thus, you need to do your homework well and do justice to the design of your website.
In this article, I’ll help you understand the core principles and approaches to effective web designing. I will also explain other important concepts in detail, such as mobile considerations and testing. I hope it will help you put together a successful website that serves you and your visitors well.
How to design the user flows?
User flows are the paths that visitors to your website use to navigate through it. You need to know that web page designing isn’t about merely putting together a group of individual pages. If those pages are not satisfactorily linked to each other, your visitors will not be able to navigate your website properly. That, in turn, will obviously leave a poor impression on them. You need to ensure that right from the first page that a visitor opens up, there is a proper series of steps that they can take to carry out the action they want to (such as registering or making a purchase). Given below are the aspects of web designing that will aid you in creating good user flows for your site.
1. Information architecture (IA)
IA helps you put together information in a well-organized and clear manner for your visitors. By carrying our proper user research and usability testing, you will be able to improve your site’s IA. For that purpose, you could participate in activities like user interviews or card sorting to learn how people tend to view existing designs. Similarly, it can also be used to define a website’s menus and navigation.
2. Global navigation
In order to keep your visitors invested, you need to make sure that they are able to navigate your website well. Your website’s navigation system should be simple to use, identical for all pages on your site, and have navigation options that are clear to understand. Try to prioritize navigation options according to common user tasks, and choose a pattern of navigation which serves the needs of most of your visitors. Likewise, important navigation options should be readily visible. If your website is especially large, make sure you include plentiful location indicators to let your visitors know where they are.
3. Functional and visual design of links
Your website’s usability is greatly affected by the functional and visual design of its web links. For example, you need to make sure that the color of visited links changes so that your visitors don’t keep repeatedly visiting the same pages by mistake. Likewise, you should have different settings for external and internal links. Do not forget to keep checking for dead links on your website as well.
4. The “Back” button
The back button is one of the most frequently used options in one’s browser. It can be quite irritating and inconvenient if clicking the back button takes the user to the top of the initial page, instead of where they were before. It forces them to unnecessarily go through previously visited content once more. Thus, make sure that this button is functioning properly at all times.
Breadcrumbs are a group of contextual links which serve as a secondary method of navigation in your website. Although they can be useful, you should ensure that your visitors don’t have to rely too much on them. A well-designed website always allows its visitors to use the main menu as the primary method of navigation. You should also separate every layer properly by using arrowheads instead of slashes as separators.
The search box is one of the most frequently used features of a website that allows users to conveniently find whatever they are looking for. It should be readily accessible and ideally placed on the top right or left of every page of your site. Represent it using the typical magnifying glass icon and make sure that the input box is sufficiently long (preferably a 27-character one).
How to design individual pages
Now that we’ve discussed the concept of user flow, I’ll help you understand how to design individual pages for your website.
1. Content strategy
Every page on your site needs to be designed with a specific goal in your mind. It should serve a definite purpose and give relevant information to your visitors. You must keep this in mind when producing content for any page. Given below are some general strategies you can use to improve the quality of content on your website:
- Avoid overloading your content with information. Instead, try to divide it into smaller parts in order to help visitors understand it better.
- Try not to use technical terms and jargon which common people cannot understand. You should incorporate simple words and write for all reading levels, in order to make your content more accessible to everyone.
- Ideally, your sentences should not be longer than twenty words. You should also avoid capitalizing all the letters in your words, unless you are working on logos or acronyms.
2. Page structure
You can help people find user interface elements more easily by structuring your pages properly. For that, you should do some research and identify design patterns which are commonly used in websites like yours, including your competitors’ sites. This allows your target audience to comfortably feel at home when browsing your site.
Similarly, you can use a layout grid to combine various parts of a page in a smooth manner. You can also try using a low-fidelity wireframe to privatize important elements and do away with unnecessary ones, thus saving valuable time.
3. Visual hierarchy
Having a good visual hierarchy means that you should arrange the elements on your page in a manner that indicates how important they are. Thus, visitors will be able to scan the page better and find what they’re looking for more easily. Given below are some general tips you can follow in this regard:
- There are two natural scanning patterns you can choose from – the Z-shaped pattern and the F-shaped pattern. The former is better suited to pages that don’t feature much text, whereas the latter is a good option for text-heavy pages.
- Make sure you highlight vital elements like frequently used buttons and important content. This will allow users to readily spot them when they visit the page.
- In order to preview what the page’s final layout will look like, you can use efficient design tools known as mockups. It is far more convenient to rearrange elements using a web design tool instead of code.
4. Scrolling behavior
Scrolling is an oft-ignored feature when it comes to web pages. By keeping certain facts in mind, you can help users have a much better experience at your website.
- It has been observed that most people start scrolling as soon as the page loads, and thus tend to miss the content at the top of the page. Thus, you should draw their attention to the content at the top by using compelling images and a proper introduction.
- Try to incorporate a sticky menu to give your users a sense of orientation of their present location, and an idea of navigation via other possible paths.
- It is important for content to load fast during scrolling. Thus, you should provide visual feedback using looped animation to show that the process is in progress.
- Avoid hijacking scrolling, because it violates user control and freedom – two important heuristics for user interface design by Jakob Nielsen. Instead, let your visitors control their own browsing experience.
4. Content loading
Ideally, your website’s response should be as fast as possible. However, if the operation is a large one or the internet connection is abysmal, then it could be slower than anticipated. This can cause your visitors to get impatient and leave. Progress indicators can be effective, but they can also backfire because they draw attention to the fact that the user needs to wait.
Instead, you could try using skeleton screens – makeshift blank versions of the page which is being loaded. This gives users more incentive to wait, because information is being progressively displayed on the page.
Buttons play an important role in the user interface of a website. Make sure you label them aptly according to their functions, and design them consistently as well. That will help you avoid confusing users and make the button’s behavior more predictable to them. Avoid using potentially confusing elements like underlined words which aren’t links, or rectangular elements that are not buttons.
Using images aptly is a much more effective way of communicating with your visitors than using text alone. Make sure you select relevant images which clearly depict your product goals, and avoid using generic stock photos as much as possible. You should also try to use high-quality images which are not pixelated or otherwise distorted. That will leave a much better impression on users.
With the internet becoming faster than ever, the use of videos on websites has been rising in popularity as well. They help you give people a much more personal feel of your service or product.
Make sure you keep your business videos short (no more than two or three minutes) and accessible to visually or hearing impaired users as well. On a related note, check that the audio is set to “off” by default, so that visitors don’t have to deal with a sudden explosive burst of audio in an inappropriate place.
8. Call-to-action buttons (CTAs)
CTAs are buttons which help your visitors carry out a particular function, such as downloading a file or signing up on the site. A CTA button should be appropriately large and attractively colored in order to attract your visitors’ attention.
You can also try including white or negative space around them in order to provide breathing room and separate them form other elements in the user interface. Label them using action-oriented words like “Start” or “Get”. You can carry out a “blur test” in Adobe XD to ascertain whether your CTA stands out among other elements of your page or not.
9. Web forms
Make sure that your visitors are able to fill out forms on your website with speed and clarity. Have the forms ordered logically and group related fields together. Do not ask users for unnecessarily details, because that negatively affects the form’s conversion rate.
The use of animation in web designing has become pretty ubiquitous. However, animation must be functional and meaningful in order to serve its purpose. It should be incorporated as a part of your page’s wholesome interaction design.
Use animation prudently to provide visibility of system status and visual feedback on users’ actions. You can also use navigational transitions to help users move smoothly between different states on your website. You can also increase your pages’ appeal by using parallax effects.
11. Mobile considerations
It is a well-known fact that a lot of users (nearly half of them, in fact) use mobile devices to access the internet. Thus, you should ensure that your website is optimized for mobiles. For that, try to keep the following points in mind:
- Give your page a responsive design by going for a single-column layout, sizing images appropriately and utilizing the “Priority+” pattern to highlight the most important options. This is an especially good approach for websites which feature a large amount of content.
- Make the mobile version of your site tappable rather than clickable. Make interactive elements like buttons and links larger, and design them aptly so that their function is obvious.
Websites are ethically and legally required to be accessible to everyone, even users with disabilities. Use text with high color contrast and a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 (preferably 7:1) to make it accessible to visually impaired users.
Keep color blind and low vision users in mind and avoid using colors as the sole visual means of conveying information (for example, “you must answer the fields marked in red”). Instead, use color to complement elements that are already apparent.
You must remember that illustrations and images are relevant to blind user as well. They use assistive technologies like screen readers which “read” images using the alternative text associated with the image. They will only work properly if the text in question is properly detailed.
13. Keyboard-friendly experience
Users with conditions like motor impairment use their keyboard to navigate the internet, instead of a mouse. Thus, you must make sure that the keyboard focus is prominently highlighted and visible. Similarly, all interactive elements apart from the main navigation options need to be readily accessible as well.
After designing your website, you must make sure that you test it as soon as possible and regularly, in order to ensure that it works properly for your visitors. Given below are some useful tips in this regard:
- Testing is an iterative process; thus, you should get feedback during the early stages of the designing and keep iterating throughout the procedure.
- Make sure you test your pages’ loading times. Experts agree that most users tend to have very low attention spans, and almost invariably leave the website if the loading time is around 10 seconds or more. Slow loading times are usually a result of hardware issues, heavy content objects, or non-optimized backend code.
- If you need to ascertain which of the two versions of a design is more effective, you can consider going for A/B testing. This test randomly exposes one of the two versions of the design to an equal number of users, and then checks analytics to establish their efficacy.
- Provide good specifications to make sure that the developers code your design properly. Alternatively, you can use Adobe XD’s design specs feature to publish a public URL and communicate more effectively with the developers.
I hope the tips mentioned in this article give you a proper orientation towards the field of web designing. You shouldn’t rely on them; rather, you should try to use them alongside your own ideas to get the best possible results. Remember that if you own a website, you cannot ever be done with it completely. You must treat it as an ever-evolving project and keep learning with the help of user feedback and analytics.