The design of a website makes or breaks a company nowadays. It won’t matter if a website has a ton of useful information and is packed with features if the design is clunky. A badly designed website will put off prospective clients, especially with competition so high these days. The perspective of website design has changed from what looks good to what is easy to use. Usability and utility reign supreme, and everything else revolves around it. A well made website shuns superfluous, clunky elements and streamlines all navigation.
To properly cater to a need, first we must examine the need itself. Thus, first we will examine what the market wants out of a good website, what attracts it and what need we will be fulfilling. Customer behavior is our first focus. This will drive the basic principles we might adhere to when we design a website.
Customer Behavior – the shiniest guiding light for designers
Customers do not read or examine the full website on their first visit. Like a recruiter spending about 6 seconds on each CV, a customer merely glances over the website and navigates away from each page as soon as some outgoing link catches their interest. The new page is subjected to the same treatment unless it is deemed satisfactory. If it is, users go back to the page they came from and continue to scan it.
Most users are willing to bear advertisements and bad design if the website or webpage they are looking at is high quality. High quality content is prized, and this is one area you should not compromise on. Also, it is important to remember that users scan through web content, they rarely read the entire print. Thus, it is important to break up the text to make it easier for them to find the content they are looking for.
Web users are impatient and are only interested for a shirt amount of time. Thus, scanning patterns are not sequential, but erratic. This is not always the best choice on their part, because the information they are looking for may be buried in the text. Thus, the web designer who has laid out the information in an easy to read manner scores on this count as users flock to that website where information is identified the easiest. Thus, the design has to be intuitive and shouldn’t have a high cognitive load.
Users also like to have information presented to them considerately, rather than have anything thrust upon them. The illusion of control must be maintained, like an intern submitting a report to the boss. This means no pop-ups, background loading of new links, and easy navigation to the landing page. Keeping this in mind, here are some effective design principles to follow that cater to all these needs.
1, Make it obvious
The navigation of the design should be obvious. The entire experience should be easy to understand and logical. Self-explanatory websites show higher percentage of traffic as compared to websites whose design takes time to figure out. It is often said that the job of the website designer to minimize the number of questions that a user might have. Make it easy for the user to get from one point to another. Reduce the barriers and make it as simple as possible. This is not to say that one must sacrifice practicality. Do not remove more than necessary. Something too threadbare undermines the intention, and leaves the user stranded on a clean interface. To avoid this, examine your material. Condense and concentrate it to the main points, and then re-arrange those.
2. Follow users’ scan patterns
As stated before, users only scan the material on the webpage. Rarely do they read every sentence and every line. In such a scenario, the layout of the page becomes very important. Studies conducted into this have revealed users’ eye movements using eye-tracking technology. This revealed that the most effective pattern or layout is in the shape of the letter F. Users expect the most useful links on the left hand side, and then radiate towards the right side to scan the material from there.
3. White space is your friend
Most designers cannot effectively use white space. Instead, most websites have a tendency to crowd the screen with a host of options and a lot of information. And this isn’t entirely the designers’ fault either. White space is tricky to handle. You can seriously mess up with it. Too much makes the website look barren, and too little makes the website look crowded. It is a fine line to tread, but many websites manage beautifully. The point is to present the essential information surrounded by white space, so that it attracts the eye. Even when your chosen colors aren’t white, use the color to highlight and to provide aesthetic relief.
4. Simplicity is key
Users want information quickly, and do not care to read more than the exact information they want. Simplicity, thus, is key. Users do not want a 2,000-word essay on the history of dressmaking if they want to buy an LBD. They want to know where they can click to do it. They want to know what sizes it comes in, how to pay for it and when it’ll arrive. Do not be taken in by the illusion of intelligence. No one wants to hear it. Present a summary of your content. A small paragraph stuffed to the gills with information is better than a long essay with 3 points. Likewise, navigation should be simple. Don’t overload the user with a million pages, thus confusing them with a million choices to choose from. A few pages should suffice. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board with your material. Cut back on the superfluous information. Re-examine what you think is essential. The solution is literally right in front of you.
5. Cater to a number of people
This is a two-pronged directive. Firstly, it refers to the design. Secondly, it refers to optimization. Talking about the design, this means catering to a wide audience. Unless you are sure of the exact section of the populace you are going to be catering to, the web design has to cater to audience across age, societal and cultural barriers. If you are sure, then you have to identify the cultural cornerstones they will respond to and incorporate it into your design.
Coming next to the optimization. Increasingly, users consumer web media on portable devices like smart phones and tablets. Thus, your product should be optimized for viewing on portable media devices. This shows users that you care, and this small step will attract a huge section of people to your website.
6. Do not waste time
This is a huge problem for a number of people – you click on a promising looking link, and 5 minutes later, the page still hasn’t loaded. Okay, maybe 5 minutes is an exaggeration. But users will move away if your website takes more than a few seconds to load. Even on a bad Internet connection, your website shouldn’t take more than half a minute to load. Large pictures, annoying and unnecessary videos, and other bandwidth hogging elements should be cut back on. The design should be simple, elegant and utilitarian. The layout should be intuitive, and pleasing to the eye. The webpage should load quickly, and the user should be able to get the information he or she wants as fast as possible.
Thus, we see some great principles for website design. Following them, you could make a great website that users will really appreciate. Your attention to detail, your grasp of consumer behavior and your familiarity with your material will make or break your final product. So think long and hard. You can never spend too much time at the drawing board! Don’t be intimidated by your material, as half of it will disappear in minutes. Don’t be afraid to scrap everything and start over, as oftentimes this will get you the result you need. And if you’re ever stuck on something, ask a friend. New perspectives work wonders for creative blocks!