Simon McArdle

The Importance of Website Design

In modern promotions, a well designed logo is important, but it will only get you so far. Even though we still firmly believe in the power of printed promotion, most businesses benefit from an online presence. You can’t simply stick the company address and telephone number on a blank page and watch the business roll in either: you will be judged on the quality of your website. Websites that look shabby rarely convert hits into repeat visits, contacts and sales.

With this in mind, we offer up some web design basics, as well as a description of the trends and technologies that have been big in 2011:

Web Design Basics

Create a Resource for your Customers

When businesses create a website, it’s very easy for them to get hung up on the fact that they’re creating the website in order to promote themselves. In actuality, all of the content on your website should exist for the sake of your customers. Never tell customers that your business is great; tell customers how your product or service can help them solve problems and make their life easier. The more information and resources you provide through your website, and the more you share through integrated social channels, the more customers will trust your commitment to this ideal.

Design a Visually Appealing Website

Pinning down what makes a well designed site in artistic terms is something that takes talent and, often, years of experience. Whilst an agency is recommended, time and money may not be on your side. Broadly speaking, a great design builds your brand, is visually pleasing and coherent. All elements should be spaced well and properly aligned. Graphical elements should be sharp and complementary in terms of shape and colour. And you should use the design to guide the user around the page: prominence can come from the size, colour and position of each element.

Strive for Standards Compliance

Websites are principally built in HTML and CSS, but they can also be coded with any of the other web 2.0 programming languages (e.g. javaScript and PHP). The syntax and language used in this code must be entered correctly, so that problems can be avoided as the website expands and content is added. But standards aren’t just a matter of best practice; the accessibility and usability of a website are things that are often ignored (or more commonly, simply not understood).

An example of a basic usability issue is how hyperlinks are indicated in your text. Conventionally, hyperlinks are underlined, and assigned a different colour value. Flouting either of these conventions can confuse users. More seriously, poorly designed navigation can frustrate people into leaving your website before they’ve found what they want. And failing to provide ‘alt tags’ for your images can render your website unintelligible to those who use a ‘text to speech’ device to browse the internet.

Have a Great Logo Design

The first thing you see (usually in the upper left of the screen) on the vast majority of websites is the logo. Obviously, we have a vested interest in promoting the value of a good logo in your website design (and of suggesting where you might get one!), but believe us when we say that even with a fantastic web design, a website can be completely undermined by having a terrible logo. And if you don’t have a logo at all, how are your customers going to remember your brand? As striking as some website designs can be, they’re no substitute for a good logo.

So, what makes a great logo design? It needs to reflect the values of your brand, as well as your target audience. It needs to be striking and memorable, effects often achieved by being simple or striving to be original. And it needs to be relevant to the time in which it is created; timeless designs are achievable, but there is no harm in chasing trends. Speaking of which…

Web Design Trends in 2011

A quick Google search for ‘Web Design Trends in 2011’ will throw up all kinds of theories on what is big this year. These lists tend to be optimistic style guides and are worth a look if you’re stuck for ideas, but they shouldn’t ever be taken as a gospel truth. Nonetheless, there are certain general trends that need to be appraised, and often, recommended as an approach for your site:

Designing for mobile

Strangely, this means something completely different now to what it meant just two years ago. Designing for ‘mobile’ used to be designing for cell-phones with tiny screens. Unappealing, low-detail, text heavy designs dominated. Now ‘mobile’ means high-resolution screens of wildly varying size. It also means designing for touch; if your website design has elements that animate or otherwise react to someone hovering their mouse, this simply will not work on a touchscreen.

New Web Standards: HTML5 and CSS3

Whilst Flash was previously the medium for multimedia rich websites, it has been pushed aside by the need to design for mobile (Apple has refused to implement flash on iPad and iPhone, and Android devices provide patchy support). Its various quirks have always made it a contentious platform, and some designers aren’t too dismayed to see it on the way out. HTML5 and CSS3 are the latest technologies used in website design. And with wide support from web browsers, designers are beginning to take them up with increasing enthusiasm.

The HTML standard was most in need of an overhaul: HTML4 was standardised back in 1997, when syntax for video and audio and other multimedia enabling structural features simply weren’t needed. New features in CSS3 include multi-column layout, box shadow, variable opacity and much more.

De-cluttering

If there has been a year where designers weren’t claiming a philosophy of ‘less is more,’ we haven’t heard of it. Restrict a site’s colour-scheme, employ plenty of whitespace, little imagery and a simple font and you can create an eye-catching, timeless design that emphasises function over flash. Or you can create a site that looks dull, uninspired and devoid of content. Approach this one with caution!

Large Image Elements

Both in contradiction to the point above, and occasionally working with it, there is currently a tendency towards website designs with full-screen image elements. Some designers are forgoing the once fashionable block-colour background for textures or photographs.  After all, the internet is speeding up for most of us… but if you’re trying to sell a product, this approach can still frustrate your customers, so be wary.