Every business these days has a website. Maybe you’ve noticed some websites are easier to read, faster to load, and just better to use. We call this a successful web design, which leads to a positive user experience (UX). The 10 principles of web design are a set of guidelines which help ensure that the interface is visually appealing, user friendly, and effective. Understanding the 10 principles of quality web design can help an aspiring graphic designer build a strong portfolio of work.
Overview of the 10 Principles of Web Design
Graphic designers who design websites adhere to a set of guidelines which are applicable to all mediums. Quality design adheres to certain rules, even if we are unaware of them when viewing. These design principles help improve any design from amateur to professional, instantly distinguishing a well-designed site from a poor one.
The 10 Principles of Web Design cover a range of design elements including:
- And much more!
Together, these elements comprise a website that is lovely, easy to navigate, accessible, and optimized for search engines like Google, which help new customers find websites and businesses.
The Ten Principles of Web Design
Why does the website need to exist? What is its purpose? This is the first question every designer must answer—or rather, they must ask of their client. Defining a clear purpose for a website is essential for meeting the needs of the client and their potential customers.
Usually websites attempt to persuade the website visitor to complete an action (fill out a form, subscribe, make a purchase, etc.) which is referred to as a conversion.
Examples of website purpose:
- Sell products or services
- Provide information or resources
- Entertain or engage visitors
Once the purpose has been established, the designer can use this to inform the direction of the website and define conversion actions. By understanding the purpose of the website, a designer can better select the appropriate design tactics to help the website gain the desired conversions.
Understanding the purpose of the website results in a streamlined design process and a more effective website. Meeting the expectations of the client and serving the needs of the target audience can improve the experience of website visitors.
Because a website exists to serve a primary purpose, the pathway to that purpose must be simple and clear, via the navigation and/or menu.
Examples of successful simplicity in website design:
- Usability: The easier it is for users to find what they’re looking for, the better. A simple website makes usability intuitive, which keeps users on the site longer, or keeps them coming back as repeat customers.
- Load Times: Simple web designs load faster. Faster loading websites perform better. Every additional second of load time costs a 2.11% drop of conversions. If you have large images, uploaded videos, and fun animations, these could all be adversely affecting your bottom line.
- Mobile Responsiveness: Websites are viewed on mobile devices more often than desktop computers these days, which is why most designers define mobile layouts first. Then the site must be built responsively, meaning that it will adjust to any screen size automatically. Websites which aren’t responsive tend to perform poorly.
- Clarity: The simpler, the clearer. Website visitors shouldn’t have to go on a digital quest in order to make a purchase or subscribe to your newsletter. Keep things simple and clear to best communicate your message.
The key to a great user experience is simplicity. A website should be easy to understand, navigate, and use for its intended purpose.
Navigation refers to the structure of a website’s pages, how they are organized, and how users move from one page to another. Consider the user’s potential path through the website. How will they reach the conversion page? If it requires more than 3 clicks, you’re likely to lose them.
Navigation should be intuitive to help with:
- User Experience (UX): Navigation is the easiest path to a good user experience. Clear navigation helps users find what they are looking for quickly.
- Customer Retention: The easier it is to navigate your website, the more likely customers will return. A great user experience could result in a lifelong customer (especially if your competitors’ websites are outdated).
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Search engines like Google rank websites using a variety of criteria—one of which is navigation. Clear navigation helps search engines define what is on a website and determine its relevance to a search query.
The navigation carries a lot of weight with both users and search engines, the two primary audiences for a successful (well-ranked) website that displays prominently in search results.
4. Visual Hierarchy
The design elements, working together, form a visual hierarchy. Using font sizes, colors and contrast, and negative space, designers can guide users through a website and focus their attention on specific areas of the site strategically. An example of this is breaking up large “walls of text” to create natural breaks for the eyes—this improves readability.
A strong visual hierarchy serves to grab attention, organize information logically, improve readability, and even crosses into branding by helping to establish a brand identity. Using the same elements across the site establishes consistency and reflects the personality and values of the brand.
A pretty website with nothing interesting to say probably won’t capture many conversions. Ensure your web designs won’t fall into this trap by having a content strategy early in the process. Whether your client provides the copy or you work with a copywriter, there is a saying in the web design world: Content is King.
Much of what search engines use to rank websites boils down to one thing: words. The content on your website matters a great deal, whether you expect human website visitors to read it or not.
- SEO: Quality content which is updated frequently (typically via monthly blogging) helps websites rank on search engines, essential for bringing in new customers in the digital age.
- Credibility: A professional website filled with industry knowledge and expertise can go a long way to establishing a credible reputation, both online and off.
- Authority: By providing valuable information, answering questions, and offering a unique perspective, a business can establish its website as an authority in the industry.
- Social: Quality content is more likely to be shared on social media, which puts your content in front of a whole new audience!
- Conversions: By highlighting benefits and values of a product or service and providing a clear Call To Action (CTA), a website can increase conversions substantially.
- An example of a CTA is a “subscribe” button. It urges the user to take action and “convert” to a customer.
Quality content is engaging, informative, and relevant. It plays a major role in both web design and marketing. It can help to establish the brand or business as an industry expert with credibility in their industry. The pen is still mightier than the sword!
Typography refers to the fonts and typefaces used, as well as the sizes and colors used. Consistency across the site and brand is best practice.
Typography is important to a website’s success for a number of reasons:
- Legibility: The coolest-looking font in the world does you no good if it’s illegible. Choose typography that is easy to read and matches the brand voice, then use it to write content that is easy to understand.
- Branding: Typography helps establish brand identity through consistency. Using typography strategically can create a visual identity that helps the brand stand out from competitors.
- Communication: The right font conveys a message—is your brand steady and traditional, or is it playful and innovative? Typography can set this tone before visitors have read a single word.
- Hierarchy: Using different font sizes, weights, and colors can help create a cohesiveness in the look and feel of the site, leading to a more professional and appealing website.
- Consistency: Stick to your established font sizes, weights and colors once selected. Use them throughout your site and any other materials—this is how you establish a cohesive and consistent brand presence.
As you can see, typography plays an important role in website design. Remember, the website has a purpose. Any element not serving that purpose should be reworked to support the main goal.
This fundamental design tool has the ability to instantly set the mood, tone, and overall aesthetic of a website. As with every other creative decision, colors must remain consistent throughout their usage on the website, and elsewhere, for the strength of the brand.
- Emotion: Colors have long been associated with mood. For example, hues like red, yellow, and orange are called “warm,” and can create a sense of excitement or urgency. Hues like blue, green, and purple are called “cool” and can have a soothing or calming effect.
- Contrast: Low contrasting colors can make text hard to read (example: dark gray text on a black background). Using high-contrast colors (example: black text on a white background) can help content stand out against the page, improving readability.
- Navigation: Using color to indicate clickable items or denote the navigation can be very effective.
- Aesthetics: A well-chosen color palette can create a seamless impression of harmony and set the tone for the brand.
Color can have a significant impact on users’ first impressions of a website. Using a strong color palette consistently can improve the user experience and site performance.
As mentioned above, consistency is key in web design. It can help with brand identity and awareness, usability and navigation, and aesthetics—which can help create brand trust.
Building trust is crucial for a website hoping to gain conversions. Nobody wants to give their personal information to an untrustworthy website or person.
That’s where consistency can help.
By presenting the brand in the same manner, tone, voice, colors, and more, the audience knows what to expect. The brand is seen as reliable and trustworthy. This can help gain conversions and drive website traffic.
Web accessibility refers to the practice of building websites that can be accessed and used by people with disabilities—visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive. Websites must meet web accessibility requirements and be compliant with web guidelines like W3C.
Although W3C compliance is for those with disabilities, they help everyone:
- User Experience (UX): Accessible websites are often easier to access, navigate, and use—regardless of the user’s disability status.
- Legal Requirements: Just as public buildings must have wheelchair ramps and public signage must have Brail, websites must also accommodate those with disabilities.
- Inclusivity: Web accessibility guidelines ensure that everyone may access and use the internet, making the web a more inclusive place for all.
- Social Responsibility: Creating accessible websites contributes to a more equitable society, helping to ensure that everyone has access to online services and information.
- Search Engines: Accessibility is most definitely on Google’s checklist of website green flags, which means it has a significant impact on how your site ranks in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Web accessibility guidelines are a fascinating and complex study. An interest in this aspect of web design could serve a web designer well, as a niche specialty.
10. Mobile Compatibility & Responsiveness
As more people view websites on their mobile devices than desktop devices, responsive web design is a must. Websites that are not optimized for mobile will offer a poor user experience (think pinching and zooming simply to read homepage copy) and will suffer in search engine results.
Design for mobile first for a better user experience, more website traffic, and high conversions.
How to Become a Web Designer
Did you know you could earn a bachelor’s degree in web design in as little as 2.5 years?
If you’re fascinated by the wide world of the web, you’re not alone. Website design is an exciting field where you can be creative as well as technical in your skillset. The path to designing websites may be shorter than you think.
Web Design & Development at ECPI University
ECPI University’s Bachelor of Science in Web Design & Development is fast and hands-on. Contact our friendly admissions department to learn more about the 2.5 year Bachelor’s Degree in Web Design & Development. It could be the BEST Decision You Ever Make!
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