Every now and then, I browse one of the computer books I wrote in the years surrounding Y2K to see how much website design has changed since the mid-1990s.
Back then, there were a lot of changes going on. The web was brand new, and everyone needed help navigating this new technology and building new connections.
One of the new ways to connect was with a website. However, even though it was easy to get a website up and running, not everyone knew how to present themselves and make a good first impression on the brand new information superhighway.
It was an awesome time to be a computer book writer and technical editor. I had a great time sharing my technology knowledge and computer enthusiasm with an audience that had only just begun to explore the joys of computing.
Even today, many people are new to the web, and those people struggle to brand themselves effectively. To these people, I offer my 1995 quick-start guide to the fundamentals of basic website design, updated for today’s website builder.
Website design principles for planning web pages
It’s fast and easy to get on the web and build an online presence. All you do is buy a domain, find a web host, select a content system, and start creating web pages. It takes a few clicks on the keyboard to get a new website up and running.
This ease and convenience make it tempting to rush through setting up a website and skip the planning phase. If you feel this urge to dive in and start creating a collection of web pages, curb your appetite and make time for a plan.
It doesn’t take a webmaster to build a website. Even a novice can create an eye-catching website. Ensure your site makes a good first impression by following the fundamentals of website design.
10 fundamentals of web design to make a site look its best
Slow down, don’t move too fast
Jumping into the web is a big step, and it takes research and knowledge to start out on the right track. If your website building experience is limited, learn about web publishing, select the right web tools, think about your message, and develop your image.
Here are a few things you can do to determine your website strategy:
Explore different website designs. Surf the web and look at a variety of websites. What design features do these sites use that catch your eye? How are these eye-catching sites organized?
Look at individual web pages. As you look at different websites, read the pages. How are the words and pictures arranged on the page? Are the pages easy to read? What do you like and dislike about these pages?
Experiment with website building tools. There are web tools for every website need and for every website budget. The best part is that some powerful and flexible website platforms are open source, so you can be free to experiment before taking your site live.
Follow the leaders. Look at the kinds of information published by people who have similar interests to yours or who are in related industries. This will give you ideas on what to post on your site and what not to publish.
As you experiment and explore, take notes on the insight you gained and the ideas that sparked your muse. These notes will help you fine-tune the goal and message of your site.
Map your website plan
After you’ve finished exploring and have a few ideas floating around your brain, it’s time to get your act together and work on a plan. Start by asking yourself, “Why do I want a website, and what do I have to offer?”
Think about your purpose for starting the website, the goals you want the site to achieve, and the message you want to deliver to your audience. Here are some typical reasons individuals and businesses start websites:
- Attract potential customers or job offers.
- Provide a convenient source of information about a product or service.
- Share interests, hobbies, and social causes.
As you go through this process, remember that a great plan leads to a great execution, which results in a great accomplishment.
Get to know your audience
You have a purpose for your website, and you know what you can offer. The next question to ask yourself is, “Who will visit my website, and what kind of information does my audience want?”
How do you find out what an audience wants? Start by identifying the people you want to reach. What are their needs and interests? How do they prefer to receive information? Will they be open to your message?
If this task seems overwhelming, look for your perfect one-person audience. Find one person that looks and acts like the kind of audience you want to attract. Search for the ideal person who enjoys reading your stories. Target your ideal future employer. Look for your perfect customer who loves your product. Find this person and start by looking inside your circle of family and friends.
With a picture of your ideal audience in your mind, get out and find more people with the same needs and interests. As you find more people, you can build a detailed profile of your target audience. Find out which social media channels they use. Watch how they prefer to receive information. Pay attention to what interests them. And, keep good notes.
Develop the website design
You’ve looked around the web, found some cool website building tools, found people that would be interested in what you have to say, and started a plan. Now it’s time to turn your ideas into pixels. Begin by designing a look for your site’s pages and setting up the site’s navigation structure.
Different people use different methods to develop and design their sites. Some people like to draw sketches with pencil and paper. Others take a more technical approach and use wireframe software to visualize their website design. Then, they work with their favorite framework to build a site from scratch.
There’s a quicker way to develop your site’s structure–start with a template. Many web building tools (such as WordPress and Elementor Pro) and web hosting services offer templates. These templates make it easy to design websites and get your site online quickly and with minimal effort. The template does the hard work for you by creating the structure and providing a page layout. Then, all you do is add your artwork, do some customization, and save your work.
Keep your website design simple
The trend in website design is sleek, flat, responsive, and simple because more and more people view the web on their mobile devices. Still, these smaller screens don’t display complex graphics and action buttons very well.
Here are a few tips for designing web pages with mobile devices in mind:
Select a color palette. Too much color can be hard to view on a small screen. Choose two contrasting colors for the menus, buttons, links, and other site navigation elements.
Use flat images. Rainbow color, 3-dimensional, and drop-shadow images for buttons are yesterday’s news. Sleek, simple, and geometric designs are the rage in website design.
Offer a hamburger. You’ve seen those three bars in the top or bottom corner of some websites. Those three bars are sometimes called a hamburger. When you click the bars, a menu appears. These collapsible menus are an easy way to declutter the screen and provide a cleaner viewing experience on smaller devices.
Carefully craft your message
You want your audience to grasp every word and watch every video you post on your website. So be careful what you say and how you say it. And make sure you say it from a position of authority. Your audience will stay around longer if you speak to them compassionately, treat them with respect, and be a credible source of information.
Here are a few ways you can test your message:
Ask others to read your content. Be sure to ask people who will give you an honest appraisal of the content and offer suggestions for improvement.
Run it through a writing analysis. Several artificial intelligence apps make it a snap to analyze writing style. For example, IBM Watson offers a free tool that analyzes a piece of writing for writing tone. Grammarly also includes tools that provide tailored writing suggestions based on your goals and audience.
Use analytics and webmaster tools. Stay on top of your website traffic. Measure how many people visit your website and which pages they read.
Practice good text formatting
Huge blocks of text are difficult to read and may cause your audience to become frustrated. When the text on a page is broken into manageable pieces, you help your audience stay focused on your message.
Here are some text formatting tips that will make designing websites easier:
Keep paragraphs short. Long paragraphs are hard to read. Aim for a minimum paragraph length of 2 to 3 sentences. At most, paragraphs should be 5 to 8 sentences long.
Use heading tags. Headings break up paragraphs into logical chunks and make it easy for readers to scan a page for important information. Also, headings create white space.
Create lists. Bullet lists and numbered lists break up large paragraphs into manageable pieces of text. Lists also help readers follow and understand your message.
Text formatting places emphasis on where it belongs. It guides your audience toward that kernel of valuable information you want them to take away from their visit.
White space is a good thing
On a website, white space (or blank space) makes it easier for your audience to read and comprehend the information on your pages. Practice good text formatting, and you can be assured that you will have an adequate amount of white space on the page.
When you leave room around the words, pictures, and other elements on your web pages, your readers’ eyes are drawn to the things that you want them to look at. If your page is too busy, they may surf away to a more relaxing site.
Avoid jargon when possible
Your audience is more likely to pay attention to your message and read the stories on your website when you speak their language. Keep in mind that jargon, buzzwords, and unusual abbreviations hinder communication between you and your visitors.
When you want your audience to understand your message, use clear and concise language that mirrors your audience. Your ideas should be what they remember and not just your obscure, albeit impressive, vocabulary.
Be happy on your website design journey
While you’re busy designing web pages, stop for a second, and turn on your favorite music. Enhancing your mood while creating a website can make for a more enjoyable experience for your visitors.
Make your website a nice place to visit, and your audience will visit it frequently.
Web design is a never-ending job
Your website is a living organism that requires maintenance and care continuingly. You can’t just slap it up and go.
Designing web pages and keeping your site up-to-date is a never-ending job. So first, revisit your site regularly, and make sure you applied the 10 fundamentals of basic web design. Then, ask yourself, “Is there anything more I can do to make sure my site is unique, useful, and updated?”