Web Design Tips for Non-Web Designers

Here are some general guidelines to ponder before asking your web designer to create or change something in your website design. 

Two to three colours are enough

A clown doesn’t need to vomit rainbows onto a page for it to ‘pop’ (and don’t ever use this word unless you’re ordering a soda; it’s not helpful in design because it isn’t specific). Establish a couple brand colours. This will make your website feel like it has a consistent design language.

Two to three typefaces are enough

Just because millions of typefaces exist, it doesn’t mean your website should use all of them, or even a dozen of your favourites. Just like a good colour palette, your site will have a stronger visual brand and more visual consistent language if you use just a few. As an added bonus, your content is far easier to read or scan quickly if it uses consistent colours and fonts.

Five to eight navigation items are enough

This is how visitors get from one page to another. Fewer menu items mean quicker scanning and finding. The page naming also needs to make sense, especially to first-time visitors. You can always use things like drop-down menus or even section-specific sidebar menus if absolutely necessary. Try a first draft of your menu and check with your web designer to ensure it makes sense from their perspective.

White space is not just for minimalists or art projects

The space between each element or section on your website gives your visual design enough room to breathe. It separates ideas and helps draw attention to the most important elements. If things are squished together or there’s too much stuff on a page, it’s hard to differentiate each individual element and equally tough for visitors to choose what they should actually do. There’s elegance in simplicity, but more importantly, there are sound business reasons to focus on less. Too many options lead people to simply pick none of them (and probably to navigate away from your website in search of something clearer).

Minimalism can be bright, bold and colourful. It doesn’t have to be stark white with muted, subtle tones. An effective minimal website could have a bright pink background (one colour, not 10) with white text in just two sizes (one for headings, one for paragraphs) that draw visitors to either read a blog entry or buy a product. This website would be very noticeable, but still have the minimal focus that encourages people to do just one or two things.

So before you ask your web designer to tighten up spacing or add more fonts, colours, patterns, anything—think about your audience. Will they be more likely to take action because you’ve used lots of fonts, or because your site is clear and focused?

People scroll… seriously, they scroll

Scientifically proven by Internet scientists (if they existed). Every usability study (these actually exist) has shown that people know what a scroll bar is and will in fact use it (even on mobile devices). The caveat is that they need a reason to scroll.

‘The fold’ is a mythical Internet ideal that was wrongly ported over from the print world (where things like newspapers actually ‘fold’). The fold area (i.e. the amount of a website shown without scrolling) is different on every screen, browser and operating system. It’s also very different on a mobile device or a tablet than on a huge desktop monitor.

Obviously, place important information higher up in the design. But focus more on making your content and design scroll-worthy. You have my promise (as a fake Internet scientist) that if you do, people will scroll to keep reading.

Standards exist for a reason

Your visitors shouldn’t have to learn your website before they can use it. They won’t, and instead, they’ll just leave. While your style, brand and voice need to be creative, don’t ever sacrifice understanding. Use clear language and visuals so they make sense to everyone. Keep items that appear on every page (like the logo and navigation) in the same place on each page so they’re easier to find. Label pages and sections with words that make sense.

It’s more important that visitors know how to do something than be wowed with your creative naming.

Your web designer knows a lot about what works and what doesn’t in web design, since that’s what they routinely get paid to do. There are reasons why most successful websites don’t use every tool, font, colour or design element possible. Your site should be easy to use, so visitors can focus on what you’re presenting to them, not the presentation itself.

This is an excerpt from my book, Be Awesome at Online Business.