A good web design is vital for businesses. It has to blend visual appeal with functionality. In fact, bad web design can result in a visitor clicking away. This could happen even if the website has valid information.
So what goes into creating a good website? What elements does it need?
The first principle of web design is to focus on usability. It's more important than just visual appeal. But defining usability is a tough call.
The best way to think about usability comes from understanding how users think.
A Good Website is Like a Restaurant
A good website works with visitor’s behavior. It’s rather like a hostess at a restaurant directing visitors to where to sit. The hostess is in charge, yet the patrons aren't offended by her behavior. This is because they get to choose their seats. Some people like booths while others like to sit near the window. Again, some people like to sit indoors while others want to sit on the terrace outside. A good restaurant practices the principles of usability. It does this because it gives people what they want. Since people are getting what they want, they stay and spend money.
Usability comes from understanding visitor behavior.
How Website Visitors Behavior
Here are some things usability studies have discovered about website visitors:
- They don’t like to read first, but prefer to scan. If they find the information relevant, then they might read it.
- They are impatient. They want to get to the most relevant information fast. Long-welcome messages on the home page fail to catch their interest. They don't want to know about the company's story right away. They want instant gratification.
- They don’t always make the best choices. A lot of ads may distract a visitor right away. He or she may click on a banner ad with a provocative headline and never return to the website.
- They often follow their intuition. When a visitor lands on a website, they may click through each new page, they may scan text at random, or they may click on the first interesting link.
How to Build Out a Website
Website designers often focus on the wrong things. They may fuss over choosing the prettiest pictures. They may fret over where to position the opt-in box so people sign up. They may try to front load the best articles on the home page.
This is the wrong approach. A good web design school will first teach designers to build the entire website based on usability. Aesthetics come after usability, not before.
Here are 7 principles of good usability:
- Don’t make visitors think about where to go and what to do. Instead make the site architecture intuitive. One glance at the navigation will tell visitors where to go to find what they are looking for. Links are clearly visible. The more inundated visitors are with graphics and content, the more confused they get.
- The entire website layout should reduce the cognitive load. A menu with five main pages will do much better than one with twenty pages.
- A website offering a tool, a service, or a product, should simplify access levels. Visitors are impatient. If they have to sign up to read content, they may click away. If the navigation bar looks too complicated, they will find a simpler website.
- The website should focus the visitor’s attention on what is important. Use visual elements to direct the eye. Subtly guide visitors to specific areas of a website.
- Use plenty of white space. This makes it easy to see the visual navigational clues. White spaces also make it easier to spot the most relevant content.
- A good website is simple, and it is well organized. The conceptual structure is immediately clear. It is also consistent from one page to the next.
- Practice economy in everything. Writing should be clear and effective. Graphics should serve to make a point. Follow navigational conventions.
A website’s value relies on its usability. Engaging pictures, helpful infographics, and informative articles are secondary to usability considerations. But usability for any particular website can’ just be principle centered. Testing and tweaking alone creates beautiful, usable, and friendly websites. "It takes only five users to uncover 80 percent of high-level usability problems," said Jakob Nielsen.