Web Design

10 TOP PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE WEB DESIGN

Like the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, effective web design is judged by the users of the website and not the website owners. There are many factors that affect the usability of a website, and it is not just about form (how good it looks), but also function (how easy is it to use).

Principles of effective web design_Steve Jobs

Websites that are not well designed tend to perform poorly and have sub-optimal Google Analytics metrics (e.g. high bounce rates, low time on site, low pages per visit and low conversions). So what makes good web design? Below we explore the top 10 web design principles that will make your website aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, engaging, and effective.

1. PURPOSE

Good web design always caters to the needs of the user. Are your web visitors looking for information, entertainment, some type of interaction, or to transact with your business? Each page of your website needs to have a clear purpose, and to fulfill a specific need for your website users in the most effective way possible.

2. COMMUNICATION

People on the web tend to want information quickly, so it is important to communicate clearly, and make your information easy to read and digest. Some effective tactics to include in your web design include: organizing information using headlines and sub headlines, using bullet points instead of long windy sentences, and cutting the waffle.

3. TYPEFACES

In general, Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana are easier to read online (Sans Serif fonts are contemporary looking fonts without decorative finishes). The ideal font size for reading easily online is 16px and stick to a maximum of 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes to keep your design streamlined.

Principles of effective web design_Serif vs Sans Serif Typography

4. COLOURS

A well thought out colour palette can go a long way to enhance the user experience. Complementary colours create balance and harmony. Using contrasting colours for the text and background will make reading easier on the eye. Vibrant colours create emotion and should be used sparingly (e.g. for buttons and call to actions). Last but not least, white space/ negative space is very effective at giving your website a modern and uncluttered look.

5. IMAGES

A picture can speak a thousand words, and choosing the right images for your website can help with brand positioning and connecting with your target audience. If you don’t have high quality professional photos on hand, consider purchasing stock photos to lift the look of your website. Also consider using infographics, videos and graphics as these can be much more effective at communicating than even the most well written piece of text.

6. NAVIGATION

Navigation is about how easy it is for people to take action and move around your website. Some tactics for effective navigation include a logical page hierarchy, using bread crumbs, designing clickable buttons, and following the ‘three click rule’ which means users will be able to find the information they are looking for within three clicks.

7. GRID BASED LAYOUTS

Placing content randomly on your web page can end up with a haphazard appearance that is messy. Grid based layouts arrange content into sections, columns and boxes that line up and feel balanced, which leads to a better looking website design.

8. “F” PATTERN DESIGN

Eye tracking studies have identified that people scan computer screens in an “F” pattern. Most of what people see is in the top and left of the screen and the right side of the screen is rarely seen. Rather than trying to force the viewer’s visual flow, effectively designed websites will work with a reader’s natural behaviour and display information in order of importance (left to right, and top to bottom).

Principles of effective web design_F Layout

9. LOAD TIME

Everybody hates a website that takes ages to load.  Tips to make page load times more effective include optimising image sizes (size and scale), combining code into a central CSS or JavaScript file (this reduces HTTP requests) and minify HTML, CSS, JavaScript (compressed to speed up their load time).

10: MOBILE FRIENDLY

It is now commonplace to access websites from multiple devices with multiple screen sizes, so it is important to consider if your website is mobile friendly. If your website is not mobile friendly, you can either rebuild it in a responsive layout (this means your website will adjust to different screen widths) or you can build a dedicated mobile site (a separate website optimised specifically for mobile users).

Mobile Friendly Web Design

It is easy to create a beautiful and functional website, simply by keeping these design elements in mind. Have you got a website design that needs reviewing or optimising? Or perhaps, you are planning a website and you are looking to get the design right from the ground up. Either way, these principles of effective web design can help your website be more engaging, useful, and memorable for visitors.

Web Design

9 Essential Principles for Good Web Design

Web design can be deceptively difficult, as it involves achieving a design that is both usable and pleasing, delivers information and builds brand, is technically sound and visually coherent.

Add to this the fact that many Web designers (myself included) are self-taught, that Web design is still novel enough to be only a side subject in many design institutions, and that the medium changes as frequently as the underlying technology does.

So today I’ve put together my 9 principles for good Web design. These are only my opinions and I’ve tried to link off to more reading on subjects so you don’t only hear my voice. Obviously, I have lots of disclaimers: rules are made to be broken, different types of design work differently, and I don’t always live up to my own advice. So please read these as they are intended–just some observations I am sharing…


Capture the Valley uses bars of color to guide your eye through sections from top to bottom…

Good Web design, perhaps even more than other type of design, is about information. One of the biggest tools in your arsenal to do this is precedence. When navigating a good design, the user should be led around the screen by the designer. I call this precedence, and it’s about how much visual weight different parts of your design have.

A simple example of precedence is that in most sites, the first thing you see is the logo. This is often because it’s large and set at what has been shown in studies to be the first place people look (the top left). his is a good thing since you probably want a user to immediately know what site they are viewing.

But precedence should go much further. You should direct the user’s eyes through a sequence of steps. For example, you might want your user to go from logo/brand to a primary positioning statement, next to a punchy image (to give the site personality), then to the main body text, with navigation and a sidebar taking a secondary position in the sequence.

What your user should be looking at is up to you, the Web designer, to figure out.

To achieve precedence you have many tools at your disposal:

  • Position — Where something is on a page clearly influences in what order the user sees it.
  • Color — Using bold and subtle colors is a simple way to tell your user where to look.
  • Contrast — Being different makes things stand out, while being the same makes them secondary.
  • Size — Big takes precedence over little (unless everything is big, in which case little might stand out thanks to Contrast)
  • Design Elements — if there is a gigantic arrow pointing at something, guess where the user will look?

You can read more of my thoughts on Precedence in an old Psdtuts+ post called Elements of Great Web Design – the polish. Joshua David McClurg-Genevese discusses principles of good web design and designat Digital-Web. Joshua also has the longest name ever 🙂


Marius has a very clean, very simple site with plenty of space

When I first started designing I wanted to fill every available space up with stuff. Empty space seemed wasteful. In fact the opposite is true.

Spacing makes things clearer. In Web design there are three aspects of space that you should be considering:

  • Line Spacing
    When you lay text out, the space between the lines directly affects how readable it appears. Too little space makes it easy for your eye to spill over from one line to the next, too much space means that when you finish one line of text and go to the next your eye can get lost. So you need to find a happy medium. You can control line spacing in CSS with the ‘line-height’ selector. Generally I find the default value is usually too little spacing. Line Spacing is technically called leading (pronounced ledding), which derives from the process that printers used to use to separate lines of text in ye olde days — by placing bars of lead between the lines.
  • Padding
    Generally speaking text should never touch other elements. Images, for example, should not be touching text, neither should borders or tables.
    Padding is the space between elements and text. The simple rule here is that you should always have space there. There are exceptions of course, in particular if the text is some sort of heading/graphic or your name is David Carson 🙂 But as a general rule, putting space between text and the rest of the world makes it infinitely more readable and pleasant.
  • White Space
    First of all, white space doesn’t need to be white. The term simply refers to empty space on a page (or negative space as it’s sometimes called). White space is used to give balance, proportion and contrast to a page. A lot of white space tends to make things seem more elegant and upmarket, so for example if you go to an expensive architect site, you’ll almost always see a lot of space. If you want to learn to use whitespace effectively, go through a magazine and look at how adverts are laid out. Ads for big brands of watches and cars and the like tend to have a lot of empty space used as an element of design.

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