The most important thing to consider in web design is AUDIENCE. Web sites are, in the simplest terms, a form of communication. In order to ensure that you communicate the right message, you have to know what you want to say and who you want to hear that message. Design features of a web site are a part of the overall message. Depending upon your audience, the design features appropriate for conveying your desired message may vary dramatically. However, there are certain design features that should be considered for almost all audiences.
Organization and Navigation. Web sites should have a logical organizational structure. It should be easy for your site’s user to negotiate his way to the information on your site that is most important to them. A rule of thumb is that a user should be able to reach any page on your web site in three clicks or less. It is also recommended that larger sites use breadcrumb trails to let users know where they have already been. A table of contents, search engine, or site map may be good additional organizational tools.
Unity. Unity is a primary principle of artistic design. Unity refers to the presentation of an integrated message or an agreement among the elements in a design. On the web, five principles that can help designers achieve unity are repetition, contrast, proximity and alignment. Repetition can be achieved with consistent use of symbols, shapes, and colors on single pages and throughout the web site. Putting elements close together can make them appear as if they belong together. Using elements that are very different can create visual excitement and draw attention to design elements. Continuation is achieved when the user can effortlessly move from element to element. Alignment is actually a type of continuation used when vertical and/or horizontal lines assist with this ease of movement.
Page Design and Layout. Designers should limit the size of individual pages to about 60KB. Larger pages can take too long to load and your audience is lost before they even get a chance to experience your message. The most important elements of the page should be placed above the fold or within the first 410 pixels of the top. The upper-left side and top center of the web page should be reserved for the most important elements as they are the most visible points on the page.
As a rule, designer’s should avoid creating pages that are too wide. In most cases, horizontal scrolling is not natural for web users. 960 pixels wide is a good rule of thumb for the most popular resolutions, but may need to be adjusted for some audiences. Designers should also use adequate white space and appropriate color combinations. Text should be written at an appropriate reading level for your target audience. Only use animation if it adds real value to your web site. Always consider what browser and screen resolution are most prevalent among your audience. Flexible layouts such as liquid or jello are preferred to fixed or ice layouts.
Text and Graphic Design. Designers should use short sentences and phrases. They are easier to read and more agreeable for search engines. The most common fonts and font sizes are the easiest to read and are recommended unless specific fonts add significantly to the overall design of the site. Use appropriate font colors. Higher value contrasts between text and backgrounds are easiest to read. Consider the length of lines of text and use of white space for both readability and overall site appeal. Designers should still limit themselves to the 216 safe colors of the official Web Color Palette even though more browsers now support a wider selection.
Functionality. Your web users will expect your site to operate properly. Hyper-links or functions that do not operate appropriately will send a very powerful message. However, it most likely will not be the message you were hoping to communicate.
Accessibility. Web sites should be designed with all individual members of a population in mind. Designers should always consider how different physical, auditory, visual, and technological capabilities will affect how users interpret your message. Designers should include text alternatives for images and graphics. Interaction should be operable from mouse, keyboard or assistive devices. Content should be presented in different formats for different users. The site should be navigable, readable, predictable and compatible.
I am using the web site of a local company as my example of good web design. The Hornady Ammunition site is packed with a lot of information. They know their target audience and do a tremendous job of designing the site with that audience in mind. It is extremely well-organized and easy to navigate. It has navigational elements in multiple locations on every site. Design elements are repeated throughout the site, grouped and aligned to create unity. The site employs a jello design. Important design elements are appropriate placed on the page. Color is used well throughout the site.
I believe the site could be improved by utilizing larger text on portions of the site. The amount of text on the site also needs to be reduced dramatically. There are too many sections with very long blocks of texts. A more liberal use of white space could also tone down the intensity of the site. Some media elements are quite graphic, but considering the audience, the elements are appropriate. There is a slight difference in the widths of the top banner and rest of the body of the site. I am uncertain of all of the accessibility aspects of this site.
The Hornady site was designed by Hastings’ own Idea Bank Marketing.
Felke-Morris, T. (2007). Chapter 5, Web Design. Web Development and Design Foundations with XHTML (5th Ed.). Boston: Addison – Wesley.
Lauer, D. & Pentak, S. (2008). Chapter 2, Unity. Design Basics (5th Ed.). Boston: Wadsworth.