You could spend years observing the internet and all of the changes that it has gone through and be forgiven for asking this seemingly simple question. There is no definitive answer, as it is a matter of personal taste, needs and views, but there are some recurring themes.
So, let's discuss some aspects of web design that appear to underpin great websites.
Horses for Courses
Many advisors argue that website pages need to be compelling to draw in visitors and to make them return again and again. Is there logic in this slogan? There is nothing compelling about the Google home page – it has more blank area than for any home web page most people will ever come across. Yet, it draws people in. It isn’t the page that is compelling, it is its content that can be delivered very quickly to your screen with just a simple word search. It isn’t just any old content either. People have control what they receive.
Conversely, the home pages of design studios, architects, artists and web designers need to be compelling because these players are judged on their visual appearance.
Go to the BBC home page and you will find a great deal of text grouped into meaningful blocks, along with pictures, and now, video content. As a news and entertainment business this layout works well.
So we can determine that it really depends upon the type of business or pleasure being presented. But there are some basic rules.
Colour, Fonts and Layout
Most well visited websites choose colour schemes that suit most visitors, including those with colour blindness. They choose fonts that make for easy reading and it is quite normal to see dark coloured fonts on light coloured backgrounds. The layout is ordered and pleasing to the eye. The content is a balanced mix of headings, body text and images. These styles of layout are pleasing because the human brain can better cope with them than for unordered, difficult to read pages with hideous colour schemes. Note also how the more pleasing web pages are laid out, often following the rule of thirds. It is scientifically known that the human eye finds this ordered scheme easier to interact with. Many landscape photographers and painters follow this scheme.
Websites need to be interesting, so they say. Interesting to who? In this world in which we live, we could discuss what most would consider the most boring subject. Yet it might attract thousands of viewers who just happen to be interested in that subject. In short, just about anything is interesting to someone.
Once the theme has been decided, though, we need to stick to it. If our website is about the life and times of King George VI, visitors would not expect a discussion on the lousy summer of 2008. It is important to remain objective to the cause.
For many organisations, the web is one of many mediums to market and advertise their products and services. Go to the Sony website, and you will be pleased to find a world of electronics and gaming solutions that has made Sony so well respected. However, dig a bit deeper and you will find things that you might not have initially considered. For example, there are product support pages, music and movie pages, and even online gaming pages. The one thing that glues them all together is the company itself, Sony.
Therefore, we can think out of the box and provide interesting and varied content, but remain objective and focused on either the brand or the products and services we are selling. For example, a second hand car sales site could provide a feed or even a discussion board on Grand Prix racing. It’s like a hook to get people back to the website, even if they don’t need a second hand car. Why do that? Because they tell their family and friends about the website, which is good PR.
It is also worth considering that many of the newer technologies come at a cost. Not in monetary terms, but in the time it takes to load pages and get past the big impact splash screen. Unless you are Sony or someone of equal eminence, most visitors will leave.
Navigation & Standards
Visitors will get frustrated if they are not presented with an intuitive means of navigating a website. Again, be wary of how technology can kill a visitor’s enjoyment of your site by doing all sorts of non-essential things with menus when the viewer hovers their mouse over a menu button.
Also of high importance is the de-facto standard in web menus to include certain key pages, such as a home page, contact details, FAQs and ‘About Us’. Websites without some of these items in their menus look alien.
Websites need to be themed, but while remaining focused to that theme, web masters should be thinking out of the box about interesting and innovative ways of retaining the site’s appeal. Navigation around the site should be straight forward with no hidden surprises. The site’s pages should be aesthetically pleasing in layout, colour and fonts. There should be a good balance of blocks of text to any images and other content. Additional technology should not be used at the expense of the image of your organisation when visitors do not have or do not wish to use that technology.
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SilkLink is a web design and development business based in Cornwall, UK. Over 25 years experience in IT, web development and business analysis. Get webbed with SilkLink.