Want to design your own website? Here are 5 professional tips
1. Keep it free of clutter
While you might have a lot to say on your website, especially if you have a lot of products or a wide range of services, be careful not to introduce too much of it on one page. Your homepage is the first thing most visitors will see, and if they’re bombarded with too much information from the get-go, they might not be able to find what they’re looking for. Instead, put the most important products or information – what’s vital for them to know about your business – up front, and let them go looking for what’s relevant to them.
One way of doing this is to introduce ‘whitespace’ – a term for empty or open space on a webpage. Empty areas make it easier to focus on what’s important while not overwhelming the user. They can then scroll down to get more information about each of our products.
While your homepage is the first port of call, your visitors need to know where to go – so you need to include clear calls to action throughout your pages. These need to grab your user’s attention the most, as they usually align with what your website is trying to achieve – for example, “Buy now” or “Join our mailing list” are clear actions that guide the user. Ensure there are plenty of these, and that they’re the most noticeable thing on the page.
2. Experiment, but stick to what’s known
One of the crucial tips our (User Interface Design) developers gave was not to reinvent the wheel. In the early days of web design, websites varied quite a lot as developers tried different methods of navigation, layout, and style. But nowadays, there’s an established way of doing things. Navigation is largely done through a bar at the top or side of the screen, and certain buttons such as search icons tend to all use recognisable images. These are referred to as design patterns, and should be adhered to. You can read about how important navigation is to the success of a website here.
This applies to the actual design elements too. Our developers say that a common beginner mistake is to use elements such as drop shadows too eagerly. Instead, take a light-touch approach to prevent over-stylising your website.
That’s not to say that every professional website does the same thing when it comes to design – however those that deviate the most are usually making a statement, or trying to deliberately push the boundaries of design. For beginners or those who are trying to drive and maintain as much traffic as they can, following established design patterns is a safer bet.
3. Consistency is key in professional website design
The fonts and colours you choose to populate your website are also key, and tie strongly into your branding. The fonts you use as part of your website design should match those that you use on all of your other branded material. For example, at Fasthosts we use a selection of Antenna fonts, and these are present on everything we create – including this blog.
One simple choice you can make straight away is whether to use a serif or sans-serif font. If you don’t know, a serif font is something like the classic Times New Roman, and includes strokes on the ends of letters. A sans-serif font, on the other hand, lacks those strokes and flicks, and sticks to the straight lines of the letters.
Serif fonts are seen as easier to read in longer pieces of text – which is why they’re the font of choice in novels. But deciding on the font is also a branding decision. For example, our fonts are all sans serif, as we want to maintain a modern look. Sans-serif fonts also tend to look cleaner and align well with us as a technology company. A serif font puts across a more traditional image, but can also show that a brand is established.
4. Make it accessible
One vital aspect of design that’s often overlooked is making sure a website is accessible. You could have a brilliantly designed, professional website, but there are many people who use accessibility tools such as screen readers. If your website doesn’t contain ways for screen readers to accurately ‘see’ the content, you’d be alienating a section of your potential user-base.
We’ve previously written some guides on understanding and implementing web accessibility. We suggest checking these out if you’re wondering how best to make your website accessible.
5. Don’t be scared to keep making changes
The chances are that your first design is not going to be what you end up with. In fact, your finished product might look completely different from your first attempt. This is a good thing! Rather than sticking to what you think is going to be the right design, make sure you try out different layouts, navigation options, and colour schemes as you create your business website. You’ll find that you’re much happier with the finished product when you’re sure you prefer it over all of your other ideas.
And if you’re not sure, show your design to colleagues and friends, especially when trying to work out if the website is usable. If you’re building the website, you’ll know the ins and outs of navigation, so getting around will be second nature to you – but someone who isn’t familiar might find it a maze. Ask about different pages and designs, and consider making more changes based on the feedback you receive.
This step will likely come after you’ve put your website out into the world, but web design isn’t a one-and-done thing. Once you start getting users, you can ask for feedback. If lots of users say that the homepage is too cluttered, then try experimenting with introducing more whitespace. As they’re your actual audience, their opinion matters most, so acting on their advice can lead to a more successful website design.
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