Web design is quite an art. There are many beautiful and inspiring websites out there to prove that. But even though it sais design, there are many different fields that need to be considered when designing a website from scratch. The actual visual design is only a fragment. Even one that comes in quite late in the design process.
Of course a website should be visually appealing and there are many practical things that can be realized through visual design. However, there are many things you need to be aware of and define before you can give shape to them. In the following I will give you ten tips that will help you to create better websites. Some of them might be familiar to you, some are obvious, but still ignored on a regular basis, and some might actually surprise you.
1. Look for inspiration first
Never start a project without inspiration. You probably have different sources or techniques to fall back on for inspiration, especially if you are a professional designer. If you are not sure where to find inspiration, you might want to check out sites like Behance, Dribble, Pattern Tab, Mobile UI Patterns, or Usabilla Discover Just make sure you don’t skip this step, be it because of limited resources or the fact that you think you already know exactly where you are going with your design.
Take at least a day to think about your project. This inspiration phase is important because you will be able to think much more out of the box as long as nothing has been decided. Try to avoid judgement and just note down any ideas that come to mind. Think broad and abstract and try to approach your project from as many angles as possible. You might also want to ask colleagues or friends to help you brainstorm and come up with even more ideas.
Then take a look around and do some benchmarking. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially since people don’t mind if you use concepts they are already familiar with. You can always make something familiar special by giving it your own creative twist.
2. Involve other experts
Web design is much more than only the visual design. You need to come up with a good information structure, meet usability standards, optimize your site for search engines, engage and involve the user, and much more. No one can expect you to be an expert in all these fields.
To make sure you get the most out of every field and in order to build a solid foundation for your design, don’t hesitate to ask other experts for their opinion and input.
3. Know your target group
Another very important thing to do before you go into any details is to get to know your target group. You are going to design a website that certain people will use in order to achieve certain goals. Make sure you know what these goals are.
At the same time, you should find out when and in what kind of situations people are going to visit your website. How they use it and what their expectations are towards your design. Also, it will be very helpful to know about your users’ level of foreknowledge and possible limitations. Only if you know who you design for you will be able to create something people will love.
4. Start offline
Now this is a very basic tip and I admit it is very much a matter of personal preferences how you approach your design. Still, I recommend you to always start a design with a piece of paper, a whiteboard, or on anything that can easily be erased.
There are several reasons for that. First, with a little practice, pen & paper scribbles are the fastest way to visualize your thoughts and present your ideas to others. Second, sketches can easily be altered and details can be highlighted, for example with different colors. This is a great way to elaborate on an idea with others. Third, sketches are abstract and you don’t get as attached to them as you might to a detailed photoshop mockup. There is nothing more liberating that crumpling up a paper sketch in order to cast away an idea. Last but not least, simple sketches are a great way to capture your ideas at any time, anywhere.
5. Focus on functionality first
When you first start to think about your design, focus on the functionality of your website, not the look and feel. You first need to define what’s important, which features people will be looking for, and where they expect to find them.
You need to know the exact purpose of your design in order to both create an aesthetically appealing and usable website. Certainly you should have in mind how you can eventually use visual elements to support functionality, to guide your users, or to trigger action. However, if you don’t know which features are important, where you want people to look at, or what you want them to do on your site, how can you design for that?
6. Keep it simple
Once you start with your actual design, think about how you can use colors, shapes, space, and visuals to present your content in a way that meets your users’ expectations. Try to find a level of simplicity that suits the purpose of your site. There are certainly websites that can do with a more cluttered design, but in general you will want to make sure your design supports your content and doesn’t distract your users.
There is a great article about Minimum Usable Design that I’d like to reference here. The author describes very nicely how to approach a minimalistic, yet usable and appealing website.
7. Ask for feedback
Just like you should ask colleagues and experts of other fields for advice before you get started, you should also ask them for feedback. Once you have designed something you like, or even something you are not sure about, show it to others and ask their opinion. Often, we are so into our own design that it makes absolute sense to us and also looks amazing. Design is something very subjective and while we have come to love our own creation, others might see a lot of room for improvements.
When you ask for feedback, it goes without saying that you must also be open for it. Don’t expect to confirm your design, but ask for honest and constructive feedback that will help you improve.
8. Test & Observe
Asking feedback from the people around you is important. Also important is that you test your design at different stages and observe how people interact with it. Just like you might not want to hear negative feedback, people might feel uncomfortable criticizing you. Make sure you observe their facial expressions and whether or not it matches what they are saying.
You can easily build prototypes of different fidelity in different stages of your design. Have different people, if possible prospective users, try out and interact with your design. These tests and observations will give you lots of ammunition to further improve your design.
9. Take breaks
There will be times that you are in a flow and everything seems to make sense and naturally fall into place. Other times you might be stuck and not sure how to proceed. In any case, take breaks regularly. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you can take your mind off your project for a while. Take a walk, watch a movie, grab a coffee with your colleagues.
Anything that gives you some space will help you to take in a new perspective, maybe even come up with more great ideas. When you get back to your project, you will be more objective, able to rethink your design and detect possible weaknesses.
10. Kill your darling
Last but not least, dare to kill your darling. This will take some practice and probably it will never get easy, but you will see that it can be for the better.
Sometimes an idea is great, but requires just the right approach to really make it work. If you didn’t get that approach right in the beginning, you might be better off to start from scratch. Or your execution might be fabulous, but the idea just doesn’t prove successful. In that case you can hold on to your design, but possibly have to rethink your concept.