What is good web design?
If you Google good web design, you’ll find 35,600,000 or so results that you can peruse for helpful—and in some cases entertaining—information about how to make your Website just that—good.
Well, here at ACS Creative, we discuss and explore good web design all day – everyday. Working with clients from start to finish to ensure that their web properties provide the best possible user experience. But rather than start out by foisting our opinions on you, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what wisdom might turn up in that aforementioned Google search. So, my strategy for this introductory post about good Web design is to do precisely what you might do: Search on good web design, check out the listings on page 1 of the search results pages and see what nuggets of information rise to the top. It’s amazing that so many of these sites take only a “do as I say … not as I do” approach to good web design. Despite that peculiarity, here are the nuggets (in no particular order):
1. Amy Zipkin, writing for the International Herald Tribune (the global edition of the New York Times), provides the why, if not the how: Good Web Design Can Mean Good Business.
2. eBizwebpages.com warns that if you “make a bad choice [on layout and design], it won’t matter how great your content is or how much advertising you do. If your site looks bad, no one will visit and those that do won’t stay long or buy anything.”
3. Taking a more can-do approach, Smashing Magazine’s article, 10 Principles of Effective Web Design, teaches you (among other things) how the folks you’re designing your Website for think:
- Users appreciate quality and credibility
- Users don’t read, they scan
- Users are impatient and insist on instant gratification
- Users don’t make optimal choices—they choose the first reasonable option
- Users follow their intuition
- Users want to have control
4. Vincent Flanders, who has studied bad Web sites for 13 years to formulate his ideas about what makes a site good, offers the following perspective:
“Great Web design is an art and occurs when design and content are seamless and you don’t notice its greatness. With great web design, it’s easy to find the information you need. The content makes you want to return again and again and, most importantly, great design gives credibility to the company/organization.”
5. Author Robin Williams, known for her style manuals The Mac is Not a Typewriter and The Non-Designer’s Design Book, takes a similar approach. She claims, “It is easy to make a dorky web page. It’s also easy to make a very nice, clean, professional-looking web page even if you don’t have much design experience. Often the difference … is simply a matter of eliminating certain features that are guaranteed to make a page look amateurish. … Keep in mind that the point of eliminating bad features is not just to make the page prettier, but to communicate more effectively.”
6. Ben Hunt, from ScratchMedia, offers these practical pointers about current Web style:
- Simple layout
- Centered orientation
- Design the content, not the page
- 3D effects, used sparingly
- Soft, neutral background colours
- Strong colour, used sparingly
- Cute icons, used sparingly
- Plenty of whitespace
- Nice big text
7. Matt Brown, the Dreamweaver Community Manager for Macromedia, states (in 3500+ words, mind you) that the key to good web design is usability.
8. Usability is also the topic that has occupied the mind of Jakob Nielsen since 1994 (at least). Dr. Nielsen is an industry-leading author, researcher, and consultant on user interfaces, especially Web usability and Web design strategy. He’s the expert that many people love to hate because he doesn’t practice what he preaches on his own Website, UseIt.
Nevertheless, Dr. Nielsen’s research-based approach to Website design has provided the industry with some valuable insights about how “regular people” (not yourself, your company peers or your CEO) interact with the Web. In an Alertbox article, Aspects of Design Quality, he observes that a Website user’s experience is no stronger than its weakest link. “If any one usability attribute fails, the overall user experience is compromised and many users will fail.” The usability attributes he identifies are:
- Navigation—how users get around your site
- Content—what they’ll find there
- Features—what they can do
- Homepage usability—users spend 30 seconds or less here and only 50% will scroll down
- Search—the user’s lifeline for complex sites
- Accessibility—site ease-of-use for people with disabilities
- Web presence—how easily people can find you
9. Collis of PSDSTUT offers no fewer than 9 Essential Principles for What is Good Web Design because “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.”
10. At goodpractices.com, the recommendation is threefold, though vague:
- Choose a Web site design standard for your pages like “world wide accessibility” versus something less universal.
- Test, test, test to make sure your design features degrade gracefully in diverse Web browsing environments and screen configurations.
- Use commonly accepted good site design practices
Beyond Page 1—But Worth the Read
An excellent, timely article that did not show up on the coveted first results page (or on any of the top 10 results pages, for that matter) for good web design is the BNET article Obama v. McCain—Online! by Danielle Novy.
Curious about Website design tactics that the top two presidential campaigns pulled off the best, BNET asked CBS Interactive Art Director Marc Mendell to click through the Barack Obama and John McCain campaign sites and analyze their effectiveness, from a business point of view. His conclusions, well-supported by examples from the two sites, offer a blueprint for effective Web design today—an integrated approach to content, community and marketing:
Smart Design Guides Eyes to the Most Important Content…
…While Too Many Elements Confuse
A Consistent Look Encourages Readers to Consume More Information…
…And an Inconsistent One Can Drive Them Away
Subtle Visual Cues Can Reinforce the Brand…
…Or Confuse It Altogether
Easy-to-Use Tools Encourage Participation…
…But Difficult Ones Inhibit
Prominent Links to Social Networks Drive Viral Marketing…
…But Limited Options Kill the Potential