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What makes a good website design

By Patrick Bates, Friday, 22nd June 2012 | 9 comments
Filed under: UX/Design.

Website design is such a subjective area that it is impossible to definitively say what makes a good design or not. However, there are golden rules that must be adhered.

The key elements to a good website design are visual appeal, good clear navigation and good attention to usability. But the key over-riding point is know your customer!  While the web has some rules that work differently than online, many of the same principles apply as offline as to how you try and convert them to sales. 

A professional web design re-assures visitors

When a visitor comes to your website they are making a lot of decisions very quickly. First they are trying to decide whether this website looks legitimate. Secondly, they are looking to see whether you actually do provide the product/ service that they were looking for. How long do they take to decide? Seconds. The appearance of the website is probably going to be the main key to decide whether your target audience hit the back arrow or proceed along the website. Just think of how many times you didn't go into a shop, because of its appearance from the outside.

Design your website around your target audience

One of the most frustrating aspects of any badly designed website is not being able to find something that you feel is on the website, or worse you have seen on the website before and just can't find now. The whole area of Information architecture (to give it its proper title), is vital to getting your website working.

In our experience, for the initial design, too often customers spend too long thinking about the initial visual design and not enough time on the navigation structure. In many ways this is true of any design process - navigation is no way near as sexy as that lovely design look! Supermarkets have traditionally spent a lot of time getting those aisles lined up so that you buy items you don't really need. Remember: The challenge online is that it is a lot easier to hit the back arrow on your browser than it is to go to another competitors premises.

2 golden rules:

  • If visitors know what they want, let them get on with it.  When designing your navigation structure, you should always make sure that if the users knows what they want to do, that they can go right ahead and do it. It is vital, that if there are important pages on your website that people return to, that they should be easily linked to from the homepage.
  • Visitors should always know where they are on the website at all times. One area that you should look at would be using breadcrumbs, so called so that you can see where you are in the website. Another item, if there is a lot of content on your website , would be to use a search box.  Finally, the navigation link should be highlighted to help see where they are.

Know how your users will use your website

The design process doesn't stop after the website goes live. You need to see how visitors use your website and what areas you need to fine tune.

One of the really great things about working on the web, is the amount of information you can get about your customers. If you have a retail premises, imagine if some came up to you and said, " I can tell you exactly how many people came in to your shop today, how they found your shop,how long they stayed , what they looked at, and what order they looked at the stock". And yet thanks to the various analytics programmes ( e.g. Google Analytics is free), you can do this right now! 

There is always a better way

But it gets better. Thanks to Google's website optimizer you can now test different variations of any page on your website, which will randomly appear to new users over a test period. If you have a products page you can simply test different formats of the page. Once you stop the test, you can then see which web design achieved the higher results. Often times a small difference to a page can make a massive difference to the effectiveness of it.

Stay positive & results will come

This is just a small outline of what makes a good web design work. But the main point? Don't get lost on the technology or the fancy design. Keep your end customer in mind and don't be afraid to make changes to your layout to get that design process working for you.