Good Web Design
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.
Add to this the fact that many Web designers (myself included) are self-taught, that Web design is still novel enough to be only a side subject in many design institutions, and that the medium changes as frequently as the underlying technology does.
Good Web design, perhaps even more than other type of design, is about information. One of the biggest tools in your arsenal to do this is precedence. When navigating a good design, the user should be led around the screen by the designer. I call this precedence, and it’s about how much visual weight different parts of your design have.
A simple example of precedence is that in most sites, the first thing you see is the logo. This is often because it’s large and set at what has been shown in studies to be the first place people look (the top left). his is a good thing since you probably want a user to immediately know what site they are viewing.
One of the most frustrating experiences you can have on a Web site is being unable to figure out where to go or where you are. I’d like to think that for most Web designers, navigation is a concept we’ve managed to master, but I still find some pretty bad examples out there. There are two aspects of navigation to keep in mind:
Navigation — Where can you go?
There are a few commonsense rules to remember here. Buttons to travel around a site should be easy to find – towards the top of the page and easy to identify. They should look like navigation buttons and be well described. The text of a button should be pretty clear as to where it’s taking you. Aside from the common sense, it’s also important to make navigation usable. For example, if you have a rollover sub-menu, ensuring a person can get to the sub-menu items without losing the rollover is important. Similarly changing the color or image on rollover is excellent feedback for a user.
Text is the most common element of design, so it’s not surprising that a lot of thought has gone into it. It’s important to consider things like:
- Font Choices — Different types of fonts say different things about a design. Some look modern, some look retro. Make sure you are using the right tool for the job.
- Font sizes —Years ago it was trendy to have really small text. Happily, these days people have started to realize that text is meant to be read, not just looked at. Make sure your text sizes are consistent, large enough to be read, and proportioned so that headings and sub-headings stand out appropriately.
- Spacing — As discussed above, spacing between lines and away from other objects is important to consider. You should also be thinking about spacing between letters, though on the Web this is of less importance, as you don’t have that much control.
- Line Length — There is no hard and fast rule, but generally your lines of text shouldn’t be too long. The longer they are, the harder they are to read. Small columns of text work much better (think about how a newspaper lays out text).
- Color — One of my worst habits is making low-contrast text. It looks good but doesn’t read so well, unfortunately. Still, I seem to do it with every Web site design I’ve ever made, tsk tsk tsk.
Paragraphing — Before I started designing, I loved to justify the text in everything. It made for nice edges on either side of my paragraphs. Unfortunately, justified text tends to create weird gaps between words where they have been auto-spaced. This isn’t nice for your eye when reading, so stick to left-aligned unless you happen to have a magic body of text that happens to space out perfectly.
Keeping things lined up is as important in Web design as it is in print design. That’s not to say that everything should be in a straight line, but rather that you should go through and try to keep things consistently placed on a page. Aligning makes your design more ordered and digestible, as well as making it seem more polished.