Top Tips for Web Design

Posted by Yi Zhan

Design is never straight forward and web design has the additional unpredictable complication of technology thrown in. This means that you need to consider the consequences of your design decisions and how it will effect the most important people who see your site, the users themselves. The following tips should help you consider this and have a positive effect on your site and its users.

1. Navigation & Functionality


You should never sacrifice overall functionality for artistic extravagance. It is highly unlikely your site will ever achieve its purpose if the people who visit it cannot clearly and easily navigate around it.

Your site should look good but first and foremost consider how someone who knows nothing about the site would think when they landed there.

Something occurring in website frequently these days is Mystery Meat Navigation. This is a term coined by Vincent Flanders and it is used to describe site where navigation structures are so obscure and difficult to process that users cannot identify them at all and end up running there mouse across whole sections of a screen just to identify hyperlinks.

2. Images

People say images are worth a 1000 words and in web design that’s true in 2 ways. Firstly an image can do a lot more than text in some situation but secondly they are much, much bigger files with a higher download time.

It is widely accepted users will click away from a page that takes longer than 5-10 seconds to load and every time you put an image in a page you are increasing the likelihood of this happening. Additionally each image you imbed into a page design activates an additional HTTP request to your server so dividing an image into smaller ones or using lots of small images across a page does not solve the problem.

ALT tags should also be factored into the code of a website. They are a huge help to people who have either images turned off in a browse, mobile broswers that can’t read the images or a random error preventing the image from showing. They also hold a small SEO benefit.

3. Tables

It is advised that you use CSS and not tables to format a document but in some cases tables can be necessary. Remember one thing however, a table cannot be displayed until it has fully loaded. This can potentially cause a huge problem for users as they wait for the page to load, nothing appears then out of nowhere the whole page is done.

Someone is much more likely to click away when nothing is loading than when they can see progress.

4. Fonts

Don’t design sites to use fonts only you have, chances are they will be converted into some dull font and ruin the effect you were trying to achieve. Save special fonts for specific headers and convert them to images. Make the rest of your site in standard fonts so that as many browsers as possible will see it in the way you meant it to be. Recommended fonts for high scale compatibility are Arial, Verdana, Courier, Tahoma and Helvetica.

5. Plug-Ins

Plug-ins hold a lot of potential for both users and designers but it can easily be misused and misguided.

Plug-ins have a many forms and uses, the most popular being Java and Flash Player. I have heard a lot of people say that these plug-ins are “safe” and that everyone has them but this is simply not true. Every plug-in has a stack of different versions and connects differently depending on the browser the user is surfing with.

Think if your users will really want to browse to other sites to download a plug-in, restart the browser then navigate back. If the answer is no use other tricks at your disposal to make your page unique and save the big guns that are Flash and Java for times where it is essential.

6. Tags

The “tags” I am referring to hear are meta keywords and description, title, alt and h1 tags. Together these tags help manage your sites search engine optimisation (SEO) potential and this is defiantly something not to overlook. Helping people find your site will bring more traffic in and more conversion if you are a retail site.

The higher search engines rank you the more traffic will filter down and the more successful your site will be. Try to keep a constant theme running through all your tags but do so in a subtle way. Splashing the same word 1000 times on your page will only have negative effects so make sure you strike the correct balance between informative and spammy.

7. Browsers

In a perfect world everyone would use the same browser and your website would look the same on everyone’s screen but unfortunately this is not the case. Every browser has its own specific functions and styles and learning to make you code cooperate with both can present some serious problems.

The three you really need to concern yourself with are Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. These make up a good 95% of the browser market at the very least and while there are some additional popular browser I would not recommend you spend time optimising code for the rest.

The only thing you can do is do your best and stay away from browser specific functions, you’ll never make someone get a new browser.

8. Pop Ups

Something that is very important to remember is that the user should be in control of their browser and desktop. Do not place unnecessary pop ups and window opening links everywhere and the user will feel they have lost control of the site, become annoyed and close the windows.

There are some exceptions to using the (_blank) attribute but I would steer clear whenever possible.

9. Text Layout

Text is part of your design to and positioning it correctly on the page is very important. Try to get all the copy you need as early in the design process as possible. This means you will be able to design around the copy instead of trying to cram it into smaller spaces because someone wrote twice as much copy as they said they were going to.

Use the right alignment for the right situation, remember 99% of people will prefer left align and while justified look aesthetically better it can be very difficult to read in longer bouts.

10. Site Search

In this day and age finding what you want on a website in paramount. After you have followed the first tip on navigation you should also provide a search bar on your site so that a visitor who cannot immediately see what they are looking for can search. Many internet studies have seen the success of these smaller additions to your site and free ones are available from Google and many other SE operators.

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