Website Design Principles

Web design refers to the overall work that goes into the creation, planning, and maintenance of websites. Website design principles, on the other hand, involve the creative work that is incorporated into website architecture, user interface, navigation, web layout, ergonomics, etc. And by extension, web design principles, by extension, focus on key areas such as graphic design, interface, and search engine optimization.

The scope of web design does not necessarily allude to complete science, but most of the principles involved are born out of broad fields of science. Some web design principles are engineered on the basis of professional work from diverse fields such as ergonomics, psychology as well as behavioural science. Generally, these principles aren’t ruled of thumb guidelines, per se. Instead, they act as a flexible framework under which web designers build effective web designs. And by following them, designers can decide which elements of web design to choose or discard.

And whether it is a business or professional website, design principles guide designers in creating websites that can convert efficiently. From the broad areas such as aesthetics and user experience to the user interface, appropriate implementation has been shown to boost conversions by 80%. Furthermore, research has indicated that proper implementation of web design principles into web projects enhances perception, usability and ultimately makes profitable decisions for your users and web design business.

When looking to build a professional website, design principles are useful rules of thumb guidelines that can ensure usability and aesthetics. Moreover, how you follow these principles can be a make-or-break moment for your business. It can be the difference between site visitors bouncing off as soon as they land on your site or getting closer to your content and eventually converting.

Effective web design is determined by two important factors, namely, usability and functionality. Websites with poor designs in the aforementioned two factors tend to underperform and have sub-par Google Analytics metrics such as low page turnovers, high bounce-off rates, and subsequently low conversion rates.

So, what makes a good website design? Website design can be quite a complex process. Aside from the preconceived ideas of what a good website should resemble, designers should let their audiences, brands, and business visions are the true north that guides them. This, coupled with the tried and tested web design principles, should guide designers through the process. That said, let’s explore the essential website design principles that designers can use to create the most functional, engaging, and effective websites. Read on.

Website Design Principles

Website design principles that govern user experience, usability, and SEO

Make the Main Actionable Targets (call to action buttons) Easy to Reach

This principle is best guided by Fitts’ Law of Psychology which, in examining the human motor system, stated that “The distance and size of an object determine the amount of time taken by a user to navigate to or interact with it.” According to this law, it would be the best web design practice to have your website CTAs or any other actionable target easy to reach and use by the user. Moreover, it is vital to place sufficient space between targets if you have multiple actions on your site. The clickable icons, for instance, should be made large enough for the user to click on a desktop computer site and big enough for mobile users to tap on them.

Put grouped elements together (Gestalt Psychology)

Guided by the law of proximity, this design principle is based on Gestalt Psychology. And it states that “The elements that are put close to each other are perceived as a group.” Following this principle will help you users minimize their cognitive overload because they will be more likely to make sense of the available information.

For web designers, the application of this law/principle is quite straightforward. It is all about being wise with the use of space. And by doing so, the aspects that are perceived as a group should be placed closer to each other than those that belong to different groups. In most website headers or the areas above the fold, CTAs are aligned on the sides from the rest of the navigational actions while menu links are grouped together.

A website’s loading time should be swift

How can you optimize your website for speed?

A site’s loading time, especially the homepage, is usually the benchmark of how well it performs in terms of the Google Analytics metrics. Therefore, create a website that’s optimized for speed to ensure faster loading time. And as already mentioned, the website homepage is of great significance as users looking for your website will land on it. And you would want to have then spend as much time as possible interacting with your products. With that in mind, you can use the following tips to have your website optimized for speed:

  • Eliminate unnecessary widgets as well as plugins you no longer need.
  • Keep ads and widgets to a minimum on your homepage. Bear in mind that site visitors are out to look for meaningful and useful information, not ads.
  • Reduce clutter and the number of posts or popups on your website.

The principles of usability

The usability of a website is as good as its overall existence. That’s because a website that keeps running into usability issues is unlikely to add value to your users. Well-known user experience groups and consulting firms agree on several key aspects that govern a website’s usability. These aspects include but not limited to:

use logical and standard phrases – display website information in a logical order. And by doing so, don’t use complex phrases that will have your users going for the dictionary to understand your website. That means that you have to stick to the terms and phrases they are familiar with, from novice to expert user.

– Ensure important information is visible to users – a good website shouldn’t make users get much into recall. Instead, look to have your users recognize more. That implies that you have to show systematic steps from one to the other without having users stranded along the way trying to recall what they entered in their previous step.

Make it easy for both novices and experts – a good website interface should provide a comforting experience from the novice to the expert user. Moreover, you wouldn’t want to scare your site visitors with the complexities of your website systems. Therefore, design and easy interface that accommodates the needs of all users.

Give users control over your website – from the phrase ‘man is to error,’ expect users to run into issues occasionally and even make mistakes regularly. But that shouldn’t spell the end of the road for them on your website. Users often make mistakes, and they expect that your website can have a way to allow them to undo their actions or refill forms. Therefore, using edit or undo buttons on your website will go a long way in giving control to your users’ hands.

Minimize errors as much as possible and take note to warn users before they proceed with irreversible actions – error messages are quite important to users as they would understand what led them to such outcomes. Moreover, you can have your error messages show users what they did wrong and then provide a way out of such issues.

Avoid indulging site users in too much (unnecessary) thought

The second law of website usability (according to Krug) is to ensure everything on the website is self-explanatory. Users shouldn’t have to pay for complex language or content used on your website. Whether that is terms and conditions, have them make conscious decisions while knowing the pros and cons of taking such decisions. Or still, have them understand the benefits of doing otherwise and as well offer them alternatives.

If you come to think about it, how hard would it be for users to get stuck thinking about how your web works? It is an excruciating experience for them, to say the least. And since they are more likely to take the easy choice out of it, users will abandon your site. Therefore, try all you can to design an easy-to-understand website.

Keep page choices to a minimum (Hick’s Law)

Ever been overwhelmed by webpage choices that you had trouble deciding between them? There are millions of websites out there, but only a few can be categorized as principally designed. This means that most websites are inappropriately designed and could confuse site visitors. Generally, the more the number of options there is for users on a single page to choose from, the more paralyzing it is for them. Moreover, the more complex these choices are, the more time your users are likely to take to arrive at a conclusive decision.

This principle is guided by Hick’s Law, which postulated that there exists a positive correlation between an individual’s reaction time and the number of stimuli presented to them.  As such, this principle guideline effectively means that web designers should look to minimize clutter and avail to users only the essential buttons or options they need. Such essential buttons may include options like ‘Save,’ ‘Buy,’ ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Cancel’ that are presented to users when confirming specific actions.

But how many buttons should a single page have?

Professional web designers often try to limit themselves to a single attention button per page, or at most t two attention buttons on a single page. However, you may want to add more buttons, but remember that too many may ruin the user experience. Furthermore, bear in mind that it’s simply a website design page or a homepage and not a flight control panel or a sound recording studio.

And if you are using registration forms with a number of binary questions and therefore must use multiple action buttons on your website, for instance, you can opt for switch or toggle buttons. By doing so, it will be easier to use on the customers’ interface.

What about a website’s call to action buttons?

To have a well-designed website, ensure that your call-to-action buttons, which are the most important when it comes to conversions, should be well spaced and with clear labels. All icons and links should be clear, descriptive, and as precise as possible. This means that when designing CTAs, you should steer clear of ambiguities. And while simple button icons can be understood by most users, some find it hard to determine their functionality if such actionable buttons lack clear labels.

For effective websites, better performance is achieved if you opt to use both icons and text labels as opposed to one. Moreover, customers don’t have the whole day digging through your website. And therefore, making it easy for them to accomplish their goal with a single click of the button should improve the overall perception and the subsequent conversion rates through your website. Failure to have clarity in your CTAs will work against you as you will witness more bounce-off rates. Call to action buttons should use actionable verbs, should address the intended purpose, and the language used should be particular.

The TETO principle of website design

First and foremost, this principle is the acronym for ‘Test Early and Test Often.’ For all web projects, it’s crucial to apply this principle because usability aspects need thorough testing if you are looking to offer an effective website as well as getting deeper insights into website functionality. Testing should not be too little or too late. Carrying out design and feature tests is necessary as it gives insight into what works best for your website. And you have the luxury to carry out tests at the local level before rolling out new features for your site visitors to access. Other important pieces of information that accrues from feature and design tests include but not limited to:

  • Testing produces design perfection. Besides, it is perceived as an iterative process that doesn’t occur just once. This means that you have to carry out initial tests, find faults, fix them and keep testing to achieve a seamless design that, once rolled out, users wouldn’t run into issues that could otherwise be classed as avoidable.
  • Testing on the usability of websites is always bound to produce better and meaningful outcomes. That’s because tests help you realize both minor and major design flaws that could undermine your website.

Design a mobile-friendly website

Until recently, a mobile-friendly website wasn’t a priority. The exception was the mainstream franchises, tech companies, or large corporations with global reach. However, the emergence of high-end tech, coupled with the transition from physical to e-commerce business, has changed the overall web design landscape. For most web owners, mobile and tablet traffic accounts for at least 60% of the overall traffic on the site.

That said, a web design that isn’t mobile-friendly risks losing more than 60% of prospective clients, which translates to at least 50% of your business’s projected revenue. But why a mobile-friendly website? The following highlights why having a mobile-friendly website site is a necessity:

  • A mobile website increases access to more clients – with a mobile site, clients don’t have to be glued to their desktop computers at the office. Instead, they can access your website regardless of their location. Moreover, they can easily order merchandise from your online e-commerce store if your run an online retail shop. Besides, there are numerous apps they can simply download and make purchasing more accessible and friendly. And all that is possible thanks to a mobile-friendly website.
  • A mobile-friendly website accounts for at least 50% of your sales prospects – the use of mobile apps in e-commerce has boomed tremendously. Why? That’s because today’s shoppers are happy to surf the internet on their phones and as well take care of their shopping needs through their mobile handsets.

Overall, having a mobile-friendly website isn’t as much a web design principle as it is a necessity for web owners. That’s simply because they need to have one is born purely out of necessity to cater to today’s dominance in mobile use. And as mentioned earlier, failure to create a mobile-friendly version of your websites bounds you to lose over half your traffic as well as over half your projected earnings. That said, we cannot overemphasize the need to create a mobile site.

Use good typography for your website design

Just how important is typography on a website? Whether you are using your phones, websites, e-books, or newspapers, we see written content on a daily basis. But more often, we put more emphasis on the power of written content. On the flip side, people seldom consider the designer’s role in making sure the typed content resonates with the typography used. That said, it is vital to match your website’s typography with the tone of the words being expressed. 

If your website has poorly crafted or bad use of typography, then it will undermine its credibility. Overall, the appropriate use of typography ranges from proper selection of fonts, typefaces, and text. Professional web designers assert that a good website should have three font types and size max. And more importantly, web designers should strive to pick one and stick to it with dedicated consistency across the web project. This way, your website will become less confusing or frustrating to users. But what makes good website typography?

Components of good website typography

Fonts and typefaces

Fonts refer to the graphical representation of textual characters. Typefaces, on the other hand, refers to the design style that involves multiple characters with varying sizes and weight. The most common types of typefaces include;

  • Serif.
  • Decorative.
  • Sans-serif.

The website design principle guideline regarding fonts and typefaces is that web designers should use at most three fonts. This way, it is possible to have your website interface uncluttered and streamlined. This design principle also emphasizes the following aspects with regards to web design:

  • Proper website typography should use legible and condensed text, as well as bold enough to powerfully and clearly express the brand message.
  • Steer clear of complex or fancy texts for the type of content that suits formal contexts.
  • Carefully select the fonts and typefaces that match your brand. And on that note, bear in mind that users are likely to be attracted to sites with clear and simpler typefaces as opposed to the more sophisticated ones.
  • Good website typography should be carefully selected to cater to readability needs on both desktop computers and mobile phones.

Content hierarchy

As an essential component of website typography, a web designer should establish a clear text hierarchy as a principle of website design. Text hierarchy, as used in typography, is used to highlight as well as express a clear distinction between the pieces of text that should command more attention by being read first by users and those pieces that belong to the standard text copy. By doing so, users are able to notice the actionable paths once they hit your homepage.

White space

White space refers to space on your web pages that surround text, images, and graphics. Most web designs often undermine the purpose of white space; if used and distributed properly, white space makes the interface less hectic and the text easily readable. Generally, it impossible to attract attention to specific text or graphics without the use of white space on your website.

Moreover, it minimizes the cognitive load of the user and as well simplifies content layout on the web page. That said, we cannot overemphasize the importance of negative space. Designing a website with well partitioned white spaces makes it easy for the user to separate visible language, understand content segments and a website’s complexity.

Colour contrast

As an essential component of typography, colour in web design enhances the attractiveness of your website that can serve to elevate the user interface, which is vital to attract and retain users. With regards to the principles of good typography, web designers should select proper colour contrasts. Using proper text and background colour enhances text clarity and as well highlights important graphics, making it stand out from the rest of the website background or theme colour.

Furthermore, the use of appropriate text colour helps convey the message tone. This means that if web designers get this principle wrong, the overall website will have a messy interface that could create a hazardous clash between text, graphics, and your website background. The most important aspects to bear in mind regarding website colours include;

  • Saturation.
  • Value.
  • Hue

Professional web designers are fully qualified to apply the aforementioned three aspects to come up with the finished product of the desired website design.

The principle of visual hierarchy

The principle of visual hierarchy contributes to the design of a successful website. Visual hierarchy refers to the sequence or order in which a user’s eye moves and perceives whatever is before it. And with regards to web pages, visual hierarchy can be defined as the order in which a user’s eye moves from one topic or content block to the other on the website.

When web designers create a website, they first identify the content and classify it in order of importance. After that, they then place the topics or content in such a way that site users see what is more important and useful and hierarchically proceed onto the next. And to come up with an effective visual hierarchy, web designers generally follow three aspects, namely:

Size hierarchy – size hierarchy is the type of hierarchy that highlights the important image or content on the website as being the largest on any particular web page. In the same manner, the second-largest image or textual content becomes the second most important that users should have access to, and so on. Therefore, the emphasis with this principle is that size determines the distinction in the level of content importance. Thus, site users should use size as a factor in the pecking order.

Content hierarchy – web designers also use content to create the order of importance on the website. This means that you can place web content in a way that users’ eyes first travel to the most important before having them see the less important content – and all that in a hierarchical manner.

Website alignment –as used in web design, website alignment is an essential component in typography. More often than not, designers generally align web content centrally on their websites. That’s because having your content aligned centrally is the easiest and most straightforward way to have it balanced for site viewers. However, most designers don’t realize how weak and hard it to read this form of alignment is to the users. Instead, research has backed up the left content alignment as being the most effective. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time.

Overall, you must test several forms of alignment based on what you are looking to achieve before setting on your audiences’ favourite. The key thing at the end of the day is how readable the content on your website is. Additionally, you have to strike a healthy balance between alignment and readability because these two aspects always work in contravention to each other. The better one is, the more detrimental it is also to the other. Therefore, you should be aware that on the course of your web project, one aspect will be compromised for the sake of the other.

The principle of communication

Research shows that 95% of all who visit your website are looking for some kind of information or content and that they already have an idea of what they are looking to accomplish. That’s why it is vital to ensure you offer effective communication on your website. Therefore, be clear and engaging in your communication, and give compelling information, which is easy to read and process on the part of the user.

Website content is best presented in multiple forms to achieve the desired effect. Effective communication is not only about presenting written content but also offering infographics, images, and other forms of media like GIFs, videos, and audio. Furthermore, website design puts into consideration another concept that is popularly known as the ‘Visible language,’ which involves the specific language that site users can access on the screen once they hit your homepage. Visible language is guided by two fundamental principles that include:

  • Economy – as the word suggests, this principle alludes to the utilization of limited content resources for the achievement of more results. With regards to web design, this principle implies that you should strive to deliver more on your website with the help of minimal visual elements in the visible language. To achieve that, make the web layout open, free of clutter, and should present content in the highest degree of clarity. Besides, you must ensure you highlight the most important actionable elements and induce a level of distinctiveness in such actions.
  • Organization – the principle of effective communication serves to offer your visitors content that is structured and laid out consistently. Such a structure utilizes aspects such as division of content, easy navigation, accessibility, and visual appeal. That said, it is vital to structure your website content in a manner that is likely to communicate effectively to your site visitors.

The principle of navigation

Creating an easily navigable website is one of the most important web design principles to apply when designing a user-friendly interface. Much to the effect that a recent survey done by the Clutch suggested that over 90% of people perceive navigation as the single most important feature of a website. That means that for any website that causes navigation issues to the user, bounce rates will be over the roof because technically, there wouldn’t be much left for the user to stick to your website.

Having simple and conventional page navigation is key. That’s because a website without clear and logical navigation is akin to having a maze without a map. And what that does is makes it unnecessarily cumbersome for your site visitors. But to make navigation an easy and relaxing experience for your users, ensure that whatever form it takes – whether it is sidebars, drop-down menu, or sticky navigation – users can easily locate it. Moreover, optimize it to function well across all devices and minimize the sidebar or drop-down menu options.

Furthermore, if you have a website that clients can easily find information that subsequently helps them achieve what they are looking to accomplish, chances are you will boost your rates of conversion. An easily navigable site has a good menu layout, has a nice flow of web page content, and users find it easy and reliable to manoeuvre from one actionable section to the other. Besides, this principle puts forward the following simple navigation tips:

  • Your site’s navigation sidebar should be simple and contain fewer options as possible so as not to confuse the user.
  • Keep your website homepage as simple and clear as possible.
  • Place at least one CTA per webpage and at most two per page.
  • Minimize the drop-down menu options.

The colour scheme principle

Based on hierarchy definition from various sites, you can easily see how designers are fond of leaving out the aspect of colour, despite its significance in web design. A site visitor should find it seamless skimming through your site while at the same time grasping what everything is all about. Looking at some of the websites out there, you will easily understand why designers find it difficult to create and maintain a consistent colour scheme, yet still quite crucial in web design.

Colour scheme consistency is key. And what one user may like could be disliked by another user. That applies to the specific use of other features alongside colours. But a better middle ground could be found with the use of consistent colour schemes. Furthermore, you should note that some fonts, texts, and typefaces are better used with a specific choice of colours. Therefore, your role as a designer is to maintain consistency. And by doing so, you could use tips such as:

  • Select a proper combination of colours.
  • Avoid the use of brighter or darker colours on your website as they create too much eye strain for your users.
  • It is recommended that your colour scheme maintains a minimalistic look.

Additionally, research has indicated that 53% of bounce-offs are a result of poor colour scheme consistency on a website’s landing page. Therefore, a good colour scheme, especially on landing pages, should be a priority for web designers. Moreover, good use of colours and images offers a significant visual impression to the users.

Focus on capturing user attention (the focus principle)

Most websites contain both static and dynamic content, as opposed to each one. And while both are used to enhance a website’s ability to capture user attention, not all websites incorporate these components well. But proper use of both enhances the attractiveness of user interface aspects.

One of the most basic tips is to use images and bold text. That’s because images are more attractive and can create an 80% more impression than textual content would. Similarly, bold text is more impressive as it can easily be noticed than plain text would. Eye-tracking studies indicate that the human eye notices website content in an ‘F’ pattern. This implies that the non-linearity of the eye should form the basis on how to distribute important content on your website in order to capture user attention.

Moreover, the non-linearity of the human eye means that users are only capable of noticing edges, motions, and text, and in the pecking order of the most captivating. It is for the same reason that websites with video-based ads create the most destruction to the user. This makes them quite annoying. However, website designers still use video ads because, from a marketing perspective, they fulfil the role of capturing user attention.

The human eye works based on the focus principle. Take, for example, the use of the term ‘free.’ The use of such a word on the website appeals to many users. First off, it is an attractive term, easily accessible to users, and it does evoke curiosity as users would want to learn more about the free offer. That makes it quite a useful attention-capturing term to use.

The bottom line

Web design principles refer to the broad guidelines that govern the creative work that is incorporated into website architecture, user interface, navigation, web layout, ergonomics, etc. These principles, by extension, focus on key areas such as graphic design, usability, user interface, and search engine optimization. The scope of website design is not necessarily a complete science, but most of the design principles involved are born out of broad fields of science. Some design principles are engineered on the basis of professional work from diverse fields such as ergonomics, Psychology as well as Behavioral Science.

Generally, the web design principles discussed above aren’t the rule of thumb guidelines, per se. Instead, they act as a flexible framework under which web designers build effective web designs. And by following them, designers can decide which elements of web design to choose or discard, thereby creating a desirable finished product. The way these guidelines are implemented in web design projects can be a make-or-break moment for your business. That is, it can be the difference between site visitors bouncing off as soon as they land on your site or getting closer to your content and eventually converting.

Effective website design is determined by two key factors, namely, usability and functionality. Websites with poor designs in the two factors mentioned above tend to underperform and have sub-par Google Analytics metrics such as low page turnovers, high bounce-off rates, and subsequently low conversion rates. But what makes a good website design? Wed design is quite a complex process. Aside from the preconceived ideas designers have about what a good website should resemble, designers should let their audiences, brands, and business visions are their ‘true north’ that guides them. This, coupled with the tried and tested web design principles discussed in this post, should guide designers through the process.