Despite the fact that every designer has different criteria and plan of action when it comes to building a website for a client, there are similarities that can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. These are a few of the key website elements that every respectable website includes.
Users expect quite a bit when they visit a website, especially a new one they’ve never visited before: whitespace, great images, excellent content and simple navigation. These elements help them navigate a website with ease. A great designer will prioritise such elements and design them into your website seamlessly. These are examples of how this can be done.
Whitespace is welcome
In the early days of newspapers, articles and columns of text were crammed together and separated only by a thin line running from top to bottom. Paper was expensive; they wanted to use as much space as possible so as to save money. Reading newspapers was tedious (I think I’d end up with a headache by the end of one article), though, and it is not hard to understand why newspapers slowly began to remove the thin line and/or add more space between columns to improve readability.
Space is one of the most important elements of design because it dictates everything: flow and readability. If one can’t easily read your article, then there is a problem. On a website, there is no excuse like the cost of paper to cram things at every opportunity. More websites and designers are beginning to appreciate the benefits of vast spaces, increased spacing between lines of text or paragraphs, increased wrap around images, more gutter space between columns, etc.
Forget boring imagery
Some animals, like the dog, rely on their sense of smell to learn and categorize information. The bat gets around purely by sound. We humans, on the other hand, are Visual Beings. In fact, 90% of the transmitted information in the human brain is visual. So it is important for us as visual beings to transmit our ideas, products, people, and whatever else in visual form in order to drive other people to your site.
The sites shown here do a great job of showing their product and their style. Choosing custom and crisp imagery is important in communicating and translating your professional image.
Excellent content is king
A good website requires relevant content that your readers can relate to or need. Your content should always answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” Answering important questions that are burning on your readers’ lips will keep them coming back for more.
Your content should be up-to-date; don’t let your website or, more importantly, your blog, go too long without updates. Your search results will thank you for keeping updates coming: it means the robots that crawl your website will see new content and not mark your site as unimportant due to lack of updates.
I’m kind of guilty of this (due to the fact that I enjoy writing), but long blocks of text are also a no-no. People don’t like reading long texts on their computer. Less and less people actually like reading, period, so why antagonize them with long-winded paragraphs on your website? You can leave that to your blog entries.
The example on the left shows a short blog post with plenty of photos to whet the visual appetite of Simon’s readers.
Simple navigation, stupid
Navigation should never be complicated, otherwise your customers will not be able to identify and use your menu. Menus should be small and concise so as not to overwhelm your users. Five items on your menu (not counting submenus) is generally more than enough to encompass your entire website. At worst, ten items are the generally understood limit.
Navigation should also include tools, such as a sitemap or directional arrows to direct the user where they should be going. The easier it is for your users to navigate through your site, the less annoying your site is to them, and the more they will be likely to interact with it.
The example on the left shows a full-page header image with a simple menu that never moves or changes from page to page. Consistency is key to guiding your users properly.
To wrap up
It’s time to stop complicating things for your users and start making their navigating lives easier. They need to see some whitespace in order to make sense of the information you are trying to communicate. Great imagery should be a priority, as should excellent content that will be interesting, userful and important. And last but not least, navigating your website should be not be like a trip into a labyrinth.
If you need further help making sense of these “rules”, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!