10 Great Website Design Overarching Principles • Burt Systems Uganda

10 Great Website Design Overarching Principles

10 Great Website Design Overarching Principles

great website design principles

10 comprehensive rules, that have held for 2 decades, to help you avoid common website design pitfalls

6 Minutes Read

One of the most important consequences of the recent Corona pandemic is many businesses are running to the internet to connect with their customers in an already crowded space and are finding it even harder to get customers to click and buy. This has forced website designers back to the basics rethinking of what actually constitutes a great website design. What is emerging is the understanding that great web design is more than a question of attractiveness.

There is a fundamental difference between a good-looking site and a great website.

Burtsystem.com, for instance, was a visually attractive site two months ago yet poor navigation and usability contributed in no small way to its failure to convert users into customers. 

We are learning that online, beauty is only screen deep, and not a solid enough basis for a long term relationship with a target audience. 

From Amazon.com to Jumia.com, the online success stories are surviving on more than their looks alone. To succeed, websites need to match style with substance by taking the internet on its own terms. 

In 2000 an English Novelist, Matt Haig, wrote about the 10 commandments of website design in The Guardian runaway article. Two decades later and not one of them has changed a word but more emphasis on their immutability by google’s ever changing algorithms. Allow me to go back in time and retrieve the commandments in these adopted 10 overarching principles of today’s great website design.

  1. Understand your site’s purpose
  2. Keep it human
  3. Be Imperfect
  4. Avoid the language of advertising
  5. Keep it simple
  6. Use straightforward navigation
  7. Satisfy itchy fingers
  8. Don’t cheat
  9. Less in more, especially on mobile
  10. Update your site
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1. Understand your website’s purpose

The visual appearance of a website depends entirely on the objectives you want it to achieve. For information rich sites, the emphasis should be on straightforward navigation rather than fancy graphics. Think of how Yahoo!, Wikipedia and other portals present their material. 

If, however, your main website design objective is to consolidate your brand identity, it may be more appropriate to limit the amount of text on the site and concentrate on the graphics. 

2. Keep it human

Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, refers to bricolage as the opportunism of those who work with their hands, creating things out of whatever is lying about. 

The web works the same way: there is no set way of designing a website. Designers use tried and tested images, formats and links to each other to create pages. This makes the web unpredictable and charged to empower a new generation of creators who have unleashed a tremendous amount of creativity.

3. Be imperfect

Due to its vast, complex and decentralized nature, the web will “always be a little bit broken”

Tim Berners-Lee (its inventor) on the future of the web

The web’s fragility makes it more human and also renders perfection impossible. The politics of “being right” must not therefore be transferred to your website; rather, the aim should be to start a two-way conversation with your target audience, not to tell them, “this is how it is”.

4. Avoid the language of advertising

Despite the fact that, according to Statistica, Google’s ad revenue in 2019 shot 130 fold to almost 134.81 billion dollars from 1.42 billion in 2003, search ads are already being undermined by some harsh truths. Most people now appreciate that having your page turn up in the top search engine results is far more effective than web advertising because users are beginning to block out all the advertising noise. 

If the role of advertising is to present the best possible face of a company, this is made redundant by the nature of the web, where criticism will always be there: just ask Nike or Ubber. 

The speed of “word of mouth” online is restricted only by how fast people can type, so it is worth remembering that when investing in a great website design, honesty is always the best policy. 

“Word of web will trump word of hype every time”.

Rick Levine, Mancala, Inc. 

5. Keep it simple

This is perhaps the most important rule of website design, yet it takes a lot of time and effort to keep things straight forward from a visitor’s perspective. 

“Simple isn’t easy. Sites that are overly confusing and filled with flashing gizmos that perform clever tricks without rhyme or reason are the ones which were created in an afternoon”. 

Stephen Freeman

6. Use straightforward navigation

There are a number of ways you can make it easy for people to find their way around your website. One way is to make sure no page of your website is further than three clicks away from any other. Another is to let people know where they are. 

You can do this by providing a site map or by making the current navigation area standout. Google encourages use of breadcrumbs (or “breadcrumb trail”, a type of secondary navigation scheme that reveals the user’s location in a website)

7. Satisfy itchy fingers

Goldfish are said to have an attention span of five seconds, which is approximately two seconds longer than a visitor to your website. If they are finding your site from a search engine, they may have up to 10 other sites they want to visit before they log off. 

The trick is to make your website design stimulating while keeping it user-friendly. Slow page loading times, repetitive text, and lengthy buying processes must therefore be avoided.

8. Don’t cheat

Locked within every website’s code is the metatag where web designers can list keywords to help control how the page is indexed on search engines. There are a number of rogue designers out there who misuse the meta-tag in order to make their site rank higher in search engine results pages. 

Keywords that they know are frequently typed in to search engines will go in the metatag even though they are not relevant to the web page. This is the cyberspace equivalent of genetic engineering, and can seriously damage a site’s reputation.

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9. Less is more, especially on mobile

As web software has developed over the years, many web designers have felt the urge to demonstrate all these advances simultaneously on one web page. 

Multiple animated images, blinking text, Javascript status bar messages, rainbow-colored divider bars and pop up windows may signify hard work on the part of the designer but will also result in hard work on the part of the user.

I should have mentioned “Mobile First” as a top website design principal but that’s currently an immutable law of web design given, according to Statistica,  mobile devices accounted for 48 percent of web page views worldwide, with mobile-first markets such as Asia and Africa leading the pack.

Consider how much space you have on your mobile device screen, you would want your customer to stay focused on what’s important and not be disrupted by all the colors and graphics that fill the screen.

10. Update your site

A week may be a long time in a lockdown but it is much longer in cyberspace. When you’re flowing in the intricate network of links and clicks, clock time seems to move 10 times faster than normal time. 

Many people who browse the internet frequently return to the same sites. Information needs to be updated at regular intervals to keep a website fresh.

The conclusion of this post may not seal the count on the principles of great website design, but there are a great many websites you can look at to pick inspiration. Dive into UI and UX design research, hire a design consultant to guide you, just make sure your website design will attract, inform, engage and compel visitors to take action.

Burt Baguma
Burt Baguma
The writer is a Ghost Writer, Blogger, Web Developer and Online Marketing consultant. A Senior Manager at Burt Systems Uganda. Baguma has been writing for the digital world for over a decade and has worked with hundreds of small business owners across different cultures around the world.

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