A lot has changed in web design terms over the past three decades or so. The very first domain name to be registered, back in 1985, was symbolics.com, the home of a now long-gone computer manufacturer. Pretty much all of the websites registered over the next couple of years were computer or tech-based companies. They weren’t much to look at, but the very act of setting up a website was a statement in itself. Now, of course, it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t have its own website – not to mention in many cases social media profiles, blogs and even a company YouTube channel.
A wider web presence can be useful, but your main website should still serve as a central hub. Whatever type of business you’re in, your website serves as a virtual shop window, and it will often be the first port of call for customers, clients and partners who are looking to purchase directly (if you offer e-commerce sales) or simply to find out more about your company, products or services. According to a study by Blue Nile Research, between 79% and 82% of customers – both B2C and B2B – use search, reviews and a company’s website during this research process.
Many will make comparisons between brands and websites. There are many other factors that have a bearing on whether a visitor to your website actually makes a purchase of course, but an appealing design that combines form and functionality can certainly help make the difference.
Web Design Basics
There’s no such thing as a one size fits all for website design. A professional photographer or someone else involved in the creative industry might want to give off a completely different feel than an accountancy firm or plumber. The particulars of each website will therefore vary, but there are some general pointers that apply in most situations.
People tend to consume information differently online. In particular, they scan the page, so it’s usually best not to present large walls of text. If your website is a blog, this may be less of an issue (although even here, it often pays to break up text with subheads, short paragraphs and images), but it’s not what you want to present on your landing page.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s certainly true on the web. Products that you’re selling should usually be accompanied by clear, high quality photographs, but images can also be used to illustrate concepts or to help give off the right impression. The aforementioned professional photographer could showcase his or her own work of course, but even websites being built on a budget can make use of strong photos and visuals. Take a look at the free images here for an idea of the type of free stock images you can access online.
Use spatial awareness in your design to keep the look uncluttered. Using plenty of white space can be easy on the eye and give your website a structured look, but it’s not the only solution – different color schemes can work well for different businesses and websites. Make sure you reflect any brand identity elements such as your logo and any color schemes that feature prominently in your branding.
Your website should look good, but it’s also important that it’s functional. Navigation is one of the most important aspects of any website, and whether you use fixed or drop-down menus, site maps, tabs or buttons, your navigational tools should be clear and easy to use.
It’s also important to remember that the way people are accessing the internet is also still changing. Mobile internet users are increasingly sophisticated and demanding, and they expect the sites they visit via their phones and tablets to load quickly and display correctly. Data from Kissmetrics showed that 47% of consumers expect a mobile web page to load in two seconds or less, and that 40% were likely to abandon a site that took more than three seconds to load. Four-fifths of shoppers were unlikely to buy again from a site they were dissatisfied with. In practical terms, this may mean doing away with auto-loading video and audio elements and ensuring the design displays correctly in different formats. Many designers build a separate site for mobile, with the browser being directed to the appropriate site depending on the device they access it on. Others prefer responsive design, which adjusts the display depending on the device.
The beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can theoretically access your website wherever he or she may be in the world. Many businesses focus primarily or entirely on their domestic market, but others may have a more international reach. If your main website services different regions or you have specifically localized websites for foreign markets, you should also take cultural issues into consideration.
Did you know, for example, that the ‘thumbs up’ sign can have a rude and insulting meaning in Greece, parts of Africa and Iran? Sexually suggestive pictures, or even ones that might be considered relatively innocuous in the US, such as bikini-clad holidaymakers, might not go down well in some conservative cultures.
Color schemes can also have an effect, as different colors have different connotations in different cultures. White, for example, can represent marriage in the West, but it is seen as the color of mourning in much of the East.
The Importance of Good Design
So does the design and look of your website really matter?
A study looking at how people responded to a range of health sites found that when considering the factors that were cited for rejecting a website based on first impressions, 94% were related to various design issues and only 6% were based on the actual content.
The design of your website can not only help to draw visitors in, but it can also help to engage them and convert them into customers. Site design is only one part of the puzzle of course, but it is an incredibly important one.