*The following guest post is by Amber Singleton Riviere*
Web design can be challenging. For me, the challenge is in not making things too complex and in keeping things simple and clean, which makes the site more user-friendly and a more pleasant experience for visitors. Here are a few steps to make sure your site is effectively helping you achieve your objectives, while remaining easy to use for your visitors.
Step 1: Keep it simple.
I think it’s tempting, or maybe just our first impulse, to over-complicate things. Website design is not exempt from that tendency, but if you want to build a site that’s effective (that helps you achieve your goals), simplicity is key. What is simplicity in web design? It’s sticking with the basics. It’s not worrying about being cool or edgy or unique. I know, we want our websites to stand out, but even though intuitively we might think the opposite is true, simplicity in design, layout, and functionality actually will make them stand out from the crowd.
Step 2: Be painfully obvious.
Another common tendency is to want to name pages, especially navigation links, in a unique way. Nothing will frustrate your site visitors (or cause them to click away from your site to another more user-friendly one) than making them have to think too much. If they want to contact you, they’re going to look for the “Contact” link. If they want to find out more about your products or services, they’re going to look for your “Products and Services” link. If they want to find out more about you or your company, they’re going to look for your “About” link. That’s it. It’s that simple. Name your pages in an unexpected way will only cause confusion in your site visitors. It’s going to seem painfully obvious and even boring to you, sure, but you have to ask yourself if you’d prefer to be hip or edgy or if you want your site to be usable and to work for you to meet your objectives.
Important Thing to Note: I’m talking about navigation links here, not the actual full page names. Those are two separate things. The links in your navigation should be clear and obvious, but your full page names should be descriptive for search engine optimization purposes.
Step 3: Think in an outline.
Before you dive into building pages and adding content to your site, stop. Stop and think, “Will this get lost? Am I building circles and mazes and a sea of pages that lack clear hierarchy?” You want to think in terms of an obvious outline.
- Our Mission
- Our Team
Plan out your site in a clear outline. Do your planning on paper first so that you see the clarity (or lack of) in the hierarchy of your site. If you dive in and immediately get to work on the home page (our first impulse), you’ll end up with a jumbled mess that’s confusing, both to you and to your site visitors.
Step 4: Don’t overcrowd or clutter.
Sometimes you have to put all the content (images, text/copy, lists, etc.) that you hope to have on a page up before you can see how it’s going to stack up visually. It’s kind of like arranging a room in your house. You can’t know how you’re going to position the furniture or how cluttered the room will ultimately feel until you try to put everything into the room. Once you have everything in there, you can see, “No, it’s too cluttered in here. I can’t even walk without bumping into things. Something’s gotta go.” The same is true with your web pages. Less is generally more. You want empty space and room to move around. Once you have all the content up, expect to cut it by at least 15%. You want to have enough visual breathing space for the most important things to stand out, and you definitely don’t want to overwhelm your visitors.
Many times, our naturally impulse is to lean toward complexity, and that can be counter-productive in web design. If you want your site to help you achieve your end goals, you have to keep things simple and usable for your site visitors.
Amber Singleton Riviere is the founder of Upstart Smart, a resource for small business owners, as well as the Rock Your Genius radio show, which focuses on small business and entrepreneurship. She also runs the Give Back Project, a web design and marketing firm, and writes for websites like Web Worker Daily on topics relevant to small business owners. You can find out about all of Amber’s work by visiting AmberSingleton.com .