How Web Design Can Make or Break Your Site

How many times have you surfed a website, only to give up because you couldn’t find your way through the navigation, or the text was so tiny and cluttered that you couldn’t keep reading, or the content was chopped up by distracting images?

No matter how compelling your web content, if your website’s design is cumbersome, amateur or downright ugly, you’ll lose visitors—and respect for the quality of your work.

So how do you know if a website is well designed? It’s not simply a matter of color choice and typeface. And it’s not just about subjective, personal taste. To quote Richard Grefé, Executive Director of the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA), “Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.”

Good Design Guides Your Eye Through Content Hierarchy
Where do you want your visitor to look first? Type choice and size, selection and placement of color, contrast, images and white space all work together to guide your eyes through your web pages. For example, throughout my website, to make my narrative easier to skim, my designer highlighted key phrases in the text and added breathing room in the line-spacing. Strong images, especially of human faces, draw attention. So does text surrounded by white space.

Research shows that we read web pages in an F formation, scanning across headings, chunks of intro text and subheads, and down the left column if the site uses a sidebar menu. I’ll be interested to see how those findings change as we see more sites imitating the Pinterest bulletin board model. AIGA’s website has adopted this format, using bold headlines, strong images and grayed-out blocks of text that highlight when rolled over to help break up the content and establish a visual hierarchy.

Good Design Enables Easy Navigation
Especially when you have multiple layers of information in a complex website, good design is critical for ease of navigation. In one glance, visitors need to understand how the site is organized and where to click to get the information they need.

For Attorney Marcia Tannenbaum’s website, in addition to the horizontal navigation bar, we included a sidebar on every page that lists all of her professional services, with links for each topic to the description within the professional services tab. At the top of the sidebar is a prominent Contact button with a call-to-action for her free half-hour consult. This enables visitors to quickly understand the depth of Marcia’s practice, find the information they need with one click and easily set up an appointment.

Within my own site, I use an accordion-style layout within both the Services and Getting Started pages to create a hierarchy of detail. This design enables you to skim the page with a minimum of scrolling, with the option of digging deeper into content as you click on each subhead. I like this format for FAQ pages, as well—an easy way to include a lot of information on one page without overwhelming the viewer.

Good Design Conveys a Professional Image
Clean layout, easy-to-read text, quality images and graphics all combine to present you as a professional. You wouldn’t show up to an important client meeting in rumpled clothes and mismatched socks. So don’t do the equivalent on your website.

For the law firm of Mountain Dearborn, we used a rotation of strong, original graphic images on the homepage to illustrate each aspect of the firm’s practice. Related images are tied to the detailed descriptions within the site. The design is both understated and inviting, reflecting the firm’s corporate culture. We also strove to facilitate ease of reading by marrying client-centered copywriting with generous use of white space and chunked text.

Good Design Sets You Apart From the Crowd
Of course, maybe you like to dress like Dennis Rodman. If that’s part of your image, what sets you apart from your competition in a way that draws loyal clients, then by all means have your design reflect it. Funky graphics, unusual colors and unique typefaces all help to distinguish you and your business, as long as they work together to effectively convey your brand and your message.

One of the best things to happen to web design in the past few years is the option to choose a unique typeface. In this site, I’m using Typekit to embed Chapparal Pro as my typeface. It’s clear, readable and distinctive, a visual expression of personal goals for my own writing. While Typekit is a subscription service (for a very modest fee), Google now offers a wide range of open source typefaces through Google Web Fonts, vastly expanding the range of free options for web typography.

These are some of the most important reasons for using good web design. And here’s one more: Good design makes the world a more beautiful place. We all spend so many hours in front of our computers and mobile devices, it’s well worth the time, effort and resources to invest in an aesthetically satisfying experience for your website visitors. They’ll enjoy the view—and take more time to look around.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your good work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

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