Designing a Web site
is much like any other design project, from a brochure
or a book to a bridge or a skyscraper. You want the
form to promote the function and the function to be
highlighted by the form.
Whether you’re putting together a homespun site
consisting of a few pages or overseeing a multilevel,
multimedia-rich corporate site, you should keep in mind
the principles of good Web design.
I’ve talked with a number of Web design professionals,
read lots of information on the subject, looked at about
a billion Web sites, and designed a few sites of my
own. Here are some tips I’ve learned:
- Respect people’s time. Everything
else about Web design stems from this. People online
operate in Internet time, and that means short attention
- People coming to a Web site are typically
looking for information. They’re not looking
to be wowed by flash that just slows them down. It’s
as easy to click out of a poorly designed site as
it is to slam shut a poorly written book or to walk
out of a poorly directed movie.
- You might think that the Web is all about
technology. But it’s really about the content—the
stuff—that the technology makes available. In
this way, it’s no different from other tools
such as a printing press or a movie camera.
- People should know almost immediately upon
arriving at your site why they should stick around.
Just as with an article or ad in a magazine or newspaper,
you need to quickly communicate what’s in it
- Be clear with headlines, not clever or
punny. Break up longer text passages with subheads
that summarize key points. Many readers will just
scan your pages, reading only the subheads.
- Consider providing a site map or index
that displays all the interior links for those who
want to get their bearings from the outset. An internal
search tool is another feature that shows you’re
looking after users’ needs.
- Because it’s more difficult to read
from a computer screen than from paper, strive for
conciseness with your content. Keep words, sentences,
and paragraphs short. Make the width of columns shorter
than the width of the screen. A colored or textured
background should never make the text difficult to
read. Likewise, dancing buttons, blinking text, and
other bells and whistles can draw too much attention
to themselves and detract from the overall effect.
- Along with conciseness, Web sites also
benefit from comprehensiveness. This is only an apparent
contradiction. Web surfers may be in a hurry, but
if they like what they see, they’ll want as
much of it as they can get. The Web makes in-depth
elaboration possible by having fewer space restrictions
than any other medium.
- After you present the big picture, unfold
the rest of your story through links to interior pages.
Make it clear up front how many links are involved
so readers know what they’re getting into. Links
are fundamental to the Web, but subdividing pages
too much and forcing readers to tunnel down through
too many links will only frustrate them.
- Clearly label links indicating where each
leads. With each page, provide a link back to the
beginning of the section or site. If part of your
site is still under construction, don’t create
a link to it yet. Those passe “Under Construction”
signs just waste visitors’ time.
- Build in a way for readers to talk back,
such as email feedback, discussion boards, and chat
rooms. More than anything else, the Web differentiates
itself from other media by its interactivity.
- Think visually as well as verbally to make
your content most compelling. When appropriate, use
drawings, photographs, animation, audio, or video.
Your site will be more convincing if these multimedia
enhancements relate to your words instead of being
- More and more people these days have cable,
DSL, satellite, or other high-speed access to the
Internet, but many still connect through dial-up modems.
So when you provide multimedia elements, you’ll
satisfy more people by giving them options depending
on the speed of their connections.
- You can design a Web site yourself, or
you can hire a Web designer. The Cadillac of Web design
packages, Adobe Creative Suite (www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite),
just came out with an upgrade. It now combines the
best Web page editor, Dreamweaver, with the best photo
- Many business sites could benefit from
the services of a user experience architect, also
known as an information architect, usability engineer,
or interaction designer, to make sure your site is
meeting users’ needs as well as your own.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated
columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About
the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at