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What makes a great design?

by on Oct.29, 2008, under Personal, Web

99% of the people who browse the internet will take one look at the design of a site and within a couple of seconds they have decided whether to stick around or find somewhere else. This post will attempt to cover some of the more important aspects of website design along with a few of the standards which I believe should be adhered to.
The reason for this is not to rant but come to some conclusion with regards website design. I have recently spent quite a bit of time with the designers where I work and have decided to look into the aspects which go into creating an awesome and usable website design.
My background has always been development but following these discussions I believe that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration before a design can be produced. A few of these are:

  • Type of website & Target audience
  • Consistency (i.e. look and feel)
  • Font types & Colour schemes
  • Graphics both quantity and impression
  • Browser compatibility and resolution

The above list shows a few considerations which I believe to be the most important when designing a website but as I am a developer if someone wants to correct me then feel free. However allow me to justify my decision before you do 😉

Target audience and the type of website

The theory behind this choice is that without knowing what type of website it and what sort of audience the website is aimed at then how can an appropriate design be created? For example, if your site offers children’s toys then the target audience is going to be either children or their parents. Does this mean that you design the site with a very corporate feel to it or do you create a design which is full of colour and brings the site alive? Personally I would go for the latter but that could just be down to my personal taste. 😛

Consistency, colour and font-types

During my time as a developer I have come across many sites with many different designs and to say that some of them are shocking is an understatement. For example, I see time after time sites that have a pale gray font colour on a white background or a deep gray colour on a black background. What is the point of having text on a page if people can’t read it? Does the same theory apply to fonts? Well I believe it does, again if the font size is too small then the majority of people won’t think about increasing the font size within the browser settings in order to read the content on a site. Likewise if the font is too large then there won’t be enough content being displayed within the browser window and people will have to keep scrolling either just up and down or worse left, right, up and down. Font-types is a more interesting one and I could spend the next hour or so discussing why certain fonts should and should not be used but it basically boils down to choosing the most appropriate font-family for the content of the site. However depending on the browser, these fonts may not even be displayed so the effect that the design is trying portray may not even be seen.

I have always been a big believer in accessibility and recent studies show that text on white background is the most legible. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a continuum of other colour pairs which provide a high enough level of contrast so not to sacrifice the legibility of the text. So why are there so many designs out there who believe that yellow on white works?

So that’s colour covered, now for fonts. Does the same theory apply to fonts? I believe it does, basically for the same reason why the fonts in a book are all legible and use a standard font.

With regards consistency, people like predictable things. So surely the same goes for web design? If a design has a good structure, where the menus are located in the same place on every page then people know exactly where to look in order to move through your site. Does this same principle apply to design? If you’re browsing through a site and suddenly everything changes colour or the font suddenly changes size or style would this affect your impression of the site?

Graphics

As a developer I have always tried to build sites which load very quickly so have never been a huge fan of large images or flash files embedded within the page. Maybe with the way technology is evolving this is no longer a concern, I don’t know.

Graphics are typically the first part of the site that a user sees (headers are typically images), therefore does it make sense to make this image represent what the rest of the site is going to look like or should it look completely different so that is stands out? I appreciate the fact that images are becoming a big part of designs not just as headers but also for bullet points, headings, lists, page backgrounds, the list goes on. But when does too much actually become too much?

With regards the impression they provide, I agree that a really nice header image can improve the overall look and feel of a site to no end but what about flash or JavaScript rotators? Can these be detrimental to a site? If you have content on your site that you want people to take notice of why provide them with something that will distract them every few seconds? Also with regards flash headers or sidebar elements what’s the point in having a 5MB flash file embedded into the header? Will this not just cause more people to leave than stay due to the time it takes to load the page, I believe it does. If you don’t then believe this is an issue then please free to convince me otherwise.

Browser considerations and resolutions

As a developer I am always testing websites in all the major browsers, should designs be treated in a similar fashion? For example are there certain aspects of a design which are not possible in one browser but will work in another. To be honest I think this more of a design implementation consideration than a design consideration because there are always ways around browser limitations which allow for designs to be implemented. Again if you disagree with this analysis then please let me know.
Anyway this is just the beginning of a process I keep thinking about with regards the overall website development process and there will probably similar post to this cropping up as I consider the other aspects. Hope it wasn’t too boring for anyway that made it to this point and thanks for reading. 😀

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