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Web Design - Simple Mistakes and Golden Rules

Good Web DesignGood Web DesignGood web design is something that can be achieved relatively easily by sticking to a small set of guiding principles and avoiding some very common mistakes.

Truly excellent web design skills are born out of years of experience, dedication, and plenty of hard-learned mistakes. Fortunately, being truly excellent at web design is not a pre-requisite for building a fantastic website, and the lessons learned from those mistakes can be passed on without the hardship.

This article contains some of the principles which I have learned the hard way, and the easy way. Each principle is fairly obvious, but so many designers ignore them for one reason or another, and the consequence is a hard-to-use, poor looking site that is difficult to manage, and fails to make the top 1000 in Google. If your website adheres to the principles below, it will almost certainly be much healthier, and you, and your visitors will reap the benefits.

1. Keep Everything Obvious - Don't Make Me Think

The book entitled Don't Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug, is one of the best selling books on the subject of web design and usability. Personally, I think thinking is a good thing, but at the same time, I don't want to be struggling to figure out how to submit a web form!

Visitors to a website expect certain conventions, breaking these is a great way of losing visitors. People expect to find the navigation at the top of a page, or on the left hand side. Logos are mostly found on the top left. Much research has been conducted into how people view and use web pages. The good news is that you do not need to know all of this; instead, look at how larger companies, such as eBay, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft structure their pages, and the language they use, then emulate them.

website colourswebsite colours2. Limit Colours

A website using too many colours at a time can be overwhelming to many users, and can make a website look cheap and tacky. Any users with colour blindness, or contrast perception difficulties, may even be unable to use the site.

Limiting a palette to 2 or 3 colours, will nearly always lead to a slicker looking design, and has the added bonus of simplifying your design choices, reducing design time.

Software like Color Wheel Pro, can greatly simplify the creation of a pallet, by showing which colours sit well together. If you really do not have the eye for design, then software like this provides the perfect way of escaping monotone, or badly combined colour schemes.

If your site uses blue and yellow together, or red and green, then it may present problems to anyone suffering with colour blindness. Vischeck.com provide free software that can simulate different types of colour blindness.

Web fontsWeb Fonts3. Be Careful With Fonts

The set of fonts available to all visitors of a website is relatively limited. Add to that the possibility of a user having a visual impairment, then the options become even smaller. It is advisable to stick to fonts such as Arial, Verdana, Courier, Times, Geneva and Georgia. They may not be very interesting but your content should be more interesting than your font, and if it can't be read, what is the point of having a site?

Black text on a white background, is far easier for the majority of people to read, than white text on a black background. If you have large amounts of text, then a white or pale background is far more user friendly. Always ensure that there is a good contrast between any text and its background. Blue text on a blue background is okay, as long as the difference in shade is significant.

Verdana is often cited as being the easiest to read on the screen. Georgia is probably the best option for a serif font.

web design developmentWeb Design and Development4. Plan for Change

If you fix the height of your page to 600 pixels, will you still be able to add additional menu items, without completely redesigning your page?

The ability to add or remove content from a website is fundamental to the ongoing success of it. Having to rewrite the entire web page, or website, each time you want to make a small change, is a sure fire way to kill your interest in your own site, and will negatively impact your overall design and usability.

Getting a good idea of how your website is likely to grow, will clarify how best to structure your layout. For example, a horizontal navigation is often more restrictive than a side navigation, unless you use drop down menus; if your navigation is likely to grow, and you hate drop down menus, then your design choice has been 99% made for you!

Understanding how to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), avoiding unconventional layouts, and complicated backgrounds, will all help enormously.

5. Be Consistent

Again, don't make your visitors think! About how to use your site, at least. If your navigation is at the top on your homepage, it should be at the top on all other pages too. If your links are coloured red, ensure the the same convention is used on all sections.

By using CSS correctly, you can make most of this happen automatically, leaving you free to concentrate on the content.

holiday picturesNon Relevant Holiday Pictures6. Keep it Relevant

A picture is better than a thousand words, but if the picture you took on holiday is not relevant to your Used Car Sales website, then you should really replace it with something which reflects the content or mood of the page; a photo of a car perhaps!

If you can take something off of your web page without it adversely affecting the message, appearance or legality of your website, you should do it without hesitation.

Avoid the need to add images, Flash animations or adverts, just because you have space. This wastes bandwidth, and obscures the intentions of your website. If you absolutely must fill the space, then exercise your imagination to find something as relevant as possible.

Keeping your content focused will ultimately help your search-engine rankings

cascading style sheetsCSS-Cascading Style Sheets7. Become a CSS Expert

Cascading Style Sheets should be any web designer's best friend. CSS makes it possible to separate the appearance, and layout of your page, from the content. This has huge benefits when it comes to updating and maintaining your site, making your site accessible, and making your site easy for search engines to read.

CSS at a first glance is very straightforward but it is definitely worth investing in one, or more books. Two great books are: CSS the Missing Manual by David McFarland and Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm.

8. Avoid Complexity

Using standard layouts for your web page will save you development time, and make your site easier to use. Pushing the boundaries nearly always leads to quirky behaviour, cross-browser problems, confused site visitors, and maintenance headaches. Unless you really do like a challenge, then avoid complexity wherever possible.

Many standard layouts are freely available online with much of the boring, repetitive work already done for you.

The principles above all border on common sense, and are well known to most people, yet so many sites continue to deviate away from them, and suffer as a consequence. Following these principles will help you keep away from trouble, although it still doesn't guarantee it!

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Your Company's Web Site – Quality Approach

team plannning a websiteTeam Planning a WebsiteThis is the second segment of a three-part series that addresses the guidelines on how to plan, present and develop your company’s website. In part one; we explored the importance of having a professional website that represents your company online. In part two; we will identify the quality approach of planning your company’s website.

Designing and developing a quality website. When you hire a team to create or redesign your company’s website, keep in mind that the basic concepts of quality also apply. They are:

Continuous Improvement

Leave space to grow, and make what is good now, even better. Your company will improve through the years, and so should your website, but this does not mean you need a new design every year! Leave room for improvement; build a quality website that can be easily updated to reflect the changes in your company.

Value of Quality

A well-designed and developed website does not cost; it pays! This is an investment that will bring you return in the form of satisfied clients. On the other hand, the cost of a poorly developed website can be a price that most companies pay for unknowingly – that is the price of non-quality. If your company’s website reflects the high standards of your company, it will bring you more clients; however, if your company’s website does not mirror the image you are trying to build, it will drive visitors and potential clients away.

How to Build an Engaged Audience for Your WebsiteBuild an Engaged Audience for Your WebsiteVisitor Satisfaction

Nothing is worse than getting lost within in a poor quality website, or being on a site and unable to find the information you need. Or when text is difficult to read because of site colour combinations. Have you ever been frustrated after clicking on a link and finding that the page no longer exists?

These and other website issues reflect on your company’s image. If a website is not well built, it sends the message that your company is not well structured; if your website has dead ends, it suggests that your company is not well managed.

Raise the bar – provide a well-structured and well managed, quality website, and exceed your client’s expectations.

Problem Solving

A quality website must anticipate the needs of the visitor. Since a company representative is unavailable to deal with any prospective problems that may occur while a visitor is browsing your site, plan ahead and crosscheck all possible scenarios. Let’s translate this into Quality terms:

1. Define the problem: Make a list of potential problems users may experience when browsing your website. This will maximize the solutions and keep a quality focus.

2. Generate alternative solutions: Once potential problems have been identified, make a list of possible solutions that deal with each problem. Implement this procedure to ensure that your visitors have an enjoyable visit to your site.

find a solutionFind a Solution3. Evaluate and select alternatives: Choose a solution that is right for your website, to ensure that your target audience will know what to expect, should a problem arise, and how to use the feature you provided. It is unhelpful if the solutions you provide are causing a visitor more problems. Example: Your Company manufactures hardware and a website visitor would like a copy of your catalogue; you provide an online form for visitors to complete in order to receive the catalogue in the mail. Sufficient? Not really. It may take a week for that catalogue to reach your prospective client. Consider providing visitors with a version of the catalogue online that can either be printed or downloaded as a PDF.

4. Implement and follow up on the solution: Simply adding solutions will not fix the problem; you must ensure that each solution works. For example, if you request an online form to be completed in order to download the above-mentioned PDF catalogue, how can you be certain people are actually submitting the form? Are they finding it easy to complete? Are they hitting the “Submit” button and downloading the catalogue in PDF format? This is where “follow up” becomes important. But how can a company follow up if website visitors never submitted the form that would have allowed for an easy follow up in the first place? You (or your webmaster or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultant) should monitor the stats of your website and compare how many visitors your form page had, against the visitors your PDF catalogue page had. If you have 70% less visitors on your PDF catalogue page than on your form page, this would suggest a problem that has not been thoroughly solved.

planning a website designPlanning a Website DesignPlanning for the Future

Plan your website to grow with your company. When a facility is built to house a company for 10 years, plans include a good-sized parking lot, ideal kitchen facilities, more than one washroom, several plugs for countless electronic devices, etc. The same rings true for your website– it should be built to evolve. As products and services develop, or contact information changes, your website changes too. Build to grow!

Quality Website -- Quality Assurance and Quality Control

A website design company should ensure that a website will be built to the complete satisfaction of the client (you), and be customized to that client’s needs. Make sure your website is functional and user friendly, and that usability testing takes place. Usability testing is a form of website quality control, and it ensures that your site is visible by different types of browsers and that visitors will not get lost.

properly designed for all appsProperly Designed for All AppsSupplier Quality

Finally, a website design company must provide good service and a custom product that matches all your needs. This does not have to cost a fortune, nor does the company requesting a new or redesigned website need to be a large one. Ask questions before committing to a design team; make sure they understand your needs. Check their portfolio and references. Nothing speaks louder than current clients who are satisfied with the results of their new website.

Summary: Planning a quality website and seeking the company that will undertake its creation, is a major step in promoting your company, and the products and services you offer. The same care you take in planning the growth of your company, and the quality provided by the products and/or services you offer should be transmitted in a professional, well-planned website. List your priorities. Search for a good design company. Discuss your company needs, products and services. Plan for the future.

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How to Avoid the 12 Common Web Design Mistakes

Website Redesign ChecklistWebsite Redesign Checklist

Are people visiting your web site, but not buying? This may be a sign, and the time to do some redesign of your web site. Often you are so close to what you have created, that you can’t see obvious design mistakes. I have done the same when writing an article – everything looks fine when I have finished, yet when I review it the next day, I am amazed at how many mistakes I have made.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common Web Design mistakes:

1. Sloppy Web Site Copy – your heading and first paragraph should clearly indicate the purpose of your web site. “Content is King” on the Net, so make sure there is plenty of focused information for your visitors. The content should draw the visitor through the site, to take action in the end. Include contact information on every page in case people have questions..

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Quality Web Design

dont judge a book by its cover onlyDon't Judge a Book By it's Cover OnlyWe all know that first impressions count, and are lasting. The way people see your website on their first visit, is the way they will always see your website. That is the reason why your website must make a good first impression, and be compelling and attention grabbing.

People DO judge a book by its cover, so make sure that your website is relevant and engaging.

The vast majority of people now search online for products or services they need, and we all know that people land on your website and just glance at it, so if it has nothing to hold their attention, they will leave.

Your business needs to be online to attract potential clients and hold their attention, otherwise you risk losing out on a large customer base.

Not only must your home page be attention grabbing, it must also have a good relationship with the services and products you have to offer.  One very important factor to remember is that your website HAS to accurately reflect the best you have to offer.

The aesthetic appeal of your website is imperative to engaging the eyes of, and holding the attention of potential customers.  It takes a few seconds for a potential client to flick to your website and away, therefore your website must be attention grabbing, so be sure that it is interesting and informative and will encourage potential clients to remain on your website to read and browse.

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How Do I Choose a Web Designer for My Business?

web designHow Do I Choose a Web Designer for My Business?With the proliferation of the world wide web and independent businesses, it is literally a 'jungle' out there when it comes to locating affordable website design services. If you don't know the difference between a web host and a website, how are you supposed to figure out which web design company will be capable and worth the outlay from your fixed budget. Let's face it, start-ups, independent entrepreneurs and small businesses do not have the large budgets of corporations and every rand counts. Making informed decisions when it comes to your business' marketing expenditures can be the difference between business success and failure.

Having an online component for your company is an established low cost tool to build your company brand, keep in touch with your customers and reach out to new ones. Nielsen/Net Ratings found that the overall at-home global active Internet universe for 12 selected countries swelled by more than 2.8 million users from June 2004 to July 2004 bringing the total to 291,986,237 users. Having a website is necessary to reach these users.

Since I self-designed my first company website, my time was spent trying to figure out who should host my site, but the method of search is comparable with looking for a website designer: asking around, looking in search engines, poring through over 30 sites comparing services, prices and added value (if there was any). I didn't really know what I was looking for, even though I had some technical background, but in general I knew I wanted a host who was affordable and had good customer service. So, considering those of you who are starting from the beginning and need someone to help you Plan your site, Design it and Put it up for the world to see, there are specific concerns that you will need to address.

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