We all have or have heard about those clients from hell, those that really love pink pages with red text. Even worse, what about those people who call themselves “web designers” with expensive prices and services listed on their really messy, horrible and amateur portfolios, just because they made their uncle’s business page and they liked it. Unfortunately, many people believe that web design is all about personal style and smart IDE’s with pre-built buttons. Let me tell you something – they are wrong. I love to play football, but that doesn’t make me a professional player, and Dreamweaver does not make you a professional web developer. Web Design and development demands knowledge, practice, daily effort to learn and study, and passion, like professional football players. (Design conventions: Necessary guidelines in order to improve a specific design.) No matter how good or bad personal style is, the truth is that everyone has one. However, when design conventions are left out of a project, the result will be a bad or uninteresting design. That is exactly what happens with those terrible clients, when they try to implement their personal style without knowing anything about design conventions.
Balance is a basic principle in design. It is directly connected to every element, and helps you control the design flow of your page. There are two important concepts in balance – symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. With Symmetrical Balance, elements have equal weight on both sides, leading to a formal and traditional web site, however, with asymmetrical balance, elements have a different weight which leads to a different and unique layout. I decided to include this topic because its importance is major in layout design. If incorrectly used, it can lead to the total ruin of your layout. Above is a good example of asymmetrical balance. Did you notice the “DECO Windshield Repair” text on the right, and the background map image on the left? Although those elements do not have the same weight, it feels perfectly balanced. However, if you hide the text on the right, the page will lose its balance very quickly. Now take a look at the white bottom section, those three columns don’t have the same weight, but it’s perfectly balanced because the left text (“You can’t be everywhere…”) has equal weight as the top right text on the red background. The result is a “cross balance”, meaning that the weaker and strong elements create a balance between them. I consider this to be of huge importance in asymmetric balance. The website above fails in so many ways that I could use it as example in the remaining nine topics below, but let’s stay focused on this one. Do you feel the balance? Yes, you are correct, there is no balance. The left side has plenty of images plus a video of the person standing, which results in the left side having more weight than the image on the right.
2) Bevel and Emboss
I had to include this one. It’s really annoying to see the misuse of this layer style. For those who are starting, I understand that you think bevel and emboss is a nice effect and it should be everywhere on your page, but it’s not. Bevel effects should be used sparingly. There are plenty of tutorials on how to transform bevel and emboss into a powerful technique, but if you don’t know how to use it, don’t use it at all.
3) Distracting Backgrounds
Implementing a busy background distracts the user’s attention, hides important information, and disrespects visual hierarchy. If your background image has a higher visual impact than everything else, users won’t catch the message of your website and will leave quickly. John Kavanagh’s website makes good use of background images, respecting visual hierarchy and also content information. Reading is left to right, and in this case, the user’s attention follows the buildings on the left towards the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge on the right, consequently leading to navigation (which is not visible in the image). This is a perfect example of how background can be used as a “tool” for design flow. Above is a perfect example of what not to do with your background.
4) Lack of Detail
If your website sucks, it’s probably because you didn’t care about the minor things. When you think your design is complete, you need to start from the beginning and try to apply detail on every single element. As soon as you finish with detail, you need to start again and consider where it can be improved. A single stroke, light effect, or shadow makes the difference between a good and a great design. Blackberry’s website is a good example of what you can achieve by spending time with details. Detail, detail, detail. For a company with the size and impact of Microsoft, their website is far from great. It’s definitely a good example of lack of attention and detail.
5) White Space
White space refers to the space between elements, and it does have nothing to do with the color. If you don’t know what I am talking about, stop your design projects and read about this subject – How to Actually Use Negative Space As Design Element. White space defines the space/distance between your site elements, providing good readability, focus, and design flow. It also gives your website a clean and professional look. Clean layout is not the same as minimalist, think about clean as the opposite of cluttered where content is all over the place. One other thing you should consider is to use the same height between elements, so if you have three divs vertically aligned, and the middle div is 50px from the top div, it should also be 50px from the bottom div. This is not mandatory, but helps you achieve a good balance between elements. Uberspace’s website makes good use of white-space. Just looking at the image above, gives me a headache. The quantity of information is overwhelming, but the way it is displayed is even worse. Cluttered information makes the user feel lost and unhappy. Avoid it!
6) Flash Intros
Once upon a time, having a flash intro in your website would make you a web design ninja. There are plenty of great intros out there, and plenty more of really bad attempts. Nowadays, most visitors want quick access to information and when you demand them to wait, they leave. If you want an intro in your website, make sure it has a point, it adds value and that it is well made.
So I have my headphones on, I open several tabs, and suddenly I jump from the chair because irritating music starts playing. I then search for the correct tab and when I find it, I search for the mute button and guess what, there isn’t one. I don’t want to mute my speakers so I close the page and I won’t return to that loud place. Loud and boring music coming from your website is really annoying, but not having a way to shut it down, is an exit ticket from your website.
This is a controversial topic, some people defend the use of tables and others not so much. This topic is not meant to convince you not to use tables, but to use tables when and where you should. Personally, I do not remember the last time I’ve used tables, I simply don’t like it. However, for tabular data, tables are the best choice, since it increases readability and organization. Shopify’s pricing page is a good example of how great the use of tables can be for tabular data. Never use tables to style your layout!
The wrong choice of colors can ruin an entire website. Contrast, saturation, types of colors, target audience, style, etc. There are many factors you need to consider when choosing the right colors for your website. If you don’t know where to start, Tina wrote a great article about this subject – Colors in Web Design: Choosing a right combination for your Website. Using too many bright colors, or a similar contrast for your background and foreground elements, or even warm colors along with cool colors, you are basically forcing your visitors to leave. Color needs to fit perfectly, according to your target audience, style and personality. If you enter the website above, please be sure to use sunglasses.
Unless you’re building a website with horizontal layout, showing a horizontal scroll bar is a mistake and looks bad. Make sure your layout is optimized for a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, this way 98% of your visitors will be able to visit your website without problems. If you really want to use a bigger background image, be sure you hide the horizontal scroll bar, using the CSS property overflow-x: hidden.
I hope you have found this article useful. I’m preparing part two, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to make them.