10 Top Principles of Effective Web Design

Be it fortunate or not, it’s more important that your website’s design pleases your customers more than you. While this can seem pretty harsh, it’s the truth that every web design agency knows. If your website isn’t pleasing to your customers, they won’t stick around long enough to see what products or services your business offers.

When you start creating your website, there are some important principles to keep in mind in order to ensure your design is effective.

#1. Limit Your Users’ Available Choices

While it may seem backward, limiting what your users can choose between is in your best interest. Providing too many choices can overwhelm them and they may end up feeling like they need more time to decide. 

This is a psychological principle that comes into play more often than you might think. Barry Schwartz’s book describes this concept in-depth, but the simple idea is that too many choices may surprisingly lead to lower customer satisfaction. 

Very few websites will offer more than two simple choices to a question or task. Users are often presented with either cancel or continue, yes or no. The choice is much easier when your users don’t have to consider more options.

With limited choices and quicker decisions, your customers will feel like they find the answers they want quickly. It also makes your website look cleaner and less distracting when only two options appear instead of several.

#2. Put Usability First

No matter how aesthetically pleasing your website is, it’s useless if it isn’t easy to navigate and use. With this in mind, it’s vital that you focus first on the usability of your site and save aesthetics for later.

To increase your website’s usability, take the time to plan and create a robust UI design. Navigation should be intuitive and each action should follow a sensible route. This includes search options. Allow users to sort their searches by a variety of criteria so they can quickly find what they want.

#3. Use Familiar Logic

Even though you want your website to be unique, you should always follow familiar logic. If you design your website too abstractly, users won’t know how to navigate it and end up getting lost. Keep the basics of your website similar to every other website.

In this same sense, make sure any icons you use do what users expect them to. If your website is about home design, don’t use a house icon for a link that will take users to a page talking about designing their dream home. A house icon is typically what users click on to return to the home page.

Following familiar logic with icons and page pathways helps users know where they are on your site and increases usability. 

#4. Keep Content Emphasis Clear

Users will take in a lot of subtle clues when they read your content. Whether you choose to bold, highlight, underline, or otherwise mark important content, you shouldn’t try to overdo it. When you decide to emphasize something, keep it simple and keep it clear. 

This is especially important for your visually impaired users. Too many emphasis markers can distract from the content. Fortunately, there are ways to keep content clear while still emphasizing it.

#5. Group Related Elements Together

People love grouping things together. Because of this, if you place certain elements together, your users are going to subconsciously assume those elements are related. This may not always be true, though, and is easy to avoid.

Keeping related elements together improves the usability and navigation of your site, but it also means that you’ll need to take care to separate non-related elements. Add some extra space between unrelated items and organize your website so that your groupings are clear.

A prime example of keeping unrelated elements separate is with your calls-to-action and your menu links. You wouldn’t want to put a CTA right next to a menu link as your users might misunderstand its function. By using different formatting and distancing the two, you’ll prevent a lot of confusion.

#6. Engage Users

How you engage users has changed over time. Stock photos are being replaced with more unique photos and businesses are taking a much more down-to-earth approach. By showing human faces and publishing straightforward, honest content, you’re much more likely to see users engage in your website as they feel like your business understands them.

User engagement is vital to the growth of your website. You should focus on creating an engaging space for your users right from the start or you may face difficulties later on.

#7. Divide Content

Divided content is easier to find and locate. If you have a large chunk of content, dividing it will make it easier for users to navigate.

Dividing your content can mean creating multiple blocks or sub-pages. If you have a handful of headings in your top menu, separate them further into subheadings so that users aren’t met with an overwhelming amount of information.

#8. Warn Users About Irreversible Actions

When you have a certain action that is irreversible on your website, you should always warn users before they confirm it. In some cases, users may not realize that the action they’re trying to complete can’t be undone. Providing an extra message gives them a moment to think before they act.

The most common example of an irreversible action is when a user deletes their account. In most cases, users are aware that this action can’t be undone. Never assume that they do, however. They’ll always expect a confirmation and when they don’t get one, it can be concerning or surprising.

#9. Use the F-Pattern Design

Never heard of it? That’s okay. It’s a very simple way to remember how to align your text so that it’s easy to read.

There have been numerous studies done that show how users are likely to read content. The design rule states that readers will typically read from left to right and top to bottom. What this means for your content is that any horizontal text should be focused more towards the left whereas any vertical text should read from the top down.

The term “F-pattern” is used to help web designers remember the directions. Just think of the way you draw an “F”.

#10. Keep It Mobile Friendly

More and more users are accessing the internet from their phones and mobile devices every day. While laptops aren’t at risk of being replaced, a large enough number of users only use their phones that a mobile-friendly website should be one of your priorities. 

While your mobile site should still resemble your regular site, you’ll have to make some adjustments so that it’s easy to use from other devices and users are still able to intuitively navigate it.

Make It Pretty, But Keep it Functional

Web design is all about the balance between function and aesthetics. If a website isn’t aesthetically pleasing to your users, they won’t be drawn in. However, an aesthetic website that isn’t functional can be frustrating. By employing the top 10 principles above, you’re well on your way to success.