Occasionally, a company (or individual) will attempt to design his or her own website. Sometimes, this works. Sometimes it doesn't. The most common opinion I hear from people is “The more graphics, colors and typefaces, and styles… the more it will stand out to our visitors and potential customers”. The truth is: The expression “less is more” carries so much more weight in website design than most people realize.
Of course, depending on the type of site we are discussing, there are other things that may be required such as a shopping cart, search fields, interactive forms, galleries, etc. These are somewhat secondary and are more relevant to the intricate design process and programming. Here I will be addressing this preliminary and simple list of 5 Basic Rules to Follow in Website Design, in order to be successful:
1. Ease of navigation
This is huge. My belief is that a user should be able to navigate to any section in the site from anywhere in the site. If you need to have drop-down menus in your navigation, the go for it! They are common and easy to create and use. The easier you make your site's navigation, the more likely he'll stay. If a user has to click “back” in order to figure out where he/she is, then you may risk losing them. It's always a good thing when people don't have to search for ways to navigate through your site.
2. Crucial info above the fold
“Above the fold” is a term that originated with newspapers. You'll notice that your newspaper has the most hot and crucial information on the front page above the fold (since most newspapers are folded in half). That doesn't mean that the stuff below the fold isn't important; it's just not looked at first. The same rule applies to websites. When someone lands on/finds your site, you want to be sure the most important information and/or messages are immediately visible. Engage the visitor right away with your message. Yes, people do scroll but if someone found you in a Google search (among countless other results), and your site requires scrolling in order for the visitor to find what they are looking for… you will most likely lose them. It's all too easy to click the back button and lose your site forever.
3. No more than 2-3 typestyles
Typography in website design can be tricky if you're trying to do things yourself. Some people think that if they use different typestyles (fonts) to exaggerate some words, and then maybe mix it up by adding some funky colors, they'll grab the viewers attention. Then, there are bolds, italics and some other fancy effects. The result? A very busy, messy and confusing site. Once again the “less is more” theory comes into play. If you max out at 2-3 typestyles in your site's design (and I'm not talking about Comic Sans mixed with Times and Arial), the site will have a much cleaner and consistent look. The titles, content and other information should not vary in appearance. Just like with any other type of marketing or advertising, when the visuals are consistent, the message is more memorable.
4. No flashy intro pages
At one time, Flash intro pages were the hot trend. Everyone wanted a cool Flash movie to “wow” their visitors. The page would have nothing but a cute little movie that the viewer was supposed to just love watching before entering the rest of the site. Lots of fun, right? Well, here's what happens: Many Flash movies take a few seconds (sometimes more) to load. There is no other content on the page except that “loading movie” animation. So, the visitor can either wait to see what's loading, or he can just exit and move on. Sometimes there is a little “skip intro” button on this Flash intro page. My question is: if you have a Flash movie that takes just a few too many seconds to load and need to add a “skip intro” button in order to enter the actual website, then what is real point of the Flash intro? If you insist on a Flash intro, then make sure that it loads fast, includes a “skip intro” button, and that you have some other interesting information on the page to occupy the visitor during his wait. The last thing you want is to annoy him causing him to leave and never return.
5. No music, or “sound on/off” option
I love music. I listen to it all day long. But, if I have to turn down MY music in order to hear your music (that I may not be fond of), as a web-browser… I will not be happy. If I'm in a quite place and land on a page that has blaring sounds and/or music, WHOA, I'm outta there faster than I found the site. Best practice is to offer a “sound on/off” button and keeping the default at “off”. Allow your visitor to feel as though he has the option to enable the sound. I've even spoken with potential employers who receive website submissions that have sound and have been told “I immediately disqualify them from candidacy”. Sure, as a job seeker, this sounds incredibly unfair, but think about it. You have but one second to make a first impression. It takes years to gain respect, followers, customers, etc… and a second to lose them.