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Web Design Principles

Basically, users’ habits on the Web aren’t that different from customers’ habits in a store.  Visitors glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for.  In fact, there are large parts of the page they don’t even look at.

1.   Don't Make Users Think

Your web-page should be obvious and self-explanatory.  When you’re creating a site, get rid of the question marks -- the decisions users need to make consciously, considering pros, cons and alternatives.

2.   Don't Squander Users' Patience

Try to keep your user requirements minimal.  The less action is required from users to do something -- get information, try your software, etc. -- the more likely the random visitor is to actually try it out.  First-time visitors should not have to fill out a long web form for an account they might never use in the future.  Let users explore your site and discover your services without forcing them into sharing private data.

3.   Focus Users' Attention

Some aspects of the user interface attract attention more than others do.  Obviously, images are more eye-catching than the text -- just as the sentences marked as bold are more attractive than plain text.  Focusing users' attention to specific areas of the site with a moderate use of visual elements can help your visitors to get from point A to point B without thinking of how it actually is supposed to be done.

4.   Strive for Feature Exposure

Modern web designs are usually criticized due to their approach of guiding users with visually appealing 1-2-3-done-steps, large buttons with visual effects, etc.  But from the design perspective, these elements actually aren’t a bad thing.  On the contrary, such guidelines are extremely effective, as they lead the visitors through the site content in a very simple and user-friendly way.

5.   Make Use of Effective Writing

As the Web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits.  Promotional writing won’t be read.  Long text blocks without images and keywords marked in bold or italics will be skipped.  Exaggerated language will be ignored.

6.   Strive for Simplicity

The "keep it simple" principle should be a primary goal of site design.  Users are rarely on a site to enjoy the design; furthermore, in most cases they are looking for what they want despite the design.  Strive for simplicity instead of complexity.

7.   Don't be Afraid of White Space

You shouldn't underestimate the importance of white space.  Not only does it help to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors, but it makes it possible to better perceive the information presented on the screen.  When a new visitor approaches a design layout, the first thing he/she tries to do is to scan the page and divide the content area into digestible pieces of information.  Good utilization of white space helps with that process.

8.   Communicate Effectively With a Visible Language

A web site combines a number of factors to create a so-called "visible language" -- the content users see on a screen.  The tenets that should be used in creating this visible language are as follows

Organize:  Provide the user with a clear and consistent conceptual structure.  Consistency, screen layout, relationships and navigability are important concepts of organization.  The same conventions and rules should be applied to all elements.

Economize:  Do the most with the least amount of cues and visual elements.  Four major points to be considered: simplicity, clarity, distinctiveness, and emphasis.  Simplicity includes only the elements that are most important for communication.

Clarity:  All components should be designed so their meaning is not ambiguous.

Distinctiveness:  The important properties of the necessary elements should be distinguishable.

Emphasis:  The most important elements should be easily perceived.

Communicate: Match the presentation to the capabilities of the user. The user interface must balance legibility, readability, typography, symbolism, multiple views, and color or texture in order to communicate successfully.  Use a maximum of 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes, and a maximum of 18 words or 50-80 characters per line of text.

9.   Conventions Are Your Friends

Conventional design of site elements doesn’t result in a boring web site. In fact, conventions are very useful as they reduce the need to figure out how things work. Follow users’ expectations -- understand and make good use of what they’re expecting from site navigation, search placement, text structure, etc.  Innovate when you know you have a better idea, but take advantages of conventions when you don’t.

10. Test Early, Test Often

If you want a great site, you've got to test.

Testing one user is 100% better than testing none, and testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end.  Testing is an iterative process.  That means that you design something, test it, fix it and then test it again.


References / Sources:

"10 Principles of Effective Web Design", Vitaly Friedman, Smashing Magazine



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