Good design is invisible. When you use a well-designed spoon, you don’t notice the spoon—just the warm soup you’re enjoying. If you’ve ever actively considered the design of a spoon, it was probably due to a problem. The same design principle applies in the digital realm. Good website design doesn’t announce itself—it simply makes it easy to do what you’re trying to do.
This doesn’t mean that good design is passive: A quality website can persuade users to take a desired action without them even being aware of its influence. These best practices can help you design a beautiful, functional site that increases conversions and builds trust in your brand.
What is website design?
Website design refers to the choices that determine the front-end user experience of your website, including decisions about site structure, graphic design elements, page layouts, and navigational features. Essentially, it’s the process of arranging site content so that users can access, understand, and navigate your site with ease.
Why is website design important?
Effective website design can help build brand loyalty and trust, increase conversions, support your search engine optimization strategy, and encourage other desirable actions, such as signing up for marketing emails, exploring a new product line, and engaging with your brand on social channels. Poor site design, on the other hand, can frustrate website visitors and damage your brand image. It can also make it difficult or impossible for potential customers to purchase your products, even if they’ve already decided to do so.
Essential website design tips
- Keep design simple
- Meet expectations
- Consider font styles
- Add metadata
- Use color strategically
- Be responsive
- Optimize checkout page design to reduce cart abandonment
- Use internal links strategically
- Invest in photography
- Use a visual hierarchy
- Be consistent
The web design process has six steps: research, planning, design, implementation, user testing, and launch. Its main goal is to create an attractive, user-friendly site that reflects your brand identity and draws attention to your site’s most important elements. These web design tips can help you design a site that builds consumer trust and supports your business goals.
Keep design simple
Professional website designers tend to advise brands to opt for simple, clean designs. Avoid design elements without a clear and necessary function—i.e., don’t include an animated zebra on your homepage unless there’s a strong reason to do so. Opting for a simple homepage design can also help you focus user attention on critical information and navigational cues, making your site easy for users to understand and browse.
Brands often try to delight customers by surprising them, but when it comes to web design, there’s a strong case for being predictable. Users find prototypical websites—or sites that conform to their expectations about layout and function—to be more appealing than those that don’t.
While your site doesn’t need to look exactly like your competitors’ sites, you can improve the user experience by following web design standards. Think of this principle as related to visual simplicity: A prototypical design requires site visitors to spend less energy figuring out how your site works and allows them to focus on processing your unique content.
You can browse other websitesto get a sense of what a prototypical website looks like in your industry. Common standards include placing your logo in the top left corner, including main navigation and a search bar in the header, and placing social media icons in page footers.
Consider font styles
Best practices for website fonts include using no more than three different fonts and rendering each in no more than three sizes. Avoid difficult-to-read choices like script fonts and aim for high contrast between font color and background—if your website has a dark background, for example, opt for a white or light font color.
Metadata is information that tells search engines what your site is about. It includes page descriptions, titles, header tags, image alt tags, and featured image tags. Metadata doesn’t show up directly in your website’s design, but it can affect how information is returned by search engines and make it easier for users to navigate your content. Metadata can also make your site more accessible by supporting assistive technologies, which are tools that help people with disabilities access information online.
Use color strategically
Your brand guidelines might include primary, secondary, and tertiary color palettes, but that doesn’t mean that you need to use all 21 brand colors on your site. As a general rule, use no more than three colors (including white). Adopting a simplified color scheme can reduce visual complexity and heighten contrast between visual elements.
Mobile site traffic represents almost three-quarters of retail web traffic, and today’s devices come in all shapes and sizes. While early approaches to designing for mobile devices focused on creating different versions of a site for different aspect ratios, contemporary web design best practices emphasize responsive design. Responsive websites display well on any size device, so you can make sure that key features like a checkout button or navigation menu aren’t cut off for users who access your site via a device type you weren’t anticipating.
Optimize checkout page design to reduce cart abandonment
Ecommerce businesses can design checkout processes and pages to reduce rates of cart abandonment. According to surveys, 18% of consumers say they have abandoned a cart due to an overly complex checkout process, and 19% due to insufficient trust in payment processing security. Keep checkout pages simple, and consider using trust badges to increase consumer confidence in payment systems.
Use internal links strategically
Internal linking can boost your search engine results performance and help users navigate your website—but make sure you’re considering using links to guide users toward (and not away from) critical pages.
For example, you might link to product or service pages from a blog post, but it’s not a good idea to link from a product page to your blog: You might want potential clients reading about the 10 best rain boots for fall to visit a product page and add a pair of your boots to their cart, but you don’t want a user already browsing your products online to be rerouted back to the research phase.
In general, think about linking down the sales funnel rather than up. This means that product pages will typically only contain links to related products and add-to-cart buttons, and checkout pages will contain few (if any) links that can distract visitors from converting. If you want to recommend additional products from checkout, consider features that allow a user to add items to their cart without exiting the checkout process.
Invest in photography
Imagery can be an effective way to connect with your target audiences, promote your brand, and boost engagement with your site. Investing in high-quality photos can help you maximize these benefits.Craft the perfect product photography setup, and invest in a user-generated content strategy or hire a photographer to capture actual images of your clients and team.
Use a visual hierarchy
Visual hierarchy refers to the order in which users interact with different elements of a design, and it’s a key concept in both typography and designing visual page elements. The components of visual hierarchy include relative position, size, and visual contrast. Understanding how these elements affect user experience can help you make sure that visitors focus on the most important elements of your site. The bigger and more visually arresting an element is, the more important it should be.
Each site trains users on how to navigate it, so consistency is key to providing a good user experience. For example, if your homepage navigation bar is aligned to the top right, users will look for it there on subsequent web pages, and if your initial CTA buttons are orange rectangles, users will look for the same style for other CTAs.
Adopting a consistent website layout and style can make it easier for users to navigate your site while varying key website elements can cause users to miss visual cues or require them to use more mental energy to undertake a desired task.
Website design tips FAQ
What are the steps in web design?
The steps of a web design process are research, planning, design, implementation, user testing, and launch.
What are the principles of web design?
The three main principles of web design are consistency, simplicity, and ease of use.
What is the best way to lay out a website?
A good layout is clean, simple, and conforms to user expectations. You can browse competitor sites to get a sense of standard layouts for your site type.