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Website Design and Usability Guidelines & Best Practices

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
Website Design and usability

It is a no-brainer that a business in today’s time needs to have a website. However, with over 1.8 billion existing websites, how does one make sure that they stand out from the rest? You don’t want something that’s already been done but at the same time, you also don’t want a website that’s just pretty looking but has no real use. One of the main purposes of the website is to make customers’ lives better and add value to their lives. So, if you’re someone who’s building a new website for their business or thinking about redesigning your old website then you need to focus on website design and usability.

In this article, we’re going thoroughly explore the guidelines, best practices, and requirements for an exceptional web design.

Website Design Guidelines

1. Simplicity

While your website's aesthetics are unquestionably significant, most visitors aren't checking it out to see how sleek the design is. They seek to accomplish a task or discover a certain piece of knowledge. Unnecessary design components, or those that have no functional purpose, will therefore simply confuse and make it more difficult for visitors to achieve their goals.

Simplicity is your best friend from the viewpoint of usability and user experience. It's difficult to make a page too basic if you have all the required page components. This principle can be applied in a variety of ways, including:

  • Generally speaking, don't use many colors. The Handbook of Computer-Human Interaction advises keeping your design's color palette to a maximum of five (plus or minus two) different hues.
  • The typefaces you select should be quite readable; avoid anything too ornate and, if any script fonts are used, keep them to a minimum. Keep text colors to a minimum once more, and make sure they always contrast with the backdrop hue. Using a maximum of three different typefaces in a maximum of three different sizes is popular advice.
  • Use graphics sparingly and only when they are necessary to a user's ability to complete a job or carry out a certain function.

2. Graphical Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy, which is closely related to the idea of simplicity, refers to the positioning of website elements in such a way that users would naturally gravitate toward the most crucial ones first. It's important to keep in mind that the purpose of usability and UX optimization is to guide visitors toward taking the desired action in a way that seems natural and enjoyable. You can design your website such that readers are drawn to certain elements first by changing the size, color, or positioning of specific elements.

So, if you’re a business that’s offering some kind of discount or you have a message that needs to catch the audience's attention then keep it in the middle of the page in bold letters with colors that stand out. This is a sure way to catch anyone’s attention.

3. Navigability

To make it simpler for users to find what they're looking for on your website, it's imperative to develop user-friendly navigation. When someone visits your website, they shouldn't have to spend much time determining what to click. When going from point A to point B, there should be the least amount of resistance possible.

Here are some pointers for improving the navigation on your website:

  • The structure for primary navigation on your website should be kept simple and easily visible on the page. Ideally, place it near the top of the page.
  • Also, the footer of the website should also have navigation options.
  • Except for your homepage, use breadcrumbs on every page of the website to make it easier for the users to remember their navigation trail.
  • Always include a search bar on the top of the page to help your visitors search for keywords for the things they’re looking for.
  • We reiterate that you should keep your navigation simple. Don’t give too many navigation options on every page of the website.
  • Again, don’t make it complicated for your users. The point of navigation is to help your customers to go from one point to another on your website easier. Follow a website wireframe map to understand where everything should go.

Lastly, we’ll leave you with one last golden piece of advice. Keep your navigation consistent on every page. Your navigation buttons should look the same on every page of the website, and they should be placed in the same location on every page. (Ideally, near the top of the page)

4. Consistency

In addition to maintaining consistency in your navigation, all of your site's pages should have the same general look and feel. Consistency improves usability and user experience in areas like backgrounds, color schemes, typefaces, and even writing style.

Not every page needs to have the same layout, though. Instead, design distinct layouts for particular page kinds (e.g., landing pages, informational pages, etc.). Visitors will find it simpler to comprehend what kind of content they're going to see on a specific page if you use those layouts regularly.

5. Responsivity

A majority of the audience prefers to access a website from their mobile phones as it’s easily available to people at all times. Your website needs to be completely compatible with all the different kinds of devices a user might use such as laptops/desktop, mobile phones, tablets, etc. so that your users have a good experience. People often complain that the framework of a website, when opened via a mobile phone, gets distorted which leads to a bad user experience. Thus, while designing a website, you need to make sure that your website is responsive in design.

What we mean by building a responsive website is that the structure of your website should be highly flexible. When a visitor accesses a responsive website, the material is automatically downsized and rearranged to meet the specifications of the device they are now using. This can be achieved by building a dedicated website or one can use the HTML templates that are optimized for mobile devices. In the end, providing a fantastic experience across many devices is more crucial than having a consistent appearance.

It's worthwhile testing your website's cross-browser compatibility in addition to its mobile friendliness. Most likely, you've only ever used one web browser to visit your website, be it Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or another one. Open your pages in each of these browsers and check how your elements look. The presentation should be similar in most cases, but you won't know for sure unless you see it for yourself.

6. Accessibility

When we talk about accessibility, we mean building your website in a way that is easy to access for everyone, such as people who have any kind of disability or limitation that could affect their browsing experience. So, when you’re designing your website, you need to keep these things in mind and make sure you build a website that is easy to access for all.

When you’re thinking about making your website accessible, you need to take care of every factor such as the structure of the website, visuals, page format, as well as written and visual content. According to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), there are certain rules that designers must follow while designing a website-

  • Perceivable- This rule dictates that all visitors should be aware of the content on your website.
  • Operable- According to this rule there should be multiple different ways in which your website could function.
  • Understandable- According to this rule, all the content and alerts on your website should be easy to understand for everyone.
  • Robust- This rule dictates that your website should allow a user to access it from any device, technology, or browser of their choice.

7. Conventionality

Wanting to make your website different from other websites shouldn’t make you lose originality. One sign of a successful website is that it allows for experimentation while maintaining a few convectional originalities. Here are a few specific conventions that people have become accustomed to over time and which you should never change in your website design-

  • Always place the main navigation at the top of the page. (Middle or to the left side of the page)
  • Always place the logo of the website on the top of the page. (Left side or middle of the page)
  • Don’t forget to make your website logo clickable. Doing this would allow a visitor to always come back to your homepage whenever they click on the logo.
  • Also, it’s a good idea to have buttons and links that would change color when a user hovers their cursor over them.
  • If you’re building an eCommerce website, then placing a shopping cart on the top right corner of the page is a good idea. Also, the cart should have a number badge that would signify the number of items placed in the cart.
  • There should be buttons placed on image sliders to help people rotate the slides manually.

A lot of people have a misconception that they should completely change the way a website should look which makes them change everything about website design. However, these conventions have been there for years for a reason. Over time people have become accustomed to seeing their website a certain way, they expect the logo to be in a certain place, or the shopping cart symbol to be in a certain place. Thus, if you go about changing these conventions that might end up hurting your website instead of helping it.

8. Credibility

Your website is often the first thing a customer visits if they want to know your brand. Thus, if you want to build trust and credibility for your brand then you need to put extra effort while building your website. There are a few ways in which you can build your website which would influence the way a customer sees your website.

As already discussed above, along with originality, you need to follow a few conventionalities. If you place certain things where customers are used to seeing them then it builds credibility for your business. People often have a muscle memory when they are visiting a website online and they don’t like when certain things are changed too much such as the website logo, about me, certain links, etc.

If you are looking to build credibility for your brand, then you need to be upfront about everything on your homepage. Don’t make your users dig through your website for them to understand your business. Nobody has the time and patience to dig through multiple pages to get information about your business and it often builds mistrust if a business does that. Make sure to have an ‘About’ page linked on the homepage for easy access.

Additionally, we would advise that if you offer paid services then list the pricing on your website. Don’t make the user contact your sales team or make them send you a mail in order to get the pricing information. This would build mistrust and people often just leave a website if they have to put in additional efforts for no reason. Have the pricing page linked on the homepage of your website for easy access.

9. User-Centricity

The end goal of any website is to please the users and give them a good experience. In order to accomplish this, you have to design your website with a user-centric approach. The USD dictates that while building a website users should be considered from start to finish. You’re building the website for users so you must consult them and understand their needs.

A lot of designers believe they understand the audience this can lead to their downfall sometimes. The kind of users you attract can change from business to business, so if you’re building a website that’s generic and targets everyone then it might end up attracting no one at all. So, conduct surveys and get user opinions even before you start the designing process, and keep taking user feedback with every step of the process. Make changes to your design according to the feedback you’re getting.

Once you have your website ready, you need not test it by yourself as that would be a redundant process. Instead, have a focus group of your target audience check your website and make changes to it according to their feedback, after all, they are the ones who are going to use it.

We hope these guidelines have given you some idea of how to go about designing a website. Now, let’s move forward and discuss how one can put these guidelines into practice with the help of some businesses that have already done so.

Best Practices for Website Design

1. Use easy-to-read typography.

When we say typography, we are referring to the text content that appears on your website. The way a piece of content- characters, and letters are arranged on your website page is typography. The way a user perceives your brand highly depends on the kind of typography you select for your website. So, make sure the way you arrange the content on your website is easy to read, easy to skim if the user is in hurry, accessible to all users, and legible no matter what kind of screen or browser a customer is using to access the website.  

Moreover, the typography should coincide with the image and feel of your brand. Your content on your website is how your customer perceives your brand so it should match up to the image of your brand. For example, let’s take the example of Burberry which redesigned its logo in 2018 after 20 years. We’re sure there must be a reason why a brand as huge as Burberry decided to change the look of its logo. In the new logo, it went with the more modern choice of font I.e., Bold, All Caps, Sans Serif Typeface, and they decided to forgo their knight emblem. Having such a bold choice of typeface allows characters to be read easier and attracts more eyeballs. Also, having such a modern logo symbolizes the new changes that the company is going through to appeal to a younger audience base and become more transparent.

2. Select a color scheme that coincides with your brand image.

Similar to typography, the color scheme that you choose for your website determines the way a user perceives your brand. It not only influences the way one would interact with your website but how the user would feel about your business. Colors often play a significant role in influencing our moods and decisions, so make sure to choose a color palette that’s soothing to the eyes, but at the same time matches the image of your brand. It is essential that whatever color you choose makes it easier for the user to read the text on the website. People often make the mistake of using a color that washes out words and makes it difficult for the user to read anything.

To make you understand better we can take the example of BuzzFeed which brilliantly uses colors theory to attract users. Color theory dictates that every color makes a person feel a certain way. BuzzFeed mostly uses primary colors on its website to attract more eyeballs. They follow a color scheme of red and yellow colors which are known to attract people easily. Also, they use the primary color blue for their news links which is a brilliant idea because blue often evokes feelings of trust in people which is not a bad thing for a news website.

3. To separate text and other elements, use white space.

The empty spaces in any composition are referred to as whitespace. Whitespace offers consumers visual breaks as they consider the layout or content of a website, which is beneficial in more ways than one. Whitespace reduces interruptions, allowing people to concentrate, digest information, and comprehend what matters more easily.

Therefore, you can use whitespace to emphasize key aspects on the page and prevent information overload or analysis paralysis. This could encourage visitors to do something like subscribe to your newsletter, buy items from your newest collection, and other things.

For instance, Eb & flow Yoga Studio employs whitespace to guide visitors toward a certain action: registering for a three-week course. Keep in mind that whitespace does not imply a lack of color or images. In order to prevent overwhelming or confusing visitors, it implies that every element on the website is placed carefully, with plenty of space between them.

4. To give individuality and depth, use texture.

Textures are a big hit when it comes to website design as they replace the sensation of touch with sight. Web textures, which resemble a tactile, three-dimensional surface, attempt to simulate the tactile experience of touch through the use of sight. They're a fantastic design option for solid color backdrops, especially if you want to give your website some character and depth. These textures can be used on the homepage of your website to maybe announce a new sale or discounts that you’re offering. Placing an announcement in the form of textures is a sure way to attract some eyeballs.

For example, look at the texture on the Mony's Tacos website, which is situated in Santa Barbara. Isn't it like chalk writing on a blackboard? I don't know about you, but just by looking at it, I can nearly feel the chalk on my fingers. It's the ideal appearance for a restaurant that wants to become the go-to Mexican spot in California's Funk Zone.

5. To captivate and inform readers, including visuals.

Adding some images to your website along with textual content is a brilliant idea as it has proven to be more memorable, engaging, and informative. A lot of people believe that if we get information through a visual medium then our brain retains that information much longer, thus using visuals on your website would allow people to remember it longer and engage with it on a deeper level. According to statistics, people only retain 20% of what they read and 80% of what they see. The precise percentages are up for argument, but the fundamental concept isn't. Some people learn and process information more quickly when it is presented visually.

Here we can take an example of the banner image of the Maggie Rose website where they have brilliantly inserted relevant images in the middle of the text to enhance the design and at the same time use a visual medium to make their content more engaging. The images that they have used are highly relevant to their business and don’t take away from the messaging. On the contrary, having such visuals along with text only enhances the beauty of your website and enforces the message you’re trying to convey in a fun and engaging way.

6. Simplify Your Navigation.

Navigation is one of the most important aspects of building your website. When a user visits your website, they expect certain things regarding navigation and if they aren’t met then it might lead to you losing a potential customer. The main job of navigation is to make it easier for your users to go through your website without much trouble. It allows the user to jump to some information that they want to gain, or simply just browse your website. Thus, if your website’s navigation is too complicated then it might hinder the browser process and the user might just hit the back button and leave your website altogether. One of the most common navigation design people opt for is the horizontal navigation bar. In this bar, all the major pages are listed alongside each other in the website header.

You can take the example of Blavity. They use a horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page which features links to all the pages such as News, Op-Eds, Lifestyle, Video, BlavityU, Creators 100, Events, submit a story, and Sign Up. It also features a dropdown menu labeled ‘More’ that has all the links to pages that would’ve cluttered into the navigation bar. Having these links on the top of the page gives the user easy access to all the pages on the website. Moreover, the navigation bar is sticky, so you don’t have to scroll up and down to access it.

7. Make your CTAs stand out.

The CTAs or call to action is the elements on the page that asks the user to perform a certain action. CTAs are proven to be quite beneficial when one wants the user to perform a certain task or redirect them to a certain page. The actions that a CTAs could ask a user to perform can range from asking them to subscribe, sign up, learn more, start a free trial, etc.

When it comes to CTA you don’t want it to blend in with the background or be invisible on the website. The main function of a CTA is to attract a user to perform a certain task which makes it obvious that the CTA should stand out on the website. To accomplish this, you can apply tricks such as using bright and bold colors for the CTA and making the surrounding images, background, and other text a little lighter in color. This would help the CTA pop out from the rest.

We can use the example of the SquareUp brand that showcases an excellent CTA on its homepage. SquareUp displays multiple CTAs on their homepage that compels the user to click and take them to different pages. It shows the ‘Get Started’ CTA that takes the user to the sign-up page, and the ‘contact sales’ CTA that takes the user to the customer support page. They show these CTA in bold typography with a white background that helps the text to pop out. The blue color of CTA raises the feeling of trust in the user and compels them to click on the CTA button.

8. Optimize for mobile.

As we’ve already discussed earlier, it’s really important that you build your website to be responsive to all different kinds of devices and search engines. According to several studies, most users open a website on their mobile phones as they are always handy, and one doesn’t always have a computer screen around. As per a recent report, over 59% of organic searches on websites were coming from mobile devices which makes it inevitable that we optimize our websites for mobile devices.

What we mean when we say that your website should be optimized is that it should be highly flexible. The components on your website screen should be flexible enough to arrange themselves according to the screen the website is being accessed on such as mobile, laptop, tablets, etc. You can go as far as removing the access elements that might clutter the mobile screen if the website is opened on a mobile.

If you need an example to study, then open Etsy’s website on your laptop and mobile screen simultaneously. Etsy is one of the many brands that have succeeded in optimizing their website for mobile screens. When accessed through a computer, the website shows different categories in a nav bar and when one hovers over each category there’s a dropdown menu that appears on the screen. On the other hand, when a user accesses the same website through a mobile, the categories collapse behind a hamburger button that significantly improves the functionality and appearance of the website. The category images are also larger in size which makes it easier for the user to tap on them with their fingers.

9. Offer limited options to users

Lastly, we’ll leave you with the thought that you mustn’t offer too many choices to the users. According to Hick’s Law, if a person is presented with a lot of choices, then it takes them that much more time to come to a conclusion. So, if you’re presenting users with too many choices on your website then it can lead to confusion for the user. And if a user is confused then they might make a decision that’s not in the favor of your business, such as leaving items in the cart before making the transaction, or even worse, they might just decide to leave the website altogether. Thus, it becomes essential that you present the users with limited options.

To understand this further, let’s take an example of Shawn Michelle’s Ice cream. It is the perfect example of giving limited options to users to not overwhelm them with information. This website provides information on three things- learn about the company, the ingredients, and ice cream flavors. Now, the way these options are provided is quite innovative. Instead of providing all the information at the same time, there are three banners that keep sliding on the homepage of the website. Using this method makes for a great UX design along with providing limited options to the users.

Requirements for Website Design

Now that we’ve covered the website design guidelines and best practices, let's move forward and discuss a few elements that should not be missed while building a website.

  • Header and Footer

Almost every contemporary website has a header and a footer. Try to include them on the majority of your sites, including your homepage, blog posts, and even the page that says, "No results found."

Your header should include your branding in the form of your organization's name and logo, menu navigation, and, if it's well-spaced and basic, a CTA and/or a search box. On the other hand, many users will automatically scroll to the bottom to find important information. Contact details, a signup form, connections to your common pages, privacy and legal notices, links to other languages' versions of your site, and social media links should all be included in your footer.

  • Menu Navigation

Every website needs a navigational aid at the top of at least your homepage and other crucial pages, whether it be a list of links across the header or a neat and small hamburger button in the corner. Only a few clicks are required to access any area of your website thanks to a solid menu.

  • Search Bar

Consider adding a search bar to the top of your pages in addition to your menus so that visitors can browse your site's content using keywords. Make sure your results are pertinent, tolerant of typos, and capable of approximate keyword matching if you decide to use this functionality. The majority of us regularly use a reliable search engine, whether it's Google, Amazon, YouTube, or another one. The criteria for your own web search are established by these.

  • Branding

Recall the customs we talked about earlier. A logo in the upper left corner is one that is present almost everywhere. Many visitors' eyes automatically travel to this area after landing to make sure they are where they should be. Don't just let them dangle.

Use your company's branding in every element you add, the piece of content you upload, and the color scheme you design to support this idea. For this reason, if you haven't done so before, we advise creating brand rules. You can use our style guide as a guide.

  • Color Palette

The color scheme you choose has a big impact on how usable and appealing your website is. In comparison to the other qualifications on this list, this choice is typically more subjective. But like with everything else we've spoken about, try to keep things simple. Choose no more than three to four bright colors.

It might be quite challenging to create a color palette from scratch for the first time. We seem to have a natural sense of which colors go well together and which don't, but we struggle when faced with limitless possibilities.

The answer? Consider using a color scheme that has been successful on other websites. Start by looking at the list of our favorite website color schemes and drawing inspiration from your favorite websites.

  • Headings

In particular, on text-heavy pages, headings are essential for creating the visual hierarchy we described before. A direct and concise headline signals readers to stop scrolling after they have found what they are looking for as consumers scan your pages to get the information they need. Use as few heads as there are separate sections on your page; using more enlarged and bolded text will lessen this effect.

  • Clear Labels

When a person uses your website, it must be clear exactly what they are doing and/or where they are going at all times. Each button should have a distinct icon or clear text indicating what it is for. The same is true for widgets and in-text links (simple interactive elements, like dropdowns and text forms).

Any additional text (such as "See our prices" or "Check out the pricing page for a bargain") on a button leading to a pricing page, for instance, should simply state "Pricing." A search bar or button just has to display the phrase "Search" and the search glass icon () to indicate what it is intended to do.

Here, user testing can be of great use. While you are aware of what each of your interactive page elements does, a new user may not be. Testing will provide insightful information about what consumers perceive your labels to mean beyond your own viewpoint.

  • Visuals and Media

Be consistent and deliberate in your selections when adding static photos, animated gifs, videos, and other media to your pages. Choose carefully because these components will stand out more than most other text and probably stick in consumers' memories.

Here is just one illustration of a good homepage video. Observe how each image enhances the aesthetic of the page and supports the promise of individualized fitness training that produces results.

Additionally, for accessibility and search engine optimization, every image and video should have meaningful alt text.

  • Call to Actions

It's fantastic to have a visually appealing website, but how do you know whether your visitors are actually acting in the way you want? Do they respond to your content? Here is when CTAs are useful.

Any page component that calls for user action is a CTA. The activity can involve downloading a content offer, adding goods to a card, or joining an email list. Remember our Spotify example? Make your CTA elements stand out in the visual hierarchy without being invasive or annoying, which is how many click-through ads are often designed.

See our list of CTA examples if you need inspiration for visually appealing CTAs that increase conversions.

  • Whitespace

As was already stated, sometimes it's about the components you exclude. After reading these recommendations and specifications, you might be tempted to stuff your pages with all the components necessary for a faultless user experience. Remember that your audience needs time to process all of this new information, so allow your elements space to breathe.

How much whitespace, though, is ideal? That's another individual decision that differs from site to site. User testing is useful in this situation also. What is everyone concentrating on? Do they feel overpowered by the volume of the content? Everything comes full circle to our fundamental principle, simplicity.

Conclusion

We hope all the guidelines and best practices mentioned above will help you design your perfect website. Include everything mentioned in the requirements sections to make sure you’re not missing out on anything important. However, if all this seems overwhelming and complicated to you then you always have the option to hire a web developer or use a website builder.

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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