Remember back when this whole internet thing really took off, and any fool with an Angelfire or Geocities account could make a website? Those were the days: gaudy fuschia backgrounds with florescent text, run-on sentences, flashing buttons, automatic music players, frames that didn’t work — it was a time of great experimentation (and great failure), and I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty glad it’s over (for the most part, anyway. There are still some pretty bad offenders out there.)
Unless you’re competing for an illustrious “Worst Website Ever” designation, here are some tips to avoid design that seriously pisses people off (remember, good design is good business):
Make It Readable
Don’t use images as backgrounds (especially if they’re patterns — please avoid them at all costs), and if you can avoid it, don’t put red text on black. White backgrounds are probably your best bet, unless you happen to be the Tim Gunn of web design and you possess your own magical calculus for this sort of thing (in which case, what are you doing reading this, anyway?). Avoid lots of text — and if you do get occasionally wordy, make sure to break it up with lots of white space. Use a normal font size (you usually can’t go wrong with making it a bit big, but too small is always a no-no.) Oh, and no Comic Sans, please. This isn’t your grade school book report cover.
Avoid Flashy Multimedia — Or At Least Tone It Down
The number one cardinal sin of web design: too much content on the page. A webpage shouldn’t be flashy enough to induce a seizure in anyone, even your arch competitor. Java scrollers, GIFs, autoplay, talking images, counters, bouncing balls, whatever. I don’t care if your very best friend in the entire world designed an extra-special customizable sparkly doodad just for your site — kill it dead, now, and lock it in an internet vault somewhere. Keep it simple, and remember that content is king. All that other stuff just distracts people, and it’s ultimately bad for business; especially if it’s maddeningly ugly.
Make Content Immediately Available
If I have to click through a graphic, a mission statement, and two pages of customer testimonials to get to what I’m looking for on your site, then I’m probably too pissed off to buy anything at this point anyway. Try to keep everything organized on as few pages as possible, and get straight to the point (i.e., no splash or “welcome” pages.)
If You Can’t Build It, Use A Template
Some wise man once said, ‘Those who can’t do design, use templates.” It’s true. If you can’t design, or can’t find a decent contractor, then it’s template time for you. WordPress is a popular platform, and a quick Google search shows a number of different options, as well. Content Management Systems like Joomla are easily customizable, and are a good back-end system for sites with a ton of information to organize. They’re low-cost, user-friendly, and professional.
Make Navigation Easy
To reference Tim Gunn once more, you have one job in your design: “Make It Work.” Make sure to have a menu on every page, and have a way to get back “home” on every page, too. Be sure to make this clear as some users don’t realize that simply clicking on the company logo will take them back to the home page. Don’t forget to put your contact information (address, phone, fax) on the top or bottom of every page, as well.
Use Decent Graphics
Here’s a shocker: Microsoft Clip Art doesn’t impress anyone. If you must use graphics on your site, use them sparingly; and for the love of everything good and true in this world, use quality ones (nothing blurry, nothing tasteless.) You don’t need to hunt for the web graphic equivalent of a Michaelangelo original, but putting some thought into your image presentation certainly won’t kill you or your business.
Make Your Site Accessible to Everyone
If you want a wide audience, your site will need to be compatible with as many browsers as possible. Don’t make your page too wide — make sure your design can fit in an 800 x 600 screen as well as a 1024 x 768 one. Set a line-length limit as well, as some users’ browsers won’t expand to fit your content. Rather than being angry and/or shunning a customer with somewhat antiquated technology, be flexible. You’ll do better business that way.
So there you have it — if you stick to these handy design tips, you’ll likely avoid pissing anyone off (except maybe your mother, but she’s never satisfied with anything you do anyway.) Good luck designing your masterpiece!