The basics of web design - part 2: creating a user-friendly website

Any website needs to be user-friendly as well as visually appealing. Visitors expect certain standards that website designers should be aware of when working on a project. How a page displays on different devices and screen sizes also influences the user experience. After all, more and more users are accessing pages with mobile devices. These trends should be taken into account to ensure that navigation is as seamless as possible.

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What makes a user-friendly website?

The user-friendliness of a website is one of the main components of software ergonomics. Also known as usability engineering, this discipline refers to the ease with which users are able to access and navigate a given web presence, be it desktop, mobile or tablet. An easily understandable and quick-to-operate website is what counts the most when it comes to user-friendliness. Adhering to the conventional design norms and making sure to stay up to date on technical requirements are two central principles that should never be overlooked. Here are the characteristics to consider when developing a user-friendly website.

1. Accessibiliy

A website’s accessibility plays a significant role in user-friendliness. An accessible web presence is characterized by its ability to be used by anyone, regardless of physical, cognitive, technical, language, or other constraints.

2. Design

The optical design of a website always depends on its respective topics and the sector that it is being created for. Website layouts are also distinguished from one another according to industry-specific trends and styles. While large companies mostly rely on the typical bag of old school web design tricks (encompassing the usual features such as multiple language options and a navigable page header or sidebar), smaller companies are increasingly beginning to favour scrolling websites.

There are well-established conventions for web design and these determine the look and feel of a modern website. The design of many contemporary websites has been strongly influenced by the user interfaces of social media platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Orientating your layout on already-established structures is therefore advisable, as most users are familiar with such interfaces. Whereas playful animation and other gimmicks once constituted the basis of modern design, today’s ideal demands a much sleeker and orderly design. However, separating yourself from the herd with a bit of extra pizzazz never hurts.

3. Structure

A clear and easy-to-follow structure is the most important guideline to follow when creating an optimal layout for your website. Pages with too much content can cause users to lose their orientation, which might result in fewer hits and a decrease on your company’s bottom line. It is precisely for this reason that it is so important to make sure the content of your site is evenly distributed. Drafting succinct, easily readable texts of appropriate lengths are practices that go hand-in-hand with a structured and well-balanced layout. Longer texts need to be separated with paragraphs and titles. Pictures and videos should be efficiently integrated into the site’s structure and follow a common theme. The easier it is for a user to navigate your website, the more they will prefer to stay there.

4. Navigation

The same things that apply to a site’s looks, also count for its navigation. Again, the most important guideline here is to maintain clear and simple routing throughout the site. Good navigation is characterised by quick and intuitive use, users should be able to immediately recognise and understand menu structures. One navigation bar usually suffices, and keeping menus down to a simple structure comprising of main menus and sub menu points is ideal. Pop-up menus should be straight forward to use, and should never hinder the main goal of achieving a clear and unified navigation structure.

Menu points should easily be recognised as such, and navigation links should include the use of icons. Implementing a hover effect that changes the appearance of these features when the cursor is over them is also an option.  Submenu points furthermore need to be clear and outfitted with concise labelling.

5. Technical aspects

The technical implementation of a website is incredibly important. A flawless set-up of all the page’s content is crucial for guaranteeing smooth use. Make sure that all content is properly maintained. Display and loading errors come across as unprofessional and discourage users from returning to the site. Content that requires robust computing capacity can lead to long and irritating loading times that quickly burn through users’ patience. Regular test-runs of the site prove to be valuable, as they help ensure that you discover shortcomings before somebody else does.

6. Device compatibility

A website should be accessible for every device that is compatible with internet use. For this reason, platform independence and accessibility of a website are vital for any web presence. This allows a site to be accessed regardless of the operating system on the user’s end. Uncommon software should not be employed to display content just as requiring excessive computing capacity should be avoided, as this could potentially prevent users on less technically endowed devices from accessing the site.

7. Responsive design

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices with internet access means that today’s websites need to be in tune with the various demands of all devices, not just desktops. Not long ago, most websites relied on static layouts. Pages designed in this fashion are rigid and don’t fit well into the size of a given display, making it especially difficult for mobile users to gain an appropriately sized overview of the site’s content.

Responsive web design offers a much more flexible solution that allows the structure of internet sites to be adjusted to the individual screen sizes of various devices. This technique strives to use the available space of a display in the best possible way. In contrast to static or adaptive web design, responsive web design employs a variable design grid. Not only does this type of format automatically adapt to whatever screen size is being used, it also presents all the most important navigation elements of a site in the foreground. This convenient aspect increases the usability of a website, regardless of the device being used.

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Common web design mistakes

Here is a list of mistakes that you should avoid if you want to ensure a user-friendly site:

  • Pop-up windows: It wasn’t long ago that clicking one link opened up another, smaller window. Many users nowadays avoid pop-up windows by deactivating them through browser extensions.
  • Missing contact information: Offer users as many ways as possible to get in contact with you and make sure that your contact information is easy to find.
  • Dead links: Dead links are irritating and increase bounce rates. Once you’re finished with your site, make sure that you regularly check for inactive or faulty links.
  • Outdated links: Many websites offer old or no-longer-relevant content. Content material on your website should always be up to date.
  • Poor navigation: Above almost anything else, users expect speed online. Most users have little patience for content that is not easily found. Including a navigation bar that leads users to the most important pages of the site is therefore recommended.
  • Too many colours and fonts: Websites should maintain a unified look that meshes well with all of its application. Novices are especially prone to letting the diverse selection of colours and fonts get the best of them. Following the following simple rule of thumb will help you stay on the straight and narrow: never use more than three colours or fonts for a single website.

By avoiding common mistakes and following the basic rules of user-friendliness, you will find yourself with a convincing outline for your website. However, a completely unified site is only possible if a compelling use of both design and colour is displayed, so don’t forget to pay close attention to the optical side of things.

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