There are a number of different aims that you need to have in mind when designing your website.
But how do you achieve these aims? What best practices can you use to optimise your website and achieve a great rate of return on your investment? For this, you need to understand the four key principles of web designing.
While these principles can be deployed in isolation — and they can work well in this way — you will get the best out of each of them when you apply them together. Each principle works to complement the others, and learning how to effectively deploy all four will give you the very best results from your web design project.
Read on to discover more about each of these important design factors.
The four principles of web design
Contrast is all about introducing a point of differentiation between elements on your page. Of course, all of the content on your page is important — you wouldn’t have put it there if it wasn’t. But some elements are going to be more important than others. For example, the title and heading of your page are going to be more immediately critical and engaging than a paragraph buried somewhere in the lower half. This is why we use different fonts, weights, colours, and other techniques to point this differentiation out to build a hierarchy of importance.
In fact, contrast goes even further than this. You need to use contrast to direct customers where they need to go. Your data capture forms and calls to action, or CTAs, for instance, need to be prominently displayed and immediately accessible to the user. Applying contrasting colour palettes makes this easy.
But you do need to be careful here. Too much contrast — or serious colour clashes — are going to make your website appear ugly and unappealing. This can be a serious problem for your website and your brand. Go overboard with contrast, and you risk driving users away from your pages.
Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and this is certainly true when it comes to web design. Your customers will want to see different content pieces, and you will need to stay diverse in your strategy if you are to keep your users engaged. However, you cannot forget about your brand, your identity, and your sense of cohesion as you go about this.
Repetition is a design principle you can use to tie everything together. By repeating the same design elements, colour scheme, and other visual aspects, you are helping to solidify the image and perception that your users hold in relation to your brand. In essence, you are helping your customers to get to know who you are and what you are all about, instilling a sense of comfort and familiarity among your client base.
Within this framework of repetition, you can deploy lots of variation and innovation with confidence. Your users will remain comforted by, and familiar with, the repeated design elements, and they will be engaged and energised by the new and exciting content you are producing. With this approach, you really are achieving the best of both worlds.
How do you feel when you visit a website and you find that the different design elements — CTAs, image, text, and buttons, to name just a few — are all over the place? How does this haphazard arrangement of different page components make you react? Most likely, the answer to both of these questions is not positive. The result is probably a chaotic and even nauseous feeling. While this might play well for a very specific type of brand, it’s not going to be very useful for most web design projects.
This is why alignment is such an important design principle. Alignment refers to how the different design elements are arranged in relation to one another. When you type content into a Word document, you can choose whether to align the text to the left-hand margin, the right-hand margin, or down the middle. This puts all the different paragraphs and line breaks in line with one another. The principle is the same in web design.
Even slight variations in terms of this alignment can make your page look sloppy and unprofessional. Focus on achieving great alignment, and achieve a page that truly reflects the nature of your brand and the work that you do.
Proximity simply refers to how close one thing is to another thing. In web design, this means the spacing of different content elements on your page, and the psychological effect this causes in the viewer. If you place a cluster of various content elements on your page and group these elements together in a structured and closely positioned group, you are automatically creating an association between these elements in the mind of the viewer.
Use this to your advantage. If you want to create this association, make sure that linked elements are placed close together in a group, forming a coherent narrative around these different components of your page. If you have a group of unlinked elements and you do not want to create this association, consider separating these elements by moving them to different areas of your page.
Deploying white space can help to make the principle of proximity even stronger. For example, if you have a group of linked elements and you place this group beside another, different group, you risk creating confusion. By putting white space in between each different group, you are eliminating this confusion while solidifying the associations within each group.
A principled approach to web design
These principles are not restrictive rules, nor are they hard-and-fast guidelines that need to be followed to the letter. Instead, they provide a useful framework for businesses seeking to get the best out of their web design. While you may decide to subvert these principles here and there when it suits you, in most cases following the principles will help you achieve far better results.
This plays into the idea that user experience is key. You don’t want to confuse your users, and you don’t want to drive them elsewhere with a poorly thought-out design. You want your users to recognise your brand and what you are all about instantly, and then to follow a cohesive journey through your website to conversion. Adhering to certain key principles of web designing helps you to achieve this.
When you choose which web design agency you want to work with, ask them about these principles and about how the different aspects fit into their own design and deployment strategy. This will help you to understand how the agency will apply design principles on your own project.