10 ways of dressing your site up for success

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Posted on: December 17th, 2012 Posted in: Web Design & Development

When planning and executing a new web site, the basic starting point for me from a creative point of view, is that the finished product must be something I haven’t seen before. Also, it has to be something I have no mixed feelings about. I need to look at it as if it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I’m not normally a fan of templates. I tend to stay away from them unless I’m just browsing for inspiration. I believe it’s a lame way of going about creating websites as you’ll be creatively limited, and it’s just plain lazy to use someone else’s imagination. From my point of view the creative bit is the most fun. So unless you’re pressed for time, why miss on that?

Recently, I came across a wordpress theme I thought had some of the qualities I’m looking for in a site. So much so that I’ve done the unthinkable and purchased the template. A template… To me, that is like buying clothes in pieces, and then dying and sewing them together yourself.

However, for some reason I was moved by the visual impact of this website template, and thought there’s no better time to talk passionately about something than when you feel emotive about it.


1 – A good combination of vibrant / plain and neutral colours.

The use of colours cannot be left to chance. They are that much important. On the example below the spectrum of colours on the banner is beautiful, and despite the variety it still does not let the user think the designer was a little confused. Key information is lodged on neutral areas where they are easy to read. The designer went for a plain white, or black, with fonts in the opposite colour. Win.


2 – Vary the use of colours, but the colour scheme HAS to be consistent

The colours on links, links hovered, logo, headers, and buttons, should be vibrant too but all carefully matching some other element on the page. Again, despite the vibrancy and variety there should still be a sense of order and tastefulness.

3 – Focus on visual stimulus is more productive than comprehensive textual content.

The right balance between text and imagery should be easy to understand. The way I see it, images will always speak to your subconscious, text will just give you information which you will have to consciously take a mental (or written) note of.

If I’m looking for some sort of service online, I will quickly dismiss a site that says they have years of experience and they are the best of the best, repeating the same sentence with different words throughout the site. However, I will remember the site that had the cool design and images, regardless of my interest in taking a mental note of that site or not. In all likelihood the site with the cool imagery will be the one I’ll purchase from.

4 – Responsive and flexible. That much added value.

I have a lot of respect for developers who go through the trouble of creating sites with flexible layouts, just in case they need to be adapted by someone as picky as I am. How good it feels to install a wordpress theme you like, and as you’ll go check the settings you realise you can actually change the layout with a few clicks of the mouse. But not only that, if features such as the front page slider are easily editable and customisable, kudos for that.

Responsiveness needs no hype. One site which can accomplish the same as multiple sites. It converts and adjusts itself to different screens, to the convenience of the user, and the convenience of the businesses and individuals commissioning sites.

same site in all devices

5 – Retina Display Graphics

Retina display is new technology pushed by Apple, and soon to be just about every product that has a screen. Retina Display by Apple is essentially a screen with a much higher pixel density, in which users cannot distinguish individual pixels at normal viewing distances.

What this means in practical terms is that a device with a Retina Display will be able to display much sharper graphics. The catch however, is that graphics must be designed for this sort of resolution at the risk of text and images losing quality on these devices.

But this is not only about image quality. On these devices, the super high resolution means more information can be fit on the screen. The image below illustrates this.

Image credit: www.expertreviews.co.uk

Before concluding that Retina Display is pointless, and that as a designer or a developer you shouldn’t have worry about this, remember that it is very likely that a very large slice of your website visitors will be doing it so with an Apple device. Also, as Apple seems to be the driving force behind innovation at the moment, do expect manufacturers to follow the trend soon, only with a slightly different name.

Source: Expert Reviews

6 – When in doubt, go for a minimal / simple solution

A site will never need to be pimped out to extremes. A big mixture of colours, images spread everywhere, and the suppression of text, is by no means the right formula on its own. In fact balance is key. If in doubt, think of what content you absolutely need and how you can make it stand out – with simplicity and flair.

7 – Widgets can go a long way

From my point of view widgets are a great way of making your web pages feel a little fuller if you’re lacking in content. There’s a variety of information you can fit in there which will make your website more attractive both in terms of design and content.

I for instance enjoy when I’m searching for very specific information, find it on Google, visit the page, have a glance at the most popular or most recent blog posts widget, and notice there’s other cool information I could scan through. That could mean the difference between visiting a site once, and returning eventually regularly.

8 – The Devil Is On The Detail

Small things like menus which slide open at the right speed, the use of opacity, content sections that slide open, short animations on slideshows, sections that can be resized and repositioned, or a one page site in which users don’t open pages they slide through sections, these are details that can turn an average site into an excellent site.

Use it with care though, as excess could have the complete opposite effect. Also, you want to engage visitors not distract them (unless of course that is the purpose of your site).

9 – Remember your website must be the solution to a problem

I cannot emphasize enough how you should not underestimate your visitor’s laziness and lack of patience. No, this is not an attack on users as I’m one of those people I’ve just described.

Distribute your content conscientious of how it will look and feel to the average person who sees your site for the first time. Never hide content users need to solve some sort of riddle to be able to find.

Always keep in mind that there’s plenty of sites out there, trying to convey the same message you are. To have visitors is a privilege because they could have gone some place else. As so, make it easy for them so they can find what they need to find without having to decode what you meant to convey.

If it is clear in your head what’s the objective of your site, keep that context in mind when laying it out and planning your content. As a rule of thumb, if you’re not helping resolve (and quickly) one of the problems below, probably better to scrap it.

  • I need a product or a service
  • I need to be entertained
  • I need information
  • I need to connect with other people

This is however another tip you should use with some balance. If making it easy for users is your only driving force, more often than not you will end up with something boring and uninteresting.

10 – Don’t be scared to innovate and try out crazy ideas

This is where the passionate professionals and the hobbyists will be distinguished. Once while having a discussion about a website proposal, I heard someone say: “Menu on the top right corner is website design 101”. Meanwhile my mind was light years apart, wondering how cool it would be to have a menu you can drag anywhere you want.

Never be afraid to think outside the box. Your ideas might be ridiculous, but perhaps is just the solution that will solve everyone’s problems, or at least give your site that edge that will set it apart.

Recently, I’ve found a site of a design agency which had a large background image with very minimal textual content. The big twist was that the background image was a live video feed of the designers at work on the studio. I’d be very surprised if these guys had no clients.

You can browse their website here. Genius written all over it.

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