Since the earliest days of the internet, the necessary features of optimal website design have been a source of conjecture and debate. As developers have gained experience over time, their opinions on the subject have driven an ever-shifting set of website design imperatives and industry best practices. Some early must-haves quickly fell out of favor (remember hit counters?), while other design elements like tables and frames have been supplanted by newer standards like CSS.
There are also some elements of web design that never change, and are driven by the concepts of utility and usability. Despite all of the stylistic shifts that have occurred in web design over the years, there are certain basics that never fall out of favor. Whether attempting to build and customize your WordPress site or assembling a web presence from the ground up, the most successful and appealing design choices will more than likely be the simpler and straightforward ones. The reason is easy to see – it’s because they get to the point, which is what everyone online wants in the content they consume.
There, in general, efforts to keep a website simple and easy to navigate always pay off in the end.
The Importance of Simplicity
When beginners approach the task of designing a website, it is not uncommon for them to struggle with decisions regarding elevating substance over style. That is the reason that there are so many DIY websites online that feature cluttered, busy homepages. Unfortunately, approaching web design in that manner all but guarantees that the website will not be successful at reaching its intended audience.
In 2012, Google published a study that sought to quantify how users viewed different types of page designs, and the results were quite illuminating. The data indicated that the average internet user made up their mind about the look of a website in no more than a twentieth of a second. Given the speed of their decision, it’s no surprise that they consistently ranked simpler websites higher than more complex ones. The data indicates that the first lesson in web design for beginners should always be to keep it simple.
The Trend Setters
The Google study also revealed some other information that relates directly to the idea of optimal website design. The research indicates that users tend to have preconceived notions about what elements should exist in a website for a given category, and clear preferences for where those elements should be located. Most often, the participants based their subconscious ideas on category-leading websites. Those sites then become the standard by which all competitors are judged.
For example, if you’re designing an e-commerce website, the average internet user is going to expect it to look something like Amazon. They will expect the company logo to appear in the upper left-hand corner of the page, a vertical navigation bar below it, and a shopping cart link somewhere in the upper right-hand section of the page. Following an established layout allows viewers to feel instantly comfortable using a web page. In that way, visitors don’t have to think about where to find elements of the page, but can immediately begin to explore it. Once again, keeping it simple for the end-user.
Simple From The Ground Up
To keep a website simple, intuitive, and useful requires effort beginning with the very earliest iterations of the design. That means that it is crucial to determine the framework for the design before fleshing out any of the substance. That will provide a roadmap that will inform all of the subsequent design choices and increase the coherence of the finished product. When the framework is complete, adding the content becomes a straightforward process, complete with pre-existing boundaries that will prevent the introduction of unnecessary complexity.
A Simple Rule
The concept of simplicity in web design boils down to one rule – if it doesn’t need to be there, remove it. Every element added to the design must serve a purpose beyond decoration. Adhering to this rule is the best and most reliable way to produce a design that visitors will love. It will also increase the chances that the overall user experience on the site will be a positive one, which is the key to building long-term success online. Always remember, styles will always come and go, but simplicity is timeless.