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When it comes to your website, design is not just the creative team’s concern. It is part of your overarching marketing strategy – your branding, content, SEO, CRO, and even your biddable media. Too often, businesses overlook the magnitude of design and consider it a basic feature of their website. They assume it’s a simple matter of choosing colours, picking images, bolding out important bits of text, and job’s a good’un. The truth is, design is a multifaceted ongoing process that’s tremendously important to your online success.

So what makes great design? Well, in simple terms, a well designed site will be aesthetically pleasing and technically sound, offering visitors easy navigation and all the nuggets of information they require. Great design will also be bang on brand, reflecting your business’s identity and communicating its values and vision in an effective, memorable manner.

We’re about to talk through some of the key features of great design, and explain how they can be achieved. Read on to find out more!

Navigation

Your site’s navigation is the user’s road map to different locations. When it’s clear and practical, your visitors will have a lovely trip. If it’s messy, complicated or down right ridiculous, they’re likely to stop in their tracks and change their route (perhaps to a competitor’s site).

When it comes to navigation, one size certainly doesn’t fit all. In order to plan your routes effectively, consider your audience and the type of experience they’ll be hoping for. Most of the time, simple is best. Keep menus and page titles clear, and ensure the navigation is consistent throughout. Your visitors will quickly get used to your site and learn their way around it, and since everyone’s a fan of the familiar, they’ll be more likely to return or recommend.

Here are two different types of navigation. These brands have a lot in common in terms of function, products and demographics; both are restaurants, the first being international and the second national. One specializes in burgers and lobsters, and the other offers a more comprehensive meat and seafood menu. The restaurant locations for both brands are metropolitan, and price points are comparable. As such, it’s likely that their website visitors will have a lot in common.

Troublesome navigation served up at Burger & Lobster:

Bad navigation | What makes great design? It Works Agency

Blackhouse offer great navigation:

Great navigation | What makes great design? It Works

Where they differ, however, is in their navigation. Burger & Lobster have opted for an artsy, dynamic format, and while the visual elements are pleasing at first glance, it only takes a few seconds onsite to realise the downfalls. Navigation depends on a central menu that is carelessly arranged, journeys between pages is slow, the footer is hidden, and it’s difficult to figure out where certain pieces of information live.

In contrast, the Blackhouse website is clear and simple. The main menu lives in a practical place, with each page displayed clearly and arranged in a rational order. It’s very easy to discover the desired information, such as contact, enquiries and bookings. The menu also remains on top, making for stress-free browsing. These two versions of navigation are excellent examples of why form should always follow function.

Calls to action

A functional website gets actions, whether that’s making a sale, encouraging visitors to make an enquiry, or gathering contact details. In order to achieve these results, calls to action are required.

A CTA will grab users’ attention and clearly direct to the next step on their journey. These chunks of copy or buttons should be placed strategically across your site and landing pages, guiding visitors towards your goal. A few examples of great calls to action are ‘Shop Now’, ‘Get Started’ and ‘Learn More’, along with statements like ‘Log In With Facebook’ (making life that little bit easier!) and ‘Sign Up For Free’ (nobody can refuse free stuff).

But calls to action aren’t just about the text. Colour, shape and space all contribute to the effectiveness of a CTA, driving users to click through their visual appeal. They should also be highly visible and placed in obvious locations for visitors to notice effortlessly.

Here are two examples of calls to action. Both are located on the homepage of a tools website and promote a new product(s). It’s safe to say that these sites will cater for exactly the same demographic.

Nonexistent calls to action from Makita:

Bad call to action | What makes great design? It Works Agency

An effective CTA from DeWalt:

Good call to action | What makes great design? It Works Agency

Makita’s call to action lacks power and persuasion. In fact, it’s not really a call to action at all. Many users won’t realise the whole point of this banner is for clicks – it simply looks like an image with the brief title ‘New Products, June 2016’.

In contrast, DeWalt’s call to action does the job just right. ‘Discover XR Flexvolt’ is both encouraging and self-explanatory, its bold black text placed upon the brand’s shade of mustard for maximum impact. This CTA is also complete with a directional cue, giving visitors an extra little push.

Images

Perhaps the most obvious element of web design is the imagery. Whether it’s photographs, illustrations, GIFs or infographics, the images you use will totally transform your site. Pages with visual content receive around 90% more views than pages without, not to mention the SEO benefits of pictures with search-friendly metadata.

Your website visitors will much prefer to ‘see’ your business in action that read reams and reams of copy. Through effective imagery, you’ll be able to convey your brand in a way that a chunk of text cannot (a picture paints a thousand words, after all).

These two sites use homepage imagery in a similar manner. The first is snack-box industry leader Graze, and the second a newcomer to the market, SourcedBox.

Less than appetising images at Graze:

Bad image quality | What makes great design? It Works Agency

SourcedBox step up with tasty imagery:Good quality images | What makes great design? It Works Agency

Both homepages utilize full width images that showcase their wares. However, rather surprisingly, it’s the bigger brand that’s fallen down. It appears that Graze has attempted to squeeze as many ingredients as possible into the shot in order to demonstrate the variety of their boxes. The result is cluttered and chaotic, with the out-of-focus elements disrupting the foreground. This image is also troublesome on larger screens; while its resolution is perfect for mobile and tablet, and acceptable for laptops, any visitors with a 21.5”+ display will be presented with a blurred photo.

In contrast, SourcedBox’s image hits the nail on the head. The designers are well aware of the power of space, and have chosen to arrange a select few ingredients upon a clear, muted background. Rather than stuffing the shot with as much as possible, a clever collection of superfoods and sweet treats is presented, conveying the diversity of the snack boxes available without overdoing it. The quality of the photo is also great, even for high DPI displays.

Fonts

Just like images, the fonts we choose for our site have a huge impact on the end result. Fonts affect brand personality, the readability of copy, and even the perceived length of a section of text, something that often turns readers off! Once upon a time, there were a couple of typefaces available (you may have heard of Arial and Courier?), but nowadays, there’s a huge choice of web fonts available.

It’s recommended that you use 2-3 different fonts within your design, which ensures consistency. Too many typefaces because messy and looks amateur, while sticking to just one can look bland and boring. The fonts you choose should complement one another, with size and weight carefully considered depending on the context.

Here are two websites that employ their fonts in different ways.

Yamaha’s fonts aren’t a winner:

Bad use of fonts | What makes great design? It Works Agency

A quality choice of fonts from Audi:

Good fonts | What makes great design? It Works Agency

Yamaha’s ‘Road’ page displays six different fonts… and that’s not counting the additional images on the carousel. This combination of different typefaces is overwhelming, inconsistent, and totally unnecessary – for a site that’s already so boldly visual, quirky fonts simply aren’t required. In opposition is Audi, who’ve elected to stick with two simplistic typefaces and make impact with a heavier weight. The main font is also consistent with the current branding, something that Yamaha have overlooked.

While there are a lot of vital elements of great web design, navigation, calls to action, images and fonts are four of the main players (of course, the likes of page speed and responsive design are also seriously important).

Nowadays, great design is expected. We’ve all become accustomed to fast, slick, easy-to-use websites, and anything that falls below par simply won’t be taken seriously. To ensure your own site hits design best practices and stands up against competitors, investment of time and money is required. Businesses should also realise that the wider team needs to be clued up – when everyone understands the importance of design, and gets involved in the thorough process where relevant, you’ll be well on your way to a seriously effective website.