The secret to good web page designs

"I am deeply concerned that a lot of people producing Web sites and making a living from doing so, have no idea of rudimentary issues, such as design, type, layout, and graphic optimization, making visiting some sites an unpleasant experience."

—Mr Derek Schultz, the director and co-founder of the Alliance of Digital Artists (1)

The secret to creating a good web site - keep it simple and make it emotionally appealing to your audience

One of the most contentious issues facing many Web graphic and design professionals today is what constitutes a good Web site. Many ideas have appeared over the past few years. Today, more and more people are starting to pick out features by examples and experience of what makes a good Web site.

There is one common theme throughout all good Web sites - they tend to be very simple in design and purpose, and they tend to appeal to the emotions in some way. This is the secret to designing good web pages.

The importance of a simple web site

David Trewern, the founder and managing director of David Trewern Design in Sydney, understands the importance of simplicity in web page designing. Named as one of Australia's 30 rising stars in the world of commercial web designs according to emag's October 2001 magazine edition and who has successfully completed more than 200 Web-based projects, Trevern likes to keep it simple and straightforward:

"At the end of the day all we're trying to achieve is to create a good, positive user experience where somebody can log on to a Web site and then leave thinking "well, that was a real benefit to me"" (2)

The importance of an emotionally-appealing web site

According to an article in WebWeek entitled Adult Sites reveal Web's Profit Potential by Michelle V. Rafter:

"It's the Web's dirty little secret. While other online publishers cry over growing losses, many operators of adult Web sites are laughing all the way to the bank.

'Drawn by low overhead and high demand, entrepreneurs from all walks of life in the US have opened hundreds, if not thousands, of sites over the past two years selling video phone sex, live chats, video feeds and strip clubs, digital images, online magazines, fan newsletters, and adult paraphernalia." (3)

Does it really work?

Of course, it is not absolutely necessary to sell or present gratuitous sex on your Web site in order to appeal to the emotions of your customers. All you have to do is show good interesting content and present it well using:

  • suitably chosen combinations of colours;
  • clear visual and auditory aids relevant to the content being presented;
  • data simplicity and briefness;
  • ease of finding information;
  • rewards using simple games and/or free gifts or downloads; and
  • some moving or animated, preferably "interactive" pictures without causing too much distraction to the reader or cluttering an otherwise good page. As Jakob Nielsen, a British web expert, once said:

    "...animation is almost a negative design element. On the web today, animated graphics equals useless in many people's minds, so they ignore things even if they could in fact be quite good." (4)

These are just some of the fundamental ways of enticing people to read your site and is based on proven psychological principles of accelerated learning.

Do I need to design a good Web page?

No, you don't have to. If no one is ever going to see your Web page, then it doesn't matter how good or bad you design it. It is your perogative.

However, most people create a web page because they usually want others to read it. Unfortunately, getting people to read a Web page nowadays is a major challenge due to the massive numbers of people getting online and wanting to create their own Web pages. And that is why designing a good quality Web page will go a long way towards getting your readers to at least notice, and perhaps read, your site.

What do I do to get people to read my Web page?

There is no way in the world you can force anyone to read anything you may have on a Web page. And it will certainly not work if you try to put a virtual gun to everyone's head in an attempt to get people to read what you have to say. You have to do it in a far more subtle and enticing way. This means good design and good content in an emotionally, creatively and technically pleasing manner.

So if you want people to read your Web pages, they have to be not only interested in what you have to say (i.e. the content), but also how you are going to say it (i.e. the design). And what you say and how you want to say it must be done in a positive, creative and technically pleasing manner.

For e-businesses, the importance of good "positive" Web page design (or making it stand out in the crowd) is even more critical. In the world of e-commerce, designing a good Web page is just as important as selling a good product or service. As a reporter for the July 2000 edition of Webcreate wrote on page 18:

"Before a commercial site can sell anything, it has to sell itself."

How do I create a web page?

If you want to create a web page, just open up a simple text or word processing editor and write a few words or sentences on the page. Then save the page as a text file. Hey presto! You've got an instant web page!

However, if looking at a plain piece of text in the middle of your page using your Internet browser does not entirely enthral you to no end (we agree!), you must also include in your text file a set of rather special programming tags known as the HyperText Markup Language (or HTML).

Must I learn HTML?

Yes, we appreciate the considerable information overload some people may be having right now. Fortunately, with so many good web page designing software on the market like Macromedia Dreamweaver, you certainly don't need to know anything about HTML. Yes, your brain has been spared for now.

But if you do want to save money on having to buy potentially expensive commercial software, we suggest reading a good book about HTML at your local bookstore, or pay nothing for a rough guide published on some Internet sites, or read our short and snappy explanation of how to use HTML. You will find further information about this by clicking here.

How do I create a quality web page for people to notice?

Every quality web page must be carefully planned around four important areas if you wish your page to be successful:

  1. Personal issues
    Why are you creating a web page in the first place? Are you trying to inform or sell something important to someone else? What precisely are you trying to communicate with the world using your web page?

  2. Marketing issues
    Know something about the people who will visit and possibly read your web page. By knowing something about your readers, you can plan out (i) what you are going to say (the content); and (ii) how you are going to say it (the design) in your endeavour to attract potential readers to your page.

  3. Technical issues
    Ask yourself, "Is my web page quick to download?", "Can my web page be viewed under different Internet browsers?", "What type of graphic file format should I use for pictures?", "Shall I use lots of pictures and a bit of text or vice versa in my web page?", "Can I easily come back to it and update my web page when I need to?", and "Does my web page need navigation buttons?"

  4. Design issues
    How does the web page look? Is it pleasing to the eye? Does it look simple and can you find information quickly and easily? What colours and fonts will you use to make it look professional? Should the design be consistent for each web page, or should each page have its own unique design? Do you need a logo to help identify you as the owner of the web page? What navigation buttons will I construct and will it be used consistently on all web pages?

How do I build a large web site?

For anyone who has more than a few web pages to build and publish on the Internet, it is a good idea to organise your content in such a way that users can find what they want in the quickest way possible as well as to present that information in an enjoyable fashion.

Oh! Just in case you didn't know, organising does mean planning. So start with a pen and a piece of paper and write down all your ideas. Remember, if you really want to build a quality and unique web site and you are not one of those people who can find the time to think about things first before building it, you may be in for a rude shock.

For those of you who can find the time to properly organise your web site, here are the handy steps for you to consider:

    What is the purpose in creating your web site? Is it to sell something, to inform a reader about a certain issue, or some other reason? If so, what is it you really want to say or achieve with your web site? Is there a general theme?

    Who are you directing this web site to? How will you write the content for this web site to suit your readers? Is there a need for this type of web site? Why? How will it be different from other web sites? For example, will your web site be more comprehensive and accurate than anything else you've seen which covers similar content? Or perhaps it will be to present very specific and popular content in a more entertaining and easier way for your readers?

    If you are certain your web site is important or will at least satisfy some kind of niche market for certain users, start working out the main categories you will cover with your web site. Certainly the two most important categories you should have are the home page and the contacts page. But you will have to work out the rest.

    Sometimes you may be lucky to have some ready-made content to look at. This will give you some idea of what the main categories should be, or likely to be. Or you may have to do a kind of brainstorming session where any ideas that come to mind are recorded onto a piece of paper.

    Organising your categories simply means putting them into some kind of "big picture" pattern that you and other people can understand. For example, moving your categories around to create a hierarchy (e.g. by getting the categories into alphabetical order, or perhaps prioritising the categories with the most important information at the top, and the least important information at the bottom) will begin to highlight the relationships between categories and eventually reveal a much larger pattern. Certainly the most useful start to establishing any kind of large scale pattern for your web site is to establish a general theme (e.g. computers, humour etc).

    If all else fails, just create an index page covering all the subjects and names mentioned in the content of your web site and let the reader decide where they want to go.

    Draw lots of diagrams on a piece of paper representing your web site. For example, draw boxes for web pages (or a group of web pages representing a category) and a line between the boxes to indicate some kind of hyperlink you are likely to need to move from one page to the next. Use this diagram to give you a clue as to the best way to organise your directory structure of files and folders containing your web site.

    Now that there is some structure to your web site and you know the kinds of information you will need, start gathering (or creating) the content. Keep gathering or creating information until it covers all the requirements of each category and to the level of satisfaction of most of your target users who are likely to benefit from accessing your information. To make this part really easy for yourself, try to be in the shoes of your readers. What would they be interested in?

    You are now ready for the fun part. Either build your home page first containing the names of your categories and work outwards as you link the categories to other web pages, or create all the web pages first and later link them together to the final category front page section.

    Building navigation into your web pages will be integral to this process. The navigation system to be devised should be flexible enough to allow for future expansion as well as being simple, consistent, attractive and logical on all web pages. The navigation should also give some indication of where you are in the web site, where you have been (this is normally done by the Internet Browser by changing the colour of visited links), and where you can go next. And finally, make sure the navigation system you employ is easily accessable at both the top and bottom of a web page. It just makes it easier for your users to move with the least amount of effort.

    As you may discover, having a bunch of hyperlinks on the home page is not the most exciting thing in the world to look at. So why not make it more interesting. Try creating a box with a picture inside and a piece of text representing one of your categories, and make this linkable to one of your web pages. If you have enough of these little boxes on your home page and organise them well, you can start to look like many of the professional web sites you've seen elsewhere with their numerous snippets of information links positioned in multiple columns on the home page. Or why not try something totally different? For example, if you have too many categories on the home page, you may want to try your hand at creating specialised Shockwave graphic menus where hovering your cursor over one general category on the home page will automatically open up a list of more specific categories for you to select. You are only limited by your own imagination!

We shall now discuss these aspects of creating a good web page and web site in greater detail in our next page.