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Understanding the Basics of Web Design

Whether you are planning to build your very first website or looking for tips on how to improve what you already have, this blog post will help you get off to a great start. We’re going to take a deep dive into the basics of web design, covering all of the essential things you need to know to create an effective website.

Web Design Basics: What You Need to Know

If you would like to be able to create a visually appealing website that attracts visitors in large numbers and is a pleasure to use, there are a few key areas in which you will need to excel. Some of these areas may come more naturally to you than others, and you may already have some transferable skills that will come in useful when tackling certain tasks. Whether you have a natural advantage or not, you will quickly need to get up to speed in all of the following areas if you are to achieve your goal of designing an effective website:

  • Primary Design Principles – While a website is created in the digital space and a magazine is a physical publication, the design skills required to create eye-catching pages in each are much the same. With this in mind, you should study basic design principles before starting on your first website, a topic we discuss in more detail in the following section.
  • Technical Layout of Page Elements – The physical layout of web pages is something you will learn about when studying the principles of design. However, you will also need to familiarise yourself with the technical aspects of webpage layout: what you need to do behind the scenes to ensure that each page and the site as a whole is properly laid out.
  • UX Design Essentials – The visual appearance of a website is obviously extremely important, but UX (user experience) design decisions are of equal importance in the vast majority of cases. If you are trying to create a website with which visitors can interact, you need to follow best UX design principles from the very start. How a website responds to user input and how it makes visitors feel are two key areas that you will cover should you decide to study UX design, both of which will come in very useful as you proceed with the creation of your new website. As a discipline, there is a lot more to learn if you wish to become an expert, but you should be able to get by with some diligent research and a certain amount of self-study.
  • Design Software – Almost all web designers use professional design software to create new websites and pages these days. There may still be a few diehard veterans who build new web pages manually, by hand, coding each HTML element they need, but they are very much in the minority. With this in mind, we suggest getting to grips with one of the popular web design software suites available today to make your task a little easier. The more familiar you are with the software you use to build your first website, the faster you will be able to complete your task.
  • Graphic Design – If you are planning to include any corporate logos or banners on your website, you will need to master the essentials of graphic design. With thousands of books on the topic and a plethora of free online resources from which to choose, you will not be short of study materials should you wish to explore the field of graphic design in some depth.
  • Server-Side Coding Principles – Functional websites that respond to user input often use a mix of server-side and client-side code. Any code that runs on the client side (i.e. in the web browsers used by visitors to your site) is normally generated automatically by the design software that you use. Server-side code, on the other hand, is something you may have to write yourself, especially if you want to create stateful pages on your website. In common with most of the fields we have discussed so far, there are plenty of great resources online that you can use to learn server-side coding principles. The only thing that may limit your ability to become an expert in this area, as with most of the areas already mentioned, is a lack of time
  • Navigation – One of the most important basics of web design that you’ll need to master is site navigation. You need to make sure that every visitor to your website can easily find what they are looking for by providing a visually attractive and highly functional navigation system. Whether you prefer top or sidebar navigation menus, the most important thing to focus on when creating your navigation system is ease of use. Nothing is more likely to encourage visitors to go elsewhere than poorly thought-out or dysfunctional site navigation.
  • Readability – Whatever type of textual content you intend to place on your website, it should be easy to read. What we mean by this is that you should think about readability when creating new page layouts and choosing site fonts etc. When textual content is poorly positioned or hard-to-read fonts are employed, the majority of visitors are likely to do no more than skim through the material at best. Many of them may simply leave your website and look for a more readable source of information. For these reasons, we recommend familiarising yourself with typography and layout best practices for textual content before you embark on your first web design project.

If you give yourself a good grounding in all of these basics of web design, you should be able to avoid making the more obvious beginner’s mistakes, and with a little luck, your first attempt at web design could even be a great success.

Primary Design Principles

When embarking on your first web design project, you’ll probably be most interested in the visual appearance of the site you are creating, which is why we recommend starting with the first discipline in our list above: Primary design principles. To help you on your way, we’ll now take you on a whirlwind tour of the 12 basic principles of design:

  1. Contrast – Making various elements on a page stand out from the background and each other through the correct use of contrast is the first design skill you will learn if you decide to follow a traditional course.
  2. Balance – All the elements of a webpage need to be in harmony with each other. Whether you prefer symmetrical or asymmetrical layouts, learning about balance will help you to create harmonious web pages that are pleasing to the eye.
  3. Emphasis – Learning all about this particular design principle will help you to choose which elements of a web page to emphasise and how to achieve your goals in this respect. Different colours and different fonts can be used to emphasise textual elements, while bold borders and other techniques can be used to emphasise individual visual elements.
  4. Proportion – Once you know how to size individual page elements in relation to one another, you will be much better placed to start creating genuinely good-looking websites.
  5. Hierarchy – Knowing how to create contrast, emphasis, balance and proportion is of vital importance when designing websites. However, you also need to know how to create a hierarchy for all of the elements on each page before you can put this newly acquired knowledge to good use.
  6. Repetition – The art of repetition is an important skill to master. In addition to helping you achieve many of the goals discussed so far, it can also save you a great deal of time.
  7. Rhythm – By varying the spaces between each element on your web pages or by making them all uniform, you can create a unique sense of rhythm, as perceived by visitors to your website.
  8. Pattern – With regard to web design principles, ‘Pattern’ may refer either to the repetition of certain elements in distinct ways or to the following of agreed standards for the way in which pages are laid out.
  9. White Space – Skilful use of white space (or negative space if you are using a coloured background) can help to create a sense of freedom in your web pages: an uncluttered environment that visitors will enjoy exploring at their leisure.
  10. Movement – When we talk about ‘Movement’ as a web design principle, we are referring to the way in which certain design choices affect how visitors’ eyes travel across the page and how they will most naturally move from one element to the next.
  11. Variety – If you are able to use variety to create more interesting designs, without going too far and causing confusion, you will be well on your way to mastering the basics of web design.
  12. Unity – The final design principle to master is that of unity, making sure that all elements and design choices work together to create the desired effect.

As we mentioned earlier, you can find thousands of online resources if you wish to pursue the study of basic design principles or any other areas we’ve mentioned in more depth. On the other hand, if you would rather engage an experienced web design company to build your new site, please feel free to contact us by phone or email.

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