When it comes to creating a successful website, design is only one part of the equation. That said, it is the part that your visitors see first, which makes it incredibly important — after all, 94% of first impressions formed about a website are design-related. A poorly-designed website can leave visitors feeling confused and uninterested, while an engaging website design can draw people in and keep them coming back.
There’s no doubt creating the perfect design for your new website can be a daunting task: from choosing the right combination of colors to figuring out the optimal way to lay out your content, the options are seemingly endless. But designing an attractive yet functional website needn’t be too burdensome: with the help of many of today’s modern website builders, you can craft a design that will delight your users in just a few (fairly) simple steps.
1. Determine your audience
Before you can begin the design process, you need to know who your target audience is. This will help you determine the optimal design for your website and the type of content you should be including. If you already have a clear idea of who your visitors are, great; if not, don’t worry, because figuring it out is relatively straightforward: start by asking yourself who you want to be reaching with your content. Are you targeting a specific industry? Hoping to reach people in a certain region? Trying to appeal to a particular demographic?
An effective way of determining your target audience is to create one or more user personas. These will represent your ‘typical’ website user, and will include important characteristics such as personality type, motivations, frustrations, and the channels and devices they typically use.
Once you have your persona(s) in place, it’s important to always keep these in mind when designing content for your site: let’s say for example that you’ve decided your typical website user is a busy young professional who normally uses a smartphone to browse the web; in that case, you’ll probably want to opt for a clean and uncluttered design that’s highly conducive to a mobile browsing experience.
2. Understand the principles of design
Of course, design isn’t simply about picking out colors, choosing fonts, and determining a layout. It’s a way of thinking and a set of principles that inform every part of your design. There are many different ways designers approach each element of their design, of course, but there are four fundamental principles that form the basis of almost any design process: balance, alignment, contrast, and repetition.
- Balance. A well-balanced design is visually appealing and easy to navigate. It should be structured so that it feels as if there is an invisible line running through it. A visually balanced design will have elements that sit on either side of the line, but be distributed evenly enough that they don’t look unbalanced.
- Alignment. If you’ve ever organized anything in your life, you’ve used alignment. It’s the principle that guides us when we line up toys on the shelf or put books on the bookshelf. Even when we’re designing, we use alignment to create a visually appealing design. The purpose of alignment is to create visual order: it helps guide the viewer through your content and makes it easier to process information.
- Contrast. Contrast is what makes your design visually interesting. A high-contrast design will have colors that are bold, vibrant, and carefully selected to complement one another. A low-contrast design, on the other hand, will have muted colors that blend together. Both designs can be visually appealing, but they serve different purposes: a high-contrast design will draw attention to specific elements, while a low-contrast design is often used to create a more relaxed experience.
- Repetition. One of the easiest ways to make your design visually appealing is to use repetition. By repeating elements of your design multiple times and positioning them in different ways, you can establish a persistent brand identity. Using a consistent design — i.e. incorporating the same fonts and color palettes across multiple pages on your website — will also help to forge a seamless user experience, as the user journey will feel logical and deliberate as they move from page to page.
3. Strike the right balance between style and function
As the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, once said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” This tells us why many websites stumble at the first hurdle: they struggle (or outright fail) to blend elements of style and functionality. The balance between perfect style and optimal functionality isn’t an easy one to strike, of course, but if you can marry your visual aesthetic and your functional elements seamlessly, your website is likely to engage more users.
Just as Jobs’s quote illustrates, you shouldn’t make the mistake of treating style and function as mutually exclusive. For instance, the user experience is a fundamental ingredient of a website’s design, so consider whether the design enables seamless navigation as well as a slick aesthetic.
Elements such as fast page loading times are just as key, so don’t skimp on the fundamentals — such as ensuring your backend code is optimized and your hosting solution can handle surges in traffic: even if you run a web design agency and manage multiple client sites, using an agency-friendly solution such as Cloudways ensures you can scale an unlimited number of sites on-demand without a dip in performance.
4. Choose the right colors and fonts
When it comes to choosing the right colors and fonts for your website, you have a few options. You can either choose pre-made color and font combinations, create your own, or use a combination of both. If you want a truly unique design, you should create your own color palette and font stack. This way, your design will be 100% original and uniquely yours, helping to forge a singular brand identity that will become recognizable to consumers.
If you’re not up for the challenge, pre-made combinations are a great option: there are tons of website color and font combinations available online, and you can easily find one that will match your brand. If you want to use a pre-built combination but still want to create a unique identity, you can always select a few matching colors and fonts from different sources.
Either way, think about what your website (and by extension, your brand) is trying to convey, what feeling you’re trying to evoke, and select font and color combinations that complement your chosen aesthetic. A good way to do that is by creating an online moodboard — using a free tool such as Milanote — to collect and share inspiration.
5. Add images, videos, and other visuals
No matter what layout you decide to go with, your site is likely to be heavily reliant on visual content: after all, as humans we retain about 80% of the information we see, and only about 20% of that which we read. Visual content is not only a great way to keep your visitors engaged with your site, but it can easily be repurposed for additional uses, like social media posts, email marketing campaigns, or guest blog posts.
If you’re just getting started and don’t have any visual content, don’t worry. You won’t have to take expensive photography or video shoots to create visual content: there are plenty of low-cost and free resources you can use to create visual content, like free stock photos and free public domain images. Free design templates made by professional designers that you edit with just a few clicks.
Video content is becoming increasingly important, too, with 82% of online traffic reportedly being driven by video content in 2022, and video-based social media sites like TikTok proving particularly popular with younger internet users. When it comes to adding video content, think carefully about placement, choose eye-catching thumbnails, and opt for brevity — in the age of TikTok, keeping it short and sweet is more likely to engage.
While creating an entire website design from scratch is never going to be a simple task, it doesn’t have to be a mammoth one, either. By understanding your audience, incorporating basic design principles, striking the right balance between style and functionality, and choosing the right colors, fonts, and visual elements, you can create an engaging, captivating design that delights your users and keeps them coming back consistently.