Web design has changed a lot in the last decade, mostly because it’s grown from being a developers’ playground to a designers’ toolkit.
Things like bandwidth, screensize and availability dictated design trends for a while. Now, the web has almost reached the point where all the principles of engaging print layout can flourish online.
If you’re like me, I’ve spent ages scouring sites like the ones we’ve interviewed in this post, looking for that design edge to take my website from zero to hero.
And then one day, in between two cups of ginger tea (great for digestion, btw), this age-old truth dawned on me.
Before web design, we’ve had hundreds of years of field-testing trends in print: the interplay of color palettes, the different sizing in typography, the relationships between white space and lush visuals.
That’s the bar that’s been set with print design. Web design has finally reached it.
Now it needs to push into new territory with fully native web-based design, such as AR and VR.
But all that will still rely on these basic, time-tested principles:
- Bold, Clear Typography
- Conscious Visuals
- Creative Color Schemes
- Story Telling
Tips from the Experts
So, we checked in with some experts in web design, and asked for their top three web design tips.
Its interesting that this year, the focus is not on the hottest slider, or page parallax. They’re highlighting that great design is timeless, and should always start with a user experience that quickly communicates the value of the vision.
In fact, I believe that web design trends will continue to become zanier (like brutalism), because of an artistic desire to be unique and inventive.
And what happens when artists start making art for themselves and their community, instead of to communicate value to the viewer?
The viewer becomes disconnected, and disenchanted.
So here’s what they have to say, and we’ll unpack it with Enable’s insights and experience as we go.
1. Bold, Clear Typography
Larger text will also help you make better decisions about content and edit more selectively, which is always a good thing for users.
This streamlining helps bring the most important elements to the forefront of the design.
Remember, users have the attention span of a goldfish – if that – so everything they need to understand the design and how to interact with it must be accessible at a glance.
‘Larger text will also help you make better decisions about content.’
Websites are no longer limited to an 800px wide screen. They’ve blown out to 2550, or 4K screens. Designers are trying hard to catch up with what that means for something so simple as typography.
The screen is a canvas. And when it comes down to it, websites sell on the power of their words.
So woo with your words. Consider the size of your available area, and draw the viewer’s eye with large, bold typography. Help them focus on what’s important by making clear distinctions between different sections of text.
The cardinal sin to be avoided in typography is to run text from one side of the screen to the other. It’s a terrible reading experience for everyone.
One rule of thumb that the Enable design team uses is to cap a sentence length at 12 (ish) words. When you factor that length into your design, you might need to take up the font size a few points.
2. Conscious Visuals
The past couple of years have been filled with long established brands attempting visual updates only to receive so much negative feedback and public outcry that they are forced to retreat back to their original but newly appreciated identity.
As a designer, you wield an immense power over the public perception of a brand. You owe it to your customers to provide rich, unique identities that won’t be easily confused with 3,000 other similar attempts by other brands.
This past year, plenty of businesses have been trying to refresh their brands’ visuals. The public has kicked back with vigorous attachment to the old designs, that they’ve reverted, or found a middle ground.
I can understand that when some of these brands got off the ground, they used existing trends. Today, those trends aren’t cool anymore, and they’re looking to update them.
The problem there is that the focus isn’t on timeless design. Because uber-minimalism will probably go hide in their corner of the playground in a few years as the design community touts a new trend.
And on the flipside, when something becomes beloved by billions, changing it could cost you that love. So what’s Marshwiggle to do?
Focus on visuals that aren’t trend-based. Design something that respects the best rules of time-tested design. And then put more effort into nailing a unique identity that adds more to your brand visuals.
More effort needs to go into communicating who you are, than how you paint it.
3. Creative Color Schemes
Color contrast, in a nutshell, provides visual intrigue and keeps viewers interested.
Consider for a moment how boring it would be if an entire poster was made from one color or only included shades from the same color family. Although there are some instances when this does work from an artistic perspective, it’s not an approach that is likely to grab someone’s attention when they’re perusing store shelves, looking at movie posters or surfing the web.
Therefore, it’s wise to use contrasting colors whenever appropriate . . . Keep your audience in mind and try to steer clear of color combinations that would make the final result difficult for people with color-blindness.
Any afficionado of color theory knows what a funhouse – and minefield – color choices can be for web design.
Andrei Tiburca of Web Design Ledger pointed out that ‘Color contrast, in a nutshell, provides visual intrigue and keeps viewers interested.’
Over and over again, the Enable team has to work with pre-existing brand colors when building out a website. Our first pass tries to take those color choices and build them into each section, use them to highlight content and drive layout.
Invariably, when we do that, we go through more coffee than we should.
The next pass pulls back on half the colors, honing in on the most important ones that will drive the user experience. We nail down a primary palette of a few bold colors, a couple for site theme, and the other for highly-contrasting calls-to-action.
One-tone sites with pale text and misty grey sections doesn’t make for a great experience. Bold colors and lush visuals create visceral connections. Dense colors target areas of our brains, and force our attention and response.
Spend five minutes on Architectural Digest, or National Geographic.
That’s wassup, right there.
4. Story Telling
The best designers and visual artists understand that many of the ideas behind delivering a good story directly apply to their craft.
Most designs either augment a story, as in the case of most marketing applications, or tell it. Stories actively engage the brain and make presentations all that more memorable.
Understanding how to craft visuals that amplify this experience can go a long way into making your designs truly remarkable.
“Most designs either augment a story, as in the case of most marketing applications, or tell it.”
The Enable web design process is so streamlined that one person is building a new site a day. Over and over again, we find that when your layout isn’t telling a great story, no amount of design is going to make it work.
Brand storytelling is not getting all cutesy and trying to rewrite Star Wars. It’s about recognising that a story is already happening between you, your customers and your viewers. How you communicate needs to be genuine and engaging, using empathy to draw your reader through your benefits and into a vision of a better life.
Most sites just list their degrees, and can’t stop talking about themselves. It’s like going on a date where the guy goes on and on, and on and on, and the girl waits for him to start asking her a question. Any question. Anything. Finally he comes up for air, and she brightens as he says, “Ok, I need to stop talking. How about you? What do you think about me?”
I’m not going dutch on that bill.
Why do we think we can get away with it on our websites? Largely because we’ve forgotten the function that a site has, and it’s not a business card. It’s an experience of your brand, your company.
Make it all about building a warm, trusting relationship. Do that by telling a story about who you are, what you do, why you care, and how your viewer can buy into this ‘promised land’.
When you do your homework like this, the design almost creates itself. You’re no longer shoe-horning pixels over words.
Your words are painting clear pictures, and your design is communicating that.
Let’s Sum It Up
This is for those trend-hunters always looking for the newest fad. These tips from the experts really hone in on four perennial truths:
1. Larger Fonts
Larger fonts aren’t just easier to read–they draw the eye to an desired part of the page. Don’t be one-note, single font size. Break it up. Woo with words, and with word layout.
2. Visual Expression
Don’t design your logo or brand experience within a trend silo. It will be out of date within a year, and you’ll no longer be the cool kid with the mohawk. So last year, dude.
Design from a core of solid design principles, and focus on communicating a clear message of your distinction.
3. Color Contrast
Color contrast attracts and directs a viewer’s attention faster than words. A good color choice will define how someone feels about what they will read.
If your palette turns people off, then you’ll never even get a chance to turn them into clients.
4. Story Telling
The best designs tell a story without using any words at all. It’s like our clothing choices and attitude: it only takes 7 seconds to make an impression about someone.
The same thing with design. Create a clear story, and then bridge it to your readers with distinctive design. Just don’t get lost in the weeds. Or words. It all boils down to what you read, how you read it, and how it makes you feel.
So what did you think? Any thoughts? Think I’m wrong?
Drop a comment about your favorite tip, or how you’re struggling with one of them.
Time for ginger tea. No. Coffee. Always coffee.
Dominic is Enable’s design and brand specialist. He thoroughly enjoys helping businesses find meaning in their brands and define their distinction. Coffee, cooking and binge-researching are his hobbies. When not building websites, he is delving into projects to find the boundaries of his imagination. He hasn’t found them yet.