19 / 10 / 15

Every quarter there is a painful play reenacted as I watch my long suffering wife trying to navigate her way around the confusing HM Revenue and Customs site when uploading the company PAYE figures. What should be a quick process deteriorates into a frustrating, time consuming effort trying to second guess the convoluted system.

You don't need me to tell you but a website's design will make the visitor decide whether to stay, and take action or leave. It's not just the styling that's important though, any confusing elements will drive that next click to another site quicker than a…. er mouse.

This got me thinking about web design and sharing some simple hints and tips that you could use to improve your own site, advise your obstinate boss or rein in the overly creative urges of the designer you've just commissioned.

There is a well know book, which should be the bible of web designers called 'Don't make me think' by Steve Krug. Written with gentle humour and packed full of insights on web usability. The overriding theme, as the name suggests, is about designing sites for the user in mind; clear, obvious navigation with pages that you can scan and just get with no effort (are you reading this HMRC). If good web design is your thing, check it out.

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”

Groucho Marx

Here's a few simple nuggets that will help create that positive web experience we're all looking for.

Break up pages into clearly defined areas

Keep word counts down and line lengths short (50-80 characters max).

Make it obvious what is clickable

A button should look like a button.

View content with fresh eyes

Your homepage is a gateway into your site. Ask yourself if, as a new user, would you be able to quickly work out what the site is about.

Be consistent

Keep the navigation in the same place and functioning in the same way. This is especially important since people don't always land on the home page of a new site. Sometimes they jump to another page via search engine links or email links. Give them indicators to navigate them through with minimal effort.

Create a visual hierarchy

Put simply, the more important it is the more prominent it should appear.

Content should be scannable

A quick glance should tell you what you need to know.

Easy to go home

Don’t assume that everyone realises that clicking the logo takes you back to the home page, help them find their way.

Keep the noise down

Don't clutter. Just because you can add something, it doesn’t mean that you should!

KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid

It’s not rocket science but things work best if they’re kept simple. Strive for simplicity and show consideration for the non technical minded person visiting your site.

Know your audience and be objective

Just because you like a trendy design style doesn't necessarily make it appropriate for your products or services.

Don’t annoy your visitors...

with pop-ups, flashy distracting animations, huge images that take forever to load and worst of all… auto play music and video that they can’t control. Grrrr.

Your web site should project the image you want the world to see. Things have moved on though, it’s no longer desk-bound and we can't guarantee that the user will view it on a device that's capable of showing our beautiful colour palette or our outstanding typography. But by adhering to the principles that we’ve outlined, it should always look credible and professional and more importantly won’t frustrate people into hitting that back button. Just because we’re the site owner we shouldn’t lose our ability to see through the visitors eyes. Think back to the things that annoy us when we go online and concentrate on what you can do for the user instead of what you want the user to know about you.