A Wandering Designer’s Roadmap
Posted by Andrew Reidlinger
What exactly is web design? What defines a truly captivating website? How do you successfully convey a message and meaning the exact way it makes you feel in your own head to a visitor on the internet? People are affected both consciously and subconsciously by every event and interaction they come across in their daily path – and browsing a website is no exception.
As a self-taught web designer/developer/writer guy I’ve found that the web of information for this industry can be incredibly daunting and convoluted at times; almost as if to lead aspiring designers aloof as they search for what they should actually be learning. From color psychology to choice paralysis to how many pixels this paragraph should be from this heading to make a certain piece of text clear and easy to read, there are a thousand ways to question yourself when you’re creating your first websites. It will probably never feel good enough, and you may find yourself as part of the running graphic design joke: that graphic design is that thing where you stare at fonts for three hours to “match a vibe”. This kind of joke; while very common, is actually quite accurate on a deeper level.
People are all connected by mutual experiences, feelings, and emotions and these aspects of peoples’ lives can be tapped into and spoken to through the right design choices. A website has the power to make any visitor that lands on it feel any range of their own emotions on both a conscious and subconscious level, and there are many design techniques that can be used to strategically guide users through the story you’ve created when it’s all finished. There are four key components to successful web design and each holds the same amount of importance from a grand scale. These components are a site’s color, typography, white space, and of course, content.
The first critical component of a new website is the color pallete. The colors on a website are the first thing that a user will take in when they land on your site and will often subconsciously be the first thing they recall afterward. Colors are very powerful in that they can invoke a variety of emotions and feelings from people. While I don’t believe in pure color psychology in the sense that every color has a hard defined vibe, every person will perceive and feel about colors in their own way depending on their own experiences. Cool colors such as blues and greens can make a site feel comfortable, welcoming, and relaxed but could potentially also feel very cold and dismal. In contrast, warmer colors can give the feeling of power and creativity but also come off as angry and stressed. Colors should be used mindfully when creating a new brand identity to help visitors feel the way you want them to feel when they think of your brand.
Another essential component of a website is the typography or fonts used. Typography can convey tons of feeling on a site and dictates how desirable your content may actually be for visitors to read. There are two main typefaces to know about and these are serif and sans-serif typefaces. Probably the most recognizable serif font is Times New Roman, which is typically used to convey a feeling of wisdom and professionalism; with a common sans-serif font being Helvetica or Arial and having a more simple, clean, and modern look and feel to them. Typography styling can be narrowed down to each specific including the kerning, which is the spacing between the individual letters in a font. Content that is too close together can be dense and difficult to read while content that is too far apart can feel too loose, airy, and spread out. How a font is displayed on the website can make the difference between feeling like a piece of text is being whispered or screamed at you and can make your site either uninviting or a place that feels like home.
Similar in many ways to typography, the white space on a website can dramatically alter how a site is perceived. Good use of white space is important as these areas on a web page offer a visual resting place for visitors. Having every inch of the screen taken up by words and pictures and information very quickly becomes overwhelming and will push visitors away by being too chaotic. The key here is to use just the right amount of white space to make your content seem well-structured, thought out, and most importantly, easy to read. A concept worth mentioning here is minimalism, keeping only the most essential information on main landing pages. Having less content can many times be better than more as the content that is on the site will have more weight and come off more professional. This sort of brevity will also make visitors feels as though you value their time with a well laid out site as no time or space is wasted with unnecessary content.
Finally, the most straightforward component of successful web design is the content that’s actually present. While the visual design of a website will help navigate visitors to the information they were originally seeking, obviously that relevant content needs to actually be there in the first place. Why do people search for most websites? They are more than likely seeking some piece of information or looking for a particular good or service. Let’s say you’re browsing the web looking for a service that can take care of cleaning your home and you come across websites A and B. Website A has a homepage with a bunch of different individual services and items with a wall of text underneath each one and no real organization. Website B has all of the same essential information as site A, however there is about a quarter of the amount of words on the page, clear call to actions, and they essential information is much easier to find. Which of the two websites is more likely to retain it’s visitors and earn more conversions? In this case it would be site B, as the information presented on this site is far less cluttered and easier to follow.
There are so many different ways that design can be used to influence website visitors and the trends of today’s internet are constantly evolving. The web design space can be very noisy and overwhelming, but the key is to just get out there and start creating! Focus on the most important aspects of design instead of digging yourself into the bottomless hole of self-guided learning on the internet and enjoy yourself and the work you put forward so that it best represents you as a designer. There will never be a shortage of new things to learn, so surround yourself with inspiration, other art, designers, friends, and a healthy environment and let the ideas flow!