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Five Basic Elements of Good Web Design

written by: cra8051•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/27/2010

Designing user-friendly and graphically pleasing web pages is not difficult, but the process does require adherence to some basic elements of good web design. Following the web design tips below will get you started.

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    Interface Design

    Unlike printed material, web pages must be free-standing. That is, users may land on one page deep in the hierarchy of the site with no immediate awareness of information on connected pages. Identifying information such as the author or company, contact links, “about us,” and so forth needs to be repeated in headers and/or footers. Something that does translate from print, at least from newspaper writing, is the dictum of giving the reader Who, What, When, and Where—sometimes even Why. Each page needs to supply the provenance of the creator(s), and a clearly visible title, which, on a page loaded with graphics, probably will be the first thing the visitor recognizes. In many cases, people searching the web are interested in how timely the material is, so each page should be dated and updated when content changes. As a check on authenticity, the visitors will want to know from where the information is coming, so there should always be a link to the Home page on each individual page of the site. This is a basic requirement of good web design.

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    Site/Page Design

    The most important factor that determines whether a user will return to your web pages is how well the pages meet the user’s needs. Web designers must know what the intended audience is looking for and then focus on these desires. The design process should then organize information in logical units, creating a top to bottom approach from most important to least as far as how the blocks of information display and how pages are linked. The site and page design needs to be organized in discrete chunks of information, since there are very few users of the web who will spend a lot of time reading a long document that goes on and on through scrolled down screens. Some may save the text to their computer or print it out, but if the aim is to keep people following leads on the monitor, then short, pithy blocks of text are best.

    To highlight these important blocks and make it easy for the user to proceed, there has to be contrast between text and graphics, but it should not be overdone. Neither solid text nor overly elaborate graphics or multiple fonts will be attractive. Good web design tips always include advice to keep these elements simple but striking.

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    Good Web Design Is Not Difficult If You Follow Some Basic Web Design TipsThere are many pages on the web that look flashy and very artistic. Whether these pages get visited very often is another thing—when design gets in the way of content, the purpose of the website is lost. Follow some basic web design tips to turn out examples of good web design.
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    Good web design involves choosing type fonts that will not cause problems. Since web pages are created on a users monitor each time, a distinct possibility of difficulty exists. A font may be missing, the user may have an outdated browser, or other factors may come into play. Always view your page designs as suggestions for rendering, not with absolute expectations they will look exactly as they do on your development PC.

    Do not set your text in justified format, since the actual display on users’ equipment may render this in unpleasant or odd ways. Centered and right-justified text is about as bad as justified unless it is a single line for emphasis, be people read left-to-right and unusual centering or right alignment throws people off when reading a block of text. Choosing specific typefaces, type sizes, and other type details is too involved for this article except to advise using a serif face like Times New Roman for text and sans serif Verdana for headings

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    Because computer displays are low-resolution compared to photographic prints, good web design has to keep in mind that images will display with less quality than the originals. Therefore both the size and clarify of any fine details can be a problem when the pages appear on the users’ monitors. Design for the lowest capability, not for the highest, in order to cover the widest possible range of individual display setups. While dark backgrounds with light text may appear striking, many users find them much less legible than black type on a white or gray background. If you must use a dark background with light text, at least use pastels or light earth tones for the background.

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    There may be information the designer or client wants to communicate using multimedia. This is probably the most risky part of web design. Some sites that offer web design tips claim if the specific multimedia format requires a plug-in, and the user has to download it to view, this is a place where you may lose the visitor right away. Be considerate of the user. One big annoyance is using audio additions without warning the user. At the very least make it clear that audio is going to play and display a controller bar such as the QuickTime one that makes it possible for the user to control volume and pause or stop the playing. Slide shows can work well if they are well-organized and not too long. Short videos can be used but avoid getting fancy with effects such as dissolves, wipes, panning and zooming.