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Web Design Fundamentals : Tips for Successful Web Design

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6. Establish a timeline
Having a website will improve your business over time, so get it online as soon as possible. Once you make the commitment to build a website, establish timelines and adhere to them.

7. Site Navigation
If a user has trouble finding their way around your site they may leave and never return. Designing a user-friendly navigation scheme will be crucial to your success.

  • Links/buttons for the main site categories should be highly visible on each and every web page - preferably either at the top of the page or the upper 1/3 of the left column.
  • Within each main category, there should also be links/buttons (where appropriate), which show the sub-categories within each area. No web page should be more than three clicks away.
  • Every single web page should clearly tell the user exactly where they are in the site and provide one-click access back to any main or sub-category area.
  • The site's navigation scheme and layout should be the same on each and every web page to provide a consistent look and feel for your users.
  • ALL content should be within three clicks away. If there is content on your site that requires more than three clicks to access, you should pull that content out into another category or sub-category.
  • Provide a site search function so your users can quickly find what they are looking for and provide a site map, which outlines the structure of all your pages for quick and easy access. These two things aren't critical if you properly set up the navigation to begin with, but it's another nice feature to provide.
  • Ensure that all links are working. Nothing is more frustrating than clicking on a link that interests you and returning the "page not found" message. External links will require extra attention since these links can change at any time without notice.
  • Aside from making it easy to find content on your site, you'll also need to make it easy for the user to navigate each individual web page.
  • Keep your web pages short. As a general rule, a user should "page down" no more than three times to reach the end of each page. Studies show that users would rather read content spread out over many pages than scrolling down one long page.
  • Be consistent. Use the same font, color, and style throughout your site. Your users will learn the layout of your site quickly and come to expect certain elements to be in certain places...don't confuse them with inconsistencies. The use of a CSS style sheet is part of great web design strategy.
  • Make your content easy to read. Black text on a white background is the easiest to read and most preferred layout for any content that's more than a few sentences. When using colored background and text, be sure that the text is easy to read, and if there are links, ensure that each "link-state" reads well on the colored background. If it's not easily read...it won't get read. Links should also always be underlined because users come to expect that, and it makes finding links easy. That therefore means non-links should never be underlined. You'll just confuse users, otherwise, and that's not good web design.
  • Use plenty of white space. Pages that are too "busy" are hard to read and users feel lost and overwhelmed. In addition to creating a bad user experience, the information you want the user to see gets lost and is not read.
  • Too much animation is also a distraction that takes away from the user experience. Animation can also make a page feel "busy" and reduces the value of the page - drawing attention away from key information. An animation here and there adds to the visual appeal, but use it sparingly and only to increase the user experience.

8. Accommodate differences
Your users aren't going to be using the same web browser with the same screen resolutions, and the same configurations. Plan to design your site with all those differences in mind.

Include text alternatives for images. Some users turn off images in their web browsers, which can greatly decrease the effectiveness of your presentation if you are using graphics. However, providing text alternatives for images allows those users to know what your graphics and graphic links represent.

9. Don't make your users wait
In general, web surfers are not willing to wait more than 15 seconds for a web page to load. With this in mind, you'll want to design your site for fast loading.

Try to limit the amount of graphics you use on each page. Graphics add to the size of your pages and to the time it takes your users to download the page. For those graphics you do use, optimize them using a compression utility so that the file size is reduced for downloading. Not optimizing your images is another very bad web design mistake.

While more and more people are using high-speed cable and DSL for Internet access, a large percentage of users are still connecting via 56k modems. However, those connections are actually only receiving about 42k download streams.

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