It’s easy to mess up web design. Web sites are complicated machines with many moving parts, some of which are prone to throw tantrums at inopportune times.
In aggregate with the already-fickle aspects of design like typography and whitespace, getting a proper web site up and running is possible, but often beyond the average man’s easy apprehension.
Here are a few tips to make your web site just a little bit better. Most of these things won’t make or break the deal on their own.
If your content is terrible, you should fix it before you scroll any further down this page. If your site is already solid, though, these tips might give it that extra shimmering professional edge you’ve been looking for.
1. Make Good Use of Whitespace
Whitespace is as important on the web as it is in any other medium. Give your content a little room to breathe. In fact, give it a lot of room to breathe.
There is still a tendency among web designers to overly-crowd their pages, thinking that information density is the most important consideration in design.
This is carryover thinking from their many hours spent perusing technical documentation, where density really is desirable.
2. Some Basics of Typography
As an extension of the previous tip, take a little time to scrutinize your typography. Typography is built around whitespace, e.g. between characters, between lines, indentation, and so on.
All of these elements of typography are fragile.
Typography is also painfully obvious when it’s off, so no matter how good you think it already is, go do some research and find some new ways to optimize it.
There’s definitely something you haven’t thought of yet — this deserves a whole volume, let alone an article, of its own.
3. Compress and Resize Your Graphics
Load time optimization is crucial for any web site, even though this is not, strictly speaking, a design quality. One commonly overlooked (or at least forgotten) aspect of load-time optimization is image compression and resizing.
Don’t forget the “save for web & devices” feature of Photoshop, or look into the open-source ImageMagick if you can’t spare the cash for Adobe products.
4. Manage Your Redirects Carefully
Another important optimization for web sites that’s not strictly design-related is domain redirection.
Make sure that people can get to your site no matter what variation of your domain they into their browser. Mydomain.com should find your domain.
When possible, reserve any domain that is spelled similarly to yours, too.
5. Keep Navigation Simple
People visit your domain to find some sort of information.
As a general rule, if that information can’t be found within two clicks of your homepage, you need to reorganize your site’s architecture.
6. Test Your Site Often
After all the time that you spend maintaining your site, you might start to get lazy with testing. Don’t allow this to happen!
Every time you make a change, reload your site and see what it looks like. In fact, see what all your pages look like. Tinker with it like you were visiting it for the first time.
As I said above, web sites are complex machines, and complex machines are prone to malfunction just as a product of their complexity.
One small change can potentially affect every other site element in weird ways.
It only takes one crucial malfunction to render the whole site unusable at least uncomfortable to use. Tread carefully!
7. It’s the Little Things
There are dozens of small, non-crucial and sometimes barely distinguishable aspects of your site that can yet make a difference for user experience.
Do you have a Favicon up yet? The Favicon is the little icon to the left of your browser’s URL box. Are all of your alt-tags appropriate and descriptive?
Have you designed a custom 404 page for your site?
These things are not all necessarily at the forefront of your visitors’ mind when they glance over your site, but they will affect your visitors overall approval of your site in subtle ways.
Perfection is attained over time with the accumulation of many small optimizations. For practical reasons, you may at some time or another be forced to call a project “done,” but it should only be with reluctance as long as the project was worth its salt to begin with.