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Blog: article

Walking the tightrope - designing a website that looks great and is usable

28 2011

by Nigel Harding

Life is full of balancing acts and I’m sure we recognise that we often have to decide upon a solution that has to service a number of requirements. My hybrid bicycle has to cope with cycling on roads and trails because I don’t have the budget or space for a specialist road bike and mountain bike. In a somewhat similar way, a website has to look as creative, unique and professional as it is possible to be but without compromising the usability of the site and accessibility of content.

The graphical impact of a website is very important. When I am asked to look at websites and make recommendations then I often find that images are of poor quality, low quality clipart has been used, colours often clash. The reasons for this are often understandable, many websites are put together by business owners, or an employee who may be able to put something together technically but who is lacking in design awareness. Using high quality images and ensuring that a website is pleasing on the eye with a complimentary colour palette can go a long way towards creating a site that demonstrates credibility, brand presence and professionalism.

A good design will introduce balance, proportions and colour that will be naturally very pleasing.

Easy to navigate

difficult to navigate website Easy to navigate? You decide…

At the same time a website has to be usable, it has to be easy to find your way around and it has to showcase your content. For example, as tempting as it may be to have a menu system that features complex animations or expressive typography, we have to be pragmatic here. The brain has become accustomed to seeing menu options across the top of a web page or down the left-hand side. If you deviate from that subconscious expectation then you will introduce an inhibitor to accessibility of your website.

Unless your business is very arty or graphical, then your website text or content needs to be found very quickly by your visitors. Your key messages need to be immediately placed in front of your guests. To this end I would suggest not over-elaborating the graphics on your site to the distraction or exclusion of content. You want your visitors to be able to see important information clearly, without having to scroll below the page fold.

Overuse of distracting graphics

distracting website colours

It’s all about balance, your website needs to be graphic, professional and a showpiece for your content. If you don’t get this right then users will click away very quickly.