13 of the Best Web Design Principles

Posted on February 17, 2021 | Updated on October 21, 2022

Whether you’re a brand new web designer, or an old pro, a refresher of the best web design principles is always helpful. You’ve probably heard the saying you have to know the rules, so you can figure out when to break them. This is particularly true when it comes to web design. There are some things you should stick with for usability sake, and other things you can play around with until you find an amazingly unique design.

According to Internet Live Stats, there are 1.8 billion websites, but the number changes by the second. Although not all sites are live at any given time, you’re still competing for the attention of a limited number of users. If you want your site to stand out, you have to follow principles that give it excellent user experience (UX), while also adding in some unique elements. 

There are dozens of web design principles. We chose the ones we think are most important to a fully functioning and engaging website. Just what are the  most important factors of good web design?

1. Know Your Audience

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your site is. If you don’t understand your audience’s needs, you’ll fail to deliver and they’ll bounce away. Start any web design with an in-depth analysis of your user. 

Create a buyer persona showcasing the elements of your typical customer. Study internal data, competitor data and website analytics. If you still have questions about what your customers want, send out a survey and ask. The more detailed your person is, the better you can meet the expectations of your site visitors. 

2. Limit The Focus

One of the most important web design principles is to keep your design simple. Don’t try to cram everything imaginable into your site. Instead, think about the purpose of your page and how it aligns with your buyer persona. Does the purpose meet a need the consumer has?

Once you have an objective, everything on your page needs to point to the goal. If anything distracts from it, delete it from your page. Keep the design as simple and on-point as possible for the best conversion rates. 

3. Test All Features

Forbes reports about 86% of customers would pay more for better customer experience (CX). One your top web design principles should be fully testing any feature on your website. Click through all links, fill in and submit all forms. Make sure any animation works and pages load correctly. Test your site both on mobile and desktop. Enlist the help of a few friends or employees to test the system on different computers and browsers. 

4. Balance Positive and Negative Space

Have you ever visited a site so busy and cluttered you got a headache from it all? There needs to be a balance between the positive and negative elements on your page. Give the users’ eyes a break from time to time by adding nothing at all to the page. When you limit the number of items, you draw attention to the most important features. 

Web design principles, such as leaving space around images and text make your page more readable and scannable. Put yourself in the shoes of the average person, who has just a few minutes to check out your site. Are the main details easy to find?

5. Use Navigation as a Tool

When someone lands on your page, they will immediately look for your navigation bar to orient themselves to the page and figure out where to go. Although some modern designs do away with navigation elements in favor of a singular focus on the call to action (CTA) button, this isn’t beneficial for most users, who are used to seeing navigational hierarchy near the top of the page.

Do keep in mind web design principles vary between mobile and desktop devices. You might choose to collapse the menu for the mobile version of your web, so users can click on the hamburger icon if they want to expand the menu, but it doesn’t automatically take up precious screen space. 

6. Understand Reading Patterns

As long as your website is aimed at left-to-right languages, there is a certain way the gaze moves across the site. Understanding the reading pattern of most users allows you to place the most important elements where they’ll get the most attention.

Eye-tracking research has been going on for decades, but more and more web designs understand how important it is to put the results of these studies into practice within their designs. 

If you follow any web design principles, make sure you understand how people read in a Z pattern. They look to the upper left corner first, before moving right across the page. Next, the reader drops down the page diagonally and reads from left to right again.

Understanding reading patterns means you place elements such as the logo and navigation across the top and the call to action across the bottom of the fold. 

7. Tap Into Visual Hierarchy

There are a lot of subtle factors in design. For example, the largest elements tend to also be the most important. Your headline, which sums up what the entire page or company is about, tends to be in a larger font than body text, which simply adds more detail. Images can also have a hierarchy. Even your CTA button should be slightly larger than any other buttons on your page. 

Understanding the finer web design principles, such as hierarchy helps you tap into the psychology of design. You can even add little elements such as having the model in a photograph face toward the call to action button to draw more attention to the CTA.

8. Use Readable Fonts

Typography’s role in web design cannot be an understatement. Implementing the proper use of fonts represents your brand’s personality. It can also capture your audience’s attention. 

Yet, the font’s purpose goes beyond the aesthetic. Typefaces should also be readable and functional. After all, users struggling to see your text will have difficulty connecting with your message. 

Some website-friendly fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Times New Roman and Courier New. In essence, your fonts must maintain legibility and work seamlessly across mobile and desktop.

9. Use Complementary Colors

Consider using a color palette that sets the tone of your web design. For instance, brown and black create a rustic or exclusive mood. Meanwhile, pastel colors make your website feel playful and modern. 

Choosing colors that work well together is important regardless of the feeling you’re trying to portray. In some cases, this might mean sticking with similar shades. But keep in mind that opposites can also attract. 

For instance, choosing colors on opposite ends of the spectrum can go well together as long as they are complementary. This would include warm and cool or light and dark colors. That way, they have enough contrast to stand out from each other.

10. Consistency Is Key

When you think about big-name brands, such as Coca-Cola or Nike, they each use similar fonts, design techniques and colors. That’s the power of consistency, which all has to do with branding.

While designing your website, each page should include consistent elements to clarify your brand’s identity. Examples include:

  • Implementing the same styles, fonts and colors across the webpage headers.

  • Maintaining the same spacing between elements on every page.

  • Using a color palette instead of choosing random colors.

  • Establishing layout guidelines for blog posts and articles.

  • Using the same website design or template for every page. 

Page consistency doesn’t have to be entirely uniform. You can still mix elements as long as you maintain balance and texture. For instance, you can alter the layout of each page to mix it up.

11. Pay Attention to Subtle Details

The big picture is always important, of course. After all, the way that the visual elements come together will dictate the website’s overall look.

However, avoiding overlooking the finer details is important as well. Consider paying attention to the smaller elements, such as footer icons and spacing between your text. Improving one small piece can make a world of difference for your website.

12. Choose Images Wisely

The images you select for your website can depict various meanings. That’s why it’s important to be careful when choosing a picture. 

Imagery can serve a wide variety of purposes in web design. It can tell a story, evoke emotion, demonstrate products and create a certain atmosphere. Therefore, it’s important to remember that not all images are created equally.

When choosing an image, ensure it aligns with the impression you intend to make. While they should fit with the aesthetic, it’s also crucial they have high resolution and look professional. 

13. Avoid Walls of Text

You get one chance to make a good first impression on a new site visitor. Therefore, your branding should be clear from the start. Part of that relates to the role copywriting plays in your web design. 

The written content should be simple and easy to read. This means avoiding large chunks of text, especially on the homepage. 

Long paragraphs can make your website look cluttered and dilute your message. 

Keep Learning New Web Design Principles

Over time, web design principles change as technology shifts. Ten years ago, no one worried about how well a site adapted to mobile devices. Now, designers consider smartphone users first and how mobile friendly their designs are. Keep abreast of new technology and the way people interact with websites. Keep trying new methods, testing them and adapting as needed. With attention to detail, you’ll engage users and keep them coming back for more content.

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1 Comment

  1. Monica on July 13, 2021 at 4:29 am

    Thank you for the article! We also created a digital design doctrine that provides our insights on website design, if anybody is interested, here is the free resource: https://ecuras.com/insights/the-digital-design-doctrine/

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