Website Design Principles and Elements for Beginners

Posted on April 14, 2024 | Updated on April 17, 2024

Beginning web designers may wonder how to learn what colors go together, which elements appear where on a page and what makes for an excellent user experience (UX). Fortunately, there are some basic design principles and elements to help you lay out your first website design and hit all the right points for success. 

Creating a website from scratch requires a lot of moving parts. If you want the finished product to look and function professionally, you must understand human behavior as well as basic design skills.

Although we could name dozens of different things to focus on, there are a few crucial elements to excellent design.

1. Know the Goal

Forbes reported in late 2023 a total of around 1.3 billion websites, with 82% of them inactive. Still, you’re competing against 200 million plus other sites for user attention. If you want your site to grab visitors and keep them engaged, you must start with the purpose of the page. 

It’s best to stick to one goal as you layout your design. You can then create elements that guide the user toward the action you want them to take. 

2. Work the Simplicity

When considering the different design principles and elements you can add, keep in mind that minimalism always has a place in design. Don’t try to give consumers every single thing they’d ever want in a single page. Instead, pace yourself  by focusing on the most vital elements and eliminating anything else.

3. Create a Visual Hierarchy

Consider how the size and look of the elements on a page impact the user. Ideally, the most important items will be bigger, bolder and brighter. Visual hierarchy applies to headlines, body text and images on your site. 

Use a free website tool to create a mockup and see what the site might look like in theory. You can use tools such as: 

  • Canva 
  • Moqups 
  • Visme 
  • Mockplus

Some designers like to sketch their hierarchy out on paper to get a feel for the look and easily move around pieces. 

4. Choose a Color Palette

One crucial element in design principles and elements is the colors you use. If you’re building a new website for a client, they may have brand colors they’d like you to incorporate. If you’re building something and the client doesn’t yet have set in stone hues, you have a lot more flexibility.

Even if you have to use a couple of specific colors, you can use a palette generator and come up with additional combinations. Use white in the background. Add a pop of vivid color for the call to action (CTA) button. Look for ways to help the business stand out from competitors in the same industry. 

Generate different combinations and see what you like best at sites such as:

  • Coolers
  • Adobe Color
  • Color Hunt
  • Palleton

You can also use a color wheel to come up with new combinations and see what strikes your fancy. 

5. Understand How Users Look at a Page

English readers start on the left and read to the right but how they look at a website page differs slightly. Designers can expect most people to use an F-pattern when reading. Knowing where their gaze falls allows you to place elements where they’re most likely seen.

For example, if you know the reader starts in the upper left corner of your website, placing your logo there makes sense as it is the first thing the person sees and sets the tone for your company branding.

Putting things above the fold ensures you take advantage of the reading style and placement. 

6. Include White Space

Good design has a nice balance between positive and negative elements. Don’t throw up a busy background and then plop things on top of it. You’ll wind up with an unreadable mess. If using an image or video for the background, you can do a couple of things to offset any headings or body text.

You can choose a font that is bold and thick to make it pop. Add some shadow to give it extra dimension. Ensure the background is a darker or lighter hue than the font color. 

You could also add a solid color layer with some transparency. The background still peaks through but the text becomes more readable. Play around with the elements until you find the perfect mix.

7. Test for Functionality

No matter how aesthetically pleasing a design might look, it must function as intended to be effective. If the goal of the page is to get a user to click on a button and share their email, you’ll only convert them if the button works.

Elements that fail can also create a lack of trust between users and the brand. With around 40% of organizations suffering an AI privacy breach and 25% of those being malicious, people are more cautious about unprofessional looking sites. 

Testing your site to ensure it works as intended is a quick solution that prevents buyer frustration. Play the part of a site visitor and a customer. Walk through the buyer’s journey clicking on each link and filling out forms to ensure they give a completion message and send through to the other end. 

Develop an Eye for Design

Design principles and elements remain the same through the years, with only small changes to accommodate smaller screen size or technological advances. Take the time to study excellent designs and learn from them. Take a step back from anything you create and view it from a distance to look for flaws. Ask a mentor or skilled coworker for in-depth feedback and learn from it so you can apply the techniques to your next design.

When you desire to create a high-functioning, beautiful website, your designs will naturally follow the best design principles and elements.

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