Thursday, March 24, 2011

What are the Characteristics of Good Web Site Design?

There are many different and often contradictory views and perceptions of the qualities that make for good Web site design. One also has to take into account current trends and popular styles in modern design, which can differ according to personal preferences.

Despite these variables there are some central characteristics of good site design that have emerged in the last few years, and which are generally perceived by pundits as being core features of good design. While design and creative layout remains an area dictated by personal taste and perception it is important to be aware of generally accepted characteristics in order to assess the comparative visual creativity of one’s own Web site.

A feature that is emphasized repeatedly by many designers is the tendency towards simplicity of design and structure of a Web site. Achieving simplicity of design however is not as easy as it might sound. The modern trend is towards a more minimalist interface and page layout, which facilitates ease of access to the site and usability features. One of the reasons for this trend is that as the number of Web sites proliferates at an even increasing rate, there is a need to create sites that have a clear and obvious message and aim.

Simplicity of layout is therefore a characteristic that is evident in some of the best Web sites around. Very often this refers to a simple one or two column structure. Pages are also read from top to bottom. The days of the complex and involved site structure that requires time to figure out in order to navigate are definitely outdated. A good example of the modern stylistic approach is a site like Protolize (

One of the main design principles that many Webmasters have lived by in recent years was that it was wise to reduce the amount of scrolling necessary to view a page. However, the modern tendency is for a centered orientation in Web design, rather than the previous left aligned, fixed-width layouts. Many top modern sites have the content centered on the page, which often requires some scrolling. While excessive scrolling is certainly not a good design characteristic, the modern view is that some scrolling is acceptable when it is offset against the better use of white space and content that is situated around a central axis.

In line with the above, there is also a relatively new tendency to focus on the design of the content and not the page itself. In other words, there is less focus on designing a page background for instance and rather paying more attention given to the way that the content is presented on a Web page. This follows from the view that effective communication and not mere decoration should be the main focus of a good Web site.

As designer Phil Brisk states, designers often become focused on detail rather than on paying attention to the way that the content is presented, “With your 'design' head on, concentrating on crafting and perfecting style elements, it's easy to forget to step back and see things through the eyes of your users.( He also makes the important point reflected in many modern successful Web sites that, while it is important to make use of eye-catching design elements to create flair and excitement on a site, “…these elements must always be relevant and appropriate, and not distract from a clear, coherent whole effect.” (

This statement encapsulates a central aspect of the modern trend in site design. In more practical terms this refers to aspects such as more open and less boxed-in page layouts as well as the use of color and visual effects to draw attention to the content rather than the aesthetics of the page. As another pundit states, “the focus is on making the site's subject look good, rather than making the web designer look good”. ( In the light of these views, aspects such central content alignment become important as it focuses attention on the content, as well as providing a sense of balance and simplistic creative design. A good example of a site that takes this view to the point of minimalism is that of Garrett Dimon's blog ( This site is designed for maximum access to content.

There are many other design aspects that conform to the modern perception of a ‘good’ website that are worth mentioning. Navigation is conventionally situated on the left side of the page or on the topbar. The latest trend is to rather place navigational elements on the right side of the page. This may be a trend that is linked to the way that navigation in most Blogs function. Similarly, right side navigation also has the advantage of making the content more visible and prominent.

There are many other aspects such as color usage, which have tended to become more low key and less garish. In terms of font size, the general trend has been to move away from very small illegible font sizes to larger fonts to make online reading more user-friendly. All of these trends point towards the central factor in contemporary Web design; namely that content, and access to instant information are key factors in modern Web design.