50+ Web Design Principles

web design principles

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

A cliche. But there’s nothing more suitable in explaining what web design is than this. Ask any web design company in the Philippines, and it will tell you how easy it can be to explain what web design is through examples.

Web design is judged by the users based on their own perceptions and understanding most of the time. This is the reason why our own principle is to design to convert.

The success of your website design is measured by the levels of interaction at the page and percentage of conversion. Specific parameters are required before these success metrics can be met.

What makes a good website design? Below are the answers.

How do you analyze website design?

Usability

Good website design augments its usability, helping the users find what they are looking for easily. User-friendliness is also about navigating the website without any confusion.

A user always has a purpose in visiting a website. If he or she cannot accomplish such a purpose, then your website may lack the elements that make it highly usable or functional.

Quality

In web design, quality is everything. It is more than the visual appeal, but more so its usability, expandability, and flexibility.

Quality websites have clean and responsive codes, user-friendly navigation, search engine optimized content, and powerful images. 

Credibility

Credibility is the result of having a purposeful web design. The website must be professional and attractive and it should be free of errors, typos, and, most importantly, bugs.

A credible web design instills a sense of trust in the brand and demonstrates expertise to anyone visiting the website.

Intuitiveness

Navigation must be intuitive, which means that the user would have an inclination to know what to do next. It also means that the design allows the user to take the desired actions in the most efficient way possible. 

Effective browsing is also about prioritizing the information you present on the website. The most important information should be above the fold, for instance. Otherwise, the user might get tired looking for the information they need.

Scalability

In web design and development, scalability can mean a lot of things. For one, it refers to the ability of the website to cope with additional features or functions.

Scalable web design enables the site to scale completely within the viewport without ruining the aspect ratio. It is all about increasing system performance.  

Flow

User flow is the path that users follow through the website interface in completing a task. 

An effective web design guides the user journey, prioritizing the needs of the users through the design. Without user flow, it would be difficult for the site to make the users convert.  

Clarity

Clarity goes hand in hand with a clean, beautiful, and balanced website design. Balance pertains to visuals, texts, colors, etc.

Clarity, nonetheless, is apparent in visual contentions wherein the knowledge and appreciation of best practices in terms of layouts, combinations, and other applicable processes.

Simplicity

The simplicity of web design is tricky to pinpoint. The concept is easier to determine when the opposite is apparent—too cluttered, too busy a website. 

One can easily tell how overdesigned the site is, with too many elements that are basically unnecessary. With this, the point of the analysis is the cleanliness and freshness of the design while doing its main purpose of allowing the users to navigate from page to page seamlessly.

Please remember that web design is more than about what designers actually do. There is more to the design process than meets the eye more so when one is designing to convert.

Design is also not just about your website. Instead, web design is also the brand and its message, values, products, and services. Any other value-adding element is encapsulated in the design.

Below are the key elements that make web design effective.

What are the key elements of effective web design?

Shape

While shape is responsible for creating enclosed boundaries in the overall web design, it takes more than putting rectangles, squares, and circles.

Nowadays, web designers are utilizing geometric and abstract shapes to give completeness to the design or element. 

Texture

Texture provides the website with a feel of the surface beneath.

There are natural and artificial textures that can be incorporated into the overall design. Regardless of which is chosen, it must bring out the content to make it stand out.

Color

Color is both a key element and a principle of web design. 

Black and white websites have their own appeal, although the use of this combo is only appropriate for certain niches. Colors raise the site’s appeal, but just the same, it should be used creatively. 

Direction

Directional elements are responsible for movement and/or motion on the website. 

These are not necessarily moving elements on the site. Instead, these design elements should encourage users to make their eyes move from point to point. Movement can be based on hierarchy or relevance.

Usability

You’ve read about usability above as the focal point of user-website interaction. This is a crucial concept in web design, so expect to read more of it below.

The usability of the website drives the users’ decision-making. Thus, its functionality outstrips other design considerations. There is also a direct path to conversion while demanding the littlest effort as possible on the part of the user. 

Web design principles

Purpose

You don’t consider this as a principle but it is since it also caters to the users’ needs. Websites need to fill needs in the most effective possible way. 

As such, each page of your website must have a clear purpose whether it is providing information that they are looking for or a place to transact. The page should have points of interaction as well.

Simplicity

Of course, you know K-I-S-S or Keep It Simple, St***d! 

Design elements you put into your website affect its overall simplicity. Those features that do not serve a purpose will only frustrate your users. So keep it easy to use and navigate. 

Don’t be like other over-designed websites, having too many distracting elements. Also, the simplest sites tend to stand the test of time.

Consistency

You want to minimize the noise in your web design. That’s why you also need to be consistent with matching design elements on each page. It includes the font types, font sizes, headings, subheadings, button colors, button sizes, and logo placement among others.

There are two things you need for this. First is the brand style guidelines and second is the CSS. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets which contain design-related information. 

Alignment

Alignment is a component of consistency. The website won’t achieve consistency with misaligned elements.

The images must be aligned with the overall tone of the site and, specifically, the texts. This process helps in delivering a consistent brand identity and purpose.

Accessibility

Accessibility is self-explanatory. It is useless to build a website that cannot be accessed by the users.

Several elements make the website accessible. First is the typeface. The font type and font size must be readable, so avoid using fancy fonts. Second is the color. Color scheme and contrast must create visual harmony and balance. The third is the image. High-resolution images reinforce the site’s purpose, specifically its unique selling proposition.

Compliance

Compliance is about the security of the website also wherein it should be seamlessly integrated into the design.

In web design and development, there are formal guidelines and regulations to follow. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the perfect example, although this is just one. 

Protocols like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) are also there to ensure that your website can protect confidential user information.

Communication

Who said communication isn’t a web design principle? Websites should strive to have effective communication with every user who wants to find the information he or she is looking for quickly. 

Effective communication means putting easy to read and digestible information on the site. This also means organizing the available information through headings and subheadings and bullet points instead of long, complicated sentences. 

User attention

Focusing user attention can be a challenge to web designers. There is a need to compel the users to focus their attention on where it should be exactly. Arrows, CTAs, and bold typography are some of these elements. 

These can help the users in navigating their way around the website without any confusion.

Divine proportions

Refer to Golden Ratio below.

Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio (φ) pertains to 1.618. It is a proportion that creates an aesthetically pleasing design. Web designers approximate the ratio to create elements in their proportions.

Artists, including UX and web designers, use proportions in approximating the Golden Ratio. There is a need for a layout height and width, though. So for a layout width of 1366 px with a length of 768 px, the content area should be 844 px (1366 / 1.618) while the sidebar area must be 474 px (748 / 1.618). 

Structure

Structures should be highly intuitive. This is the primary principle of usability. The entire layout must be easily understandable. Through this, the structure would not confuse the users. 

The intuitiveness of the layout also makes the website more engaging. If there are too many cognitive loads, it will definitely fail at encouraging the users to accomplish his or her goal.

Visual hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is about organizing the elements of the page to make certain elements more prominent than the others. The human eye perceives order differently, and it helps to assist the process of assigning prominence to which element.

Value proposition, call to action buttons, and contact forms are some of the most important elements in a website. Visual hierarchy allows the emphasizing of these important elements.

It would help to rank website elements based on business objectives. That means assigning a priority to these elements. 

Typefaces 

Typeface and typography (or font) are two different things. Typeface refers to the visual appearance or style of the fonts and their consistency. Roman, boldface, and italic are examples of typefaces.

Sans Serif (e.g. Verdana and Arial) are the most recommended typeface. The simplicity, with no decorative finishes whatsoever, allows for an easier read online. The rule of thumb is using 16 px font size and using up to three typefaces only for a more streamlined design.

Typography

Text and visual content are equally important. Text content, more specifically, must allow the users to find the information they look for. As such, you should keep the text visually appealing and optimized at the same time.

The readability and comprehensibility of the textual content contribute to the performance of the website, especially on search engines. It must have the right keywords and metadata.

Readability 

Typography and readability are related. Users are looking for information so text still rules the website. 

The typography should not be just visually appealing, but also highly readable. For one, there are fonts that are easier to read on screens such as Arial and Helvetica. Thus, it helps to combine readable typefaces on certain design elements like call to action buttons, body texts, and, of course, headlines.

Economized content

When you utilize less, you achieve more. This principle is also applicable to web design.

Delivering the most important information by making the website clutter-free and simple. The degree of clarity is needed in this aspect not just to throw emphasis on the most important element, but also to create distinctiveness between and among the elements.

Color palette

What you want is a well thought out color palette that compliments one another and the other elements within the website. This alone creates harmony and balance that is crucial in web design.

Contrasting colors can be also used to emphasize the text, although this territory must be treated carefully. While they can make reading the textual content easier, they tend to be borderline confusing. The same goes for using vibrant colors. The vividness creates strong emotions that may not be always good for the overall feel of the website.

Both can be compensated by the generous use of white or negative space. The modernity of the site will stand out without making it look cluttered. 

Intuitive navigation 

Navigation is a web design principle that permits the users to take the desired action and move around the website without getting lost or drowning three levels down the homepage. As such, nav should be intuitive enough that the users would know instantly where to go or which to click next.

Effective navigation follows the natural flow with a logical page hierarchy. The best practices nowadays are using bread crumbs and following the three-click rule. Utilizing clickable or tappable buttons based on the specifications of the device is also a breath of fresh air.

Imagery

Imagery is defined as visually descriptive language or visual symbolism. This refers to the collection of visual images on your website. Its value lies in picking the right images that emphasize brand positioning while also connecting with the target audience. 

When using photos, though, make sure these are high-resolution photos. Also, mix it with infographics, videos, illustrations, and graphics. Ensure synchrony wherein there is one unified feel about it. If you use custom illustrations, stick with it. Use the same filters for all images as well.

Placement

Size and placement is another design principle that increases the likelihood of clicking the right button or link. This is possible when putting the button on prominent and accessible areas on the screen. These areas are where the eye typically falls. 

You don’t want to bury the details. Prioritize the above the fold, if it helps. Well, it should.

Distance

It should be easy for the users to click what needs clicking, for instance. Tasks are usually sequential and linear but do not stagnate your users.

In essence, it means minimizing the tasks needed in accomplishing the goal of why the users are on your website in the first place.

Movement

In ensuring that they can complete a task in at least three clicks, the design must accommodate this. Group the aligned tasks. Or, put them in one container.

With this, the users would not be confused with what to do next. For movement to happen, the design must be structured yet intuitive.

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is about images. Anyhow, websites are also visual communicators. 

Following the rule of thirds, divide the image into nine equal parts. The compositional elements must be placed along the horizontal and vertical lines and their intersections. 

Do this to pique the interest of your audience. Interesting images can be any website more appealing.

Grid-based layout

The placement of features on the website is compliant with a grid-based layout. That’s opposite to placing components randomly that results in cluttered and haphazard appearance no one wants to interact with.

With a grid-based layout, the components are arranged into sections, compartments, boxes, and columns. So they are well lined up and balanced. 

“F” pattern design, or

Some web design principles adhere to eye-tracking studies. The “F” pattern design is the perfect example since users typically scan the screen using this pattern. It is up-down, top-left, and middle.  

Instead of disrupting the natural visual flow or forcing against it, it is best to follow through. Display information based on the natural behaviors and perceptions of order of importance of the users. It should always be from top to bottom and left to right.

“Z” pattern design

If not the “F” pattern, the “Z” pattern may do the trick. The eyes scan from left to right in a horizontal direction before going down to the left side of the page in a diagonal direction. Then, it trails back horizontally. 

This is a rather common design principle since it follows the natural scanning pattern. 

White space

White space or negative space refers to the empty parts of the website or pages. It is the space between the visual or textual elements. 

Users may think of it as a blank space, but it is more than that. For one, it allows the design elements and objects to exist apart from each other. It also provides a structure or hierarchy to the elements.

Most importantly, white space allows the website to look uncluttered. Every noise on the website disturbs the attention of the users. A clean design communicates the message clearly.

As such, there is enough impetus to K.I.S.S. or Keep It Simple, St***d. 

Minimalism

When there is a lot of negative space on the website, it reflects minimalism. 

The idea behind a minimalist design is simple: simplifying the interface. It can be achieved by removing unnecessary elements or those that do not support the user experience.

While at it, make sure that there’s a balance between functionality and aesthetics.

Fast loading

Believe it or not, but page loading time is now a part of web design principles. This has been the case ever since Google designated speed as a ranking factor. Other than that, users hate websites that take forever to load.

Make sure that the website loads in 5 seconds or less. The rule of thumb is the faster, the better. So, optimize the images, combine codes in one central JavaScript or CSS file, and minify HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, among other speed optimization tips.

Mobile compatibility

With speed comes another factor: responsiveness. Of course, you’d want a website that is viewable in different browsers and devices. 

Mobile compatibility or mobile-friendliness cannot be emphasized enough. A responsive layout is crucial at this point considering the competitiveness of the Internet.

Call to action

One way that the design supports the business objectives is by putting the right calls to action. 

There are differing perspectives about using calls to action. Nonetheless, there should always be one call to action button on a page. If there are multiple calls to action, emphasize the most important one with a larger button or different color, using a special icon. 

Optimized buttons and icons

Buttons are typically the last design elements considered in the overall design. This doesn’t mean they have a diminished role in making the website as effective as it should be. On the contrary, buttons and icons play an indispensable role.

Users may regard these elements as their deciding factor whether to continue exploring the website or stop and close the window. Buttons and icons, therefore, must stand out among all the visual elements on the website. They should be easy to find and click or tap.

Search function

Such a principle is straightforward. A robust search function can cut the discovery time in half. This helps in eliminating the need to throw everything in the navigation bar.

This can be a pitfall too if not implemented properly. If your website has thousands of pages, the results can be overwhelming. It would help to set the results based on relevance. Better yet, provide filters.

Filters

Speaking of filters, this feature assists the users in finding the products or services they need. Filters limit the number of choices based on the needs and preferences of the users.

Only the most relevant results are displayed when filters are used.

Invariance

Invariance means putting one different option among the choices in a homogenous group. This is mostly observed in designing pricing or package tables where you present all the inclusions of the packages.

With this, the design is guiding the user to focus on one particular option. Or, it could be a special offer. This is critical since the human eye goes straight to the different one. Essentially, the design encourages the user to take that action.

Conversion points

Relevance ties the entire user experience (UX) together. Unfortunately, this is one design principle that is often implemented incorrectly.

For instance, if you are going to present your value proposition and the user would likely convert, make sure there is a clickable button or contact form to accomplish near the information.

Hick’s Law

Hick’s Law is simple: Every additional choice increases the time it needs to decide. The fewer options are there, the better. This is the same with the Paradox of Choice. More choices make it difficult to choose one item from the list. 

In web design, it helps to minimize or eliminate choices. These are just distractions that make the web design ineffective. While at it, with infinite choices comes the necessity of filters. But filters too should only include the most relevant.

Fitts’ Law

Fitts’ Law is about time and distance. It pertains to the time it needs for the user to move from the point of origin to the target area. The distance to the target matters equally with the size of the target. Put simply, the bigger and the closer the object, the easier it is to use. 

But there’s a pitfall to Fitts’ Law. Bigger does not always mean better, right? It is comforting to know, however, that usability follows a curve and not a straight line. 

There is also the rule of the target size that web designers need to understand. If you expect a button to be clicked more frequently, it then helps to make the size proportional to the use frequency. 

Bottom-line, make certain buttons bigger.

Gestalt design laws

Gestalt design laws are a psychology-related theory. The principle behind the laws is simple: the eyes see the object in its entirety before they perceive the individual parts. Based on gestaltism, the whole exists independently from its parts.

Applying the principle to web design, users will see the website first in its entirety before distinguishing the parts from the logo to the call to action buttons. 

There are at least six Gestalt design laws.

Law of proximity

The law of proximity is about the spatial significance of the objects. Depending on how close the parts to one another, they can be perceived as a single object.

In web design, it helps to group together compositional elements so they can be perceived as a whole. For example, the navigation bar with the buttons or icons, search function, primary call to action button, and drop-down menu together. They form a whole. 

Law of similarity

Aside from the space that either group or separate the objects, the law of similarity tells us that people also group the same things together. 

Similarity takes various forms such as shapes, sizes, colors, shades, and other such attributes. These objects do not mean to stand out alone, but to reinforce one another.

Law of closure

The law of closure is different. It is all about completeness.

Visual gaps are created when there are open shapes or that some parts are missing. Nonetheless, our perception fills such a gap.

It is like seeing lines around an image or other design elements and combining the ends of those lines to form a whole shape. 

Law of symmetry

Our mind also perceives objects as symmetrical wherein there is always a center point. That’s why we divide an object perceptually in even numbers.

Upon seeing unconnected yet symmetrical design elements, the tendency is to connect them. In this way, they would form a coherent shape. This is the reason why three-column websites are so common.

Law of common fate

The law of common fate is about perceiving the lines as moving along a path. Objects with similar trends of motion are often grouped together since they lead to the same path.

In web design, this can be used in directing the attention of the users to the most important features of the website like the signup form or subscribe or share buttons.

Law of continuity

As with the above Gestalt laws, the law of continuity is about our perception of a line as continuous. This is a way to establish direction. 

People see lines as uninterrupted entities more so when there are intersections. This remains even when there’s an overlap. 

Occam’s razor

When there are competing hypotheses, Occam’s razor suggests picking that one hypothesis that requires you to make the fewest assumptions. Why? It’s because of the simplest assumptions.

For web designers, it only means one thing: simplifying the design. This pertains to the minimalist design that is often more effective than its opposite. 

80/20 rule

Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule allows the users to identify the most important page elements. An effective design technically eliminates distractions to make it work.

Since this is the law of the vital few, it means presenting only the details or elements that matter. In web design, simplification has its benefits wherein 20% of the work done is enough to affect 80% completion, for instance.

User testing

Regular testing is also a part of web design principles. Testing reveals bugs and errors that can be rectified before launching the website.

Also, testing is an iterative process. The initial processes are design and development then, test, fix, and test again. Testing and retesting allows the development team to solve problems that are not solved during the first round of testing.

TETO (test early, test often)

Part of user testing is TETO. Usability testing is usually conducted at the end of major milestones.

However, a good practice is to test the changes as often as possible. Testing at the earlier stages of development is better than testing at the end only to go back to the first step due to a major usability issue.

Search engine optimized

In a world of search engine dominance, an SEO-ready or optimized website cannot be emphasized enough.

Part of web design is making sure that it is crawlable, findable, searchable, and displayable on results pages. However, this can be very technical and you may need the help of an expert.

Some providers design optimized websites. So ask your designer and developer if this is something included in the package or how can you avail the service as a separate package. The thing is you cannot compromise with this one. 

Social proofs

Genuine and reputable testimonials are social proofs that vouch for the credibility of not just the website, but the brand or company. 

These proofs can be used in the design to easily establish trust among the users. The authenticity and quality of the site and products and services are at stake here, so don’t skip it as much as possible.

Maintenance

Designs also evolve. Your website may need to change certain features or functionality about one to three years after. 

This is particularly important for custom-designed websites. There are at least three things to keep in mind. First, segment the codes to figure out which segments are responsible for which feature. Second, prepare documentation. Secure a copy of the easy-to-understand manuals, so you have something handy when the need to redesign arises. Third, make sure support is provided to correct any problems as they arise.

These web design principles will help you in creating an attractive and functional website. They can help in making the website more engaging and useful for visitors.