Web design: best practice

When you’re designing your website, you should make sure that it's easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for. You also need to ensure that disabled people can access it.

Guide

5 min read

1. Overview

Usability plays a key role in web design. It is important that visitors to your website can access the information they need easily and quickly.

There are also legal issues to consider when you design your website. You have to ensure that you comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Although it is possible to design a website yourself, you may want to use a web designer or digital agency.

2. Website planning

You may want to develop a website to:

  • build brand awareness
  • save money
  • sell products
  • improve customer support

All businesses can benefit from an accessible and easy-to-use website. Online customers who find your website intuitive are much more likely to purchase from you and revisit your website in the future.

Content and audience

Decide what type of content you will need and how this should be presented. Try and understand what will make customers visit your website, what they will want when they get there and what will encourage them to return.

There is some information you must display on your website to comply with the law. All companies in the UK must clearly state:

  • the company registration number
  • place of registration
  • registered office address

If your company is being wound up, this must also be displayed on all of your websites.

Planning techniques

It is a good idea to create a site map. This shows the structure of your website - including the proposed content, navigation and layout of your webpages.

You can map out your websites using wireframes. The wireframe is made up of labelled boxes that show the navigation and the blocks of content that each webpage will contain.

Wireframes are very easy to change, so the initial design can be shown to customers or colleagues.

3. Web design: technical issues

There are several technical issues to consider when designing your website.

Browser issues

You will have to design webpages that can be displayed by many different browsers. You should test your webpages in as many browsers as possible to ensure that they will display properly. You should also ensure that your webpages work in previous versions of the browsers, as some of your audience may not have updated their software.

Screen resolutions

If you design your website for a higher resolution than 1024 x 768 pixels, some screens with lower resolutions may not display all of the content.

It is also worth considering how your site will appear on mobile devices, ie smart phones, net books and tablet computers. For example, you should try to minimise the need for vertical scrolling and reduce the steps needed to complete a purchase.

Download speeds

Not all internet users have high speed access, so connection speed should also influence your webpage design.

Too many images or rich media - such as animations or video - will slow down the speed at which the webpage loads. This means users may move to another site. It could also affect your search engine ranking.

Technology

Some web technology can prevent users from viewing your site or affect indexing of your website by search engines. These technologies include:

  • HTML frames
  • Javascript
  • Flash
  • AJAX

If using any of these technologies you need to consider what the potential risks may be to the usability and accessibility of your website.

4. Web design: accessibility issues

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for you to discriminate against a disabled person. This means you must design your website so that disabled people can access it using technology - eg screen readers.

Accessibility guidance

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has produced a number of accepted guidelines, which are divided into three priorities:

  • priority 1 - websites must comply otherwise some users will find it impossible to access the site
  • priority 2 - websites should comply, otherwise some users will find it difficult to access the site
  • priority 3 - websites may comply, otherwise some users will find it somewhat difficult to access the site

Reasonable adjustments

If your business puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, you need to make 'reasonable adjustments'. For a website owner, this means:

  • changing a practice, policy or procedure that makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the service - eg using very small text that puts vision-impaired people at a disadvantage
  • providing services that would enable (or make it easier) for disabled people to use the service - eg offering an alternative point and click interface for visitors that can't use a keyboard

Making websites accessible

There are many adjustments you can make to your website to make it easier for disabled people to use. The WC3 website provides guidance on getting started with web accessibility.

Checking if your site is accessible

The WC3 website lists a number of tools and services that can help you check that your site is accessible.

5. Designing your website

When designing your website, you should consider:

  • how your business' branding will be look
  • style and theme
  • navigation
  • which colours, graphics, text and video to use

Consistency

Visitors to your website should be able to move from page-to-page easily and always know where they are. You could:

  • place navigational elements in the same position on each page
  • use the same fonts and colours throughout the site
  • have a clear, visual hierarchy to the elements on your page
  • ensure your business logo appears on each page and when clicked, links back to the homepage of your site
  • include a search box on each page and always ensuring this is in the same location on the webpage
  • remember the 'three click rule' - users starting on your homepage should be able to find the information they need in three mouse clicks

Fonts and typography

You should choose standard fonts for pages and specify a font family. Remember to use commonly available fonts and test your webpages on multiple platforms to see what effect these have on the overall appearance.

Amount and placement of content

Avoid putting too much information on a page, as this may make it more difficult for the user to locate the information they need. Users tend to scan a page first, picking out headings and subheadings before reading the page in more detail.

Marketing messages or 'calls to action' may be more effective if placed 'above the fold'. This refers means they're immediately visible once the page has loaded and the user doesn't need to scroll down the page to read them.

Read our guide on Search engine optimisaton.

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