If you’ve ever placed yourself in the position of having to start a new website (which, if you’re a modern business, you should have), then you know how scary that blank page can be.
The question is, “where do you start?”
You know what kind of information you want to share, and you have a general idea of where to go, but how do you start laying it out and getting it ready for the masses?
Here are seven simple tips to level up as a beginner web designer/developer.
1. Focus on Simplicity
It's easy to see all those complicated websites with crazy page transitions and elements that move into view as you scroll and think your site needs that.
While those can be nice, remember that your design isn't the content, it presents the content – you don't want to end up distracting people from the content with PowerPoint-like transitions flying around everywhere.
Besides that, maintaining a simple design ethic makes it easy for you to keep your site up to date, which means that you can keep the content fresh.
2. Update, Update, Update
Another huge part of working with the internet is keeping things up to date.
Having new, frequently-updated content is one of the best things you can do to boost your placement in search (especially if that new content is optimized).
Yes, having optimized pages and pillar pages will boost your position, but not to the degree that maintaining a blog that you post one to three times a week on will.
When you're designing and building, keep this in mind and build for it – make sure it's easy for your content creators to post and update.
3. Tell a Story, and Keep the Content Relevant
It's easy to think of a site's design and its content as two distinct things (particularly after my first point). In actuality, your content molds the design.
Designing without content isn't design, it's art – design serves a purpose and your content is that purpose.
If it helps, imagine a page as a story that follows a logical plot as you scroll.
Make sure your design emphasizes the content that is most relevant; this could be as simple as keeping higher-level content higher on the page and more bottom-of-funnel content toward the bottom (relatively). This is because, generally speaking, the further a user scrolls down your page, the more invested they are in the content of the page.
4. Keep It Professional
Remember GeoCities from many years ago, and how those sites looked? Unfortunately, so does your audience.
Thanks to platforms like HubSpot and WordPress, there is absolutely no reason why a site should look anything like MySpace did when it opened up. If yours does, then no one is going to take you seriously.
The design doesn’t need to be complex (again, see tip #1), but it does need to look clean and crisp. You wouldn’t go to an interview looking like Lindsay Lohan after a long night in Vegas, and you shouldn’t let your site look like that either.
5. Keep an Eye on Performance
A simple, but often overlooked, part of building a website is tuning page speed. Having a fast site not only boosts your search position (page speed is signal that Google looks at), but it can improve your bounce and conversion rates.
Your visitors don't want to wait for your content and will bail if it takes too long. Start by making sure your images an appropriate resolution, then run them through a lossless image compressor like ImageOptim to further reduce their size.
Also, pay attention how many images you have – it won't matter how optimized they are if you bombard your visitor with 600 server requests.
You can apply the same principles to your CSS and JS as well.
Keep your third party libraries to a minimum, and bundle them all together to cut down on the amount of requests. Same goes for webfonts, too; try to only load the weights and styles you actually need.
6. Follow Existing Patterns – and Know When to Break Out of Them
If you look around, you may notice many consistent UI patterns across most websites. By following these established patterns, you facilitate people using and navigating your site more easily.
This comes from your users having seen, used, and become familiar with these patterns. Before reinventing the wheel, see if there's an established way to do or present something, then try to improve it if you can.
Be careful, though, as there is a fine line between following an established pattern and building something generic. As a designer, it's your job to know when you can break the mould in order to stand out and be innovative.
7. Never Stop Learning
This is the most important thing you can do. This industry moves blindingly fast. If you're not learning and growing, you've already been left behind.
Find some resources you like and follow them. Whenever you hear about something new, go try to build a quick test project with it to get a feel for it.
You don't need to (and probably shouldn't) incorporate every new thing you come across into your production work, but it will definitely be influenced by your increased skill and understanding.
With these seven tips in mind, you'll be better prepared to create a beautiful, customer-engaging web design for your business. Now, time to get to work!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2013. It was updated in October 2018 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.