Web designers all over the world will all tell you different things about how to design a good website. Every website will have a different theme and different designs will work for different websites. There is one factor to web design, though, which if followed correctly, can help you to develop a more successful design. This doesn't need graphical expertise, programming knowledge or business acumen. Really, it all revolves around logic.
The basic structure of a page on your site is vital in the success of a particular design. There are many proven theories about the way a user looks at a page, the most important being their eye movements. The first place a visitors looks at on a page is the area in the top left. This is exactly the reason why the majority of websites place their logo at the top left of the page, as it instantly allows the user to identify the website which they are at.
The positioning of particular elements on the page is also vital in making a design. Logic states that the main navigation of a website will either be placed in a bar along the top or the left of the page. This comes from the basic workings of the English, and most other Western, languages. When reading a book you start from the top left and work across the page, so it is instinct to look at the top and the left for instruction. Of course in other cultures words are read from right to left, and sometimes top to bottom or bottom to top. If you view a website developed for this target audience you may find the navigation on the right, for example. Although this is logical for the main audience for this website, you will probably find it confusing. This is why, if you are developing for a mainly Western audience, you should do the logical thing and place the navigation on the left or at the top, even if you want to have a strange new design on your site.
Logic also states that when you have finished reading a page on a book or in a magazine, you turn the page to go to the next article. You don't return to the beginning of the magazine, then go to the page you want. This idea can be translated loosely onto the web. When someone finishes reading a page on your site, they don't want to go back to the top before going to another page, so provide another system of navigation (usually a text version of your primary navigation) at the bottom. This will make your site easier for people to use.
The final item of page design you should pay attention to is that of distracting the user. Especially on many personal home pages, there are many flashing animations and sometimes sound around the page. Unless they are the main content of the page they should be removed. This is because they are highly distracting (which is why many adverts are animated or flash). Your users have come to the site to view the content, and you should do your best to please them, again a logical idea but something which many people forget. The same goes for visible counters etc. They are not important to the user so get rid of them. They have no place on a site if they have no use.
Another aspect of site development which should be looked at is site structure. There are really three basic structures: hierarchical, flat and walkthrough. Usually, it just takes a bit of logic to decide which is best for your site.
Some sites, such as Free Webmaster Help, Yahoo and many forums use a hierarchical structure, where pages are in sections and sub-sections. This is a good way of storing large amounts of categorized content. It is important with these systems, though, to be able to provide navigation for all levels of the design, although clutter is kept to a minimum as navigation options from other categories can be hidden.
The walkthrough style is less popular, where the user starts at one page and follows through the pages on a set path. This is difficult to achieve successfully, but works well for online ordering and tuto
Flat sites are not particularly common. The best example is probably a basic news site, where the latest stories are linked to from the main page. This is very simple to implement, but if you are following this route it can be very tricky to keep the site easy to use, as there are often a huge amount of options presented to the user.
You should probably have an idea what category above your site fits into, and by applying this logic you can create a structure for the site
Let The User Know Where They Are
This piece of design logic is often overlooked by many webmasters, and it is a major mistake. The common assumption is that users will enter your website by the the front page and go from there to the information they want. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, as the majority of visitors to most websites will be referred by search engines, going straight to the page they are looking for. If this happens, the user may have no idea where in your site they are. This is easy to overcome by using simple logic.
One method of letting users know where they are on your site is to use meaningful URLs. This works especially well with a hierarchical structure. For example, at Free Webmaster Help, many people enter the site via the PHP/MySQL tutorial. If you look at the URL (http://www.freewebmasterhelp.com/tutorials/phpmysql/) it is obvious that this page is about PHP/MySQL, it is a tutorial and it is on Free Webmaster Help. It also helps, as the user can then delete part of the URL and get a full listing of tutorials, or even go back to the main page of the site.
This method can be taken a step further by the use of a 'Breadcrumb Trail'. A breadcrumb trail is often found at the top of many sites (like Yahoo, SitePoint and Free Webmaster Help). It is basically a textual representation of the site or directory structure, showing where the user currently is (on the PHP/MySQL page it shows: Home - Tutorials - PHP/MySQL). Each item in this is linked, so the user can easily access different pages. A breadcrumb trail is a very useful method of improving usability and is easy to implement.
There is another way of letting users know where they are in a site, which works best with the 'walkthrough' type of structure. In, for example, an online ordering system, it is very often helpful to be told at what stage the order currently is. This usually takes the form of 'Step 2 of 5' but an even better way is to use a graphical representation of all the stages in the order process, with the current one highlighted. Users are much happier if they know exactly what is going on.
These methods of improving your site and design are actually very simple and are based on very basic logic. Although they may seem obvious, these are some of the best ways to improve your site, making visitors happier and increasing 'stickiness' and sales.
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