With the insight of our Digital Media Designer, Nick Ridge, we complete our blog series on web design for beginners with part two of 10 Things Every Web Designer Just Starting Out Should Know:
You need to know how to write code yourself
With various WYSIWYG editors flooding the market, it has become as simple as 1-2-3 to knock together a basic site. However, most of these editors unnecessarily insert junk code, making your HTML structure poorly designed, harder to maintain and update, and causing your file-sizes to bloat.
By writing the code yourself, you come out with clean, crisp, and terse code that you can be proud to call your own, that’s standards-compliant, a pleasure to read and maintain now or in the future by yourself or by others.
Knowing how to use a WYSIWYG or an IDE with a visual preview does not excuse you from learning HTML and CSS. You have to know what’s going on in order to create and edit effective, semantic, and highly-optimised web designs.
- Don’t forget search engine optimisation
SEO has never been a greater talking point than it is now. A good designer should always remember to keep SEO in mind when designing a site. For example, structuring web content so that important text for search-engines are represented as headings using the H tags and using CSS background text image replacement where necessary. This is where learning how to code properly comes in handy. Knowing correct, up-to-date semantic, and standards-based HTML/CSS not only organises your information better, helps screen-readers decipher content but also assists optimal search-engine ranking.
- Understand that most users will scan your site
People on an average spend only a few seconds before ‘deciding’(often instinctively) whether they want to read more or navigate away to another site. Therefore, you as a web designer need to devise ways for hooking user interest and encouraging them to stay engaged on the chosen page(s) and also clear away or minimise anything that leads them to be disengaged, frustrated or aggravated with it. Users will start out with a measure of good-will toward using your site, if you allow that to ebb away with each ill-considered feature, you will only be directly increasing the future bounce rate away from your site. Test experientially throughout your site and to see how typical users travel toward intended outcomes. Check how easy and optimal each typical goal was reached in your page flows and how far your site was helpful toward achieving them. Then get an outside opinion from a test group and compare!
Studies show that users scan in an F-shaped reading pattern. Remember to keep your most important elements on the top where they are easily visible, but also do not overcrowd the top section of the page which can intimidate users with a mishmash of non-hierarchical information and so turn them off from reading further down the page. Consider the top section of a web design a premium selling point. An analogy is in broadsheet newspaper publishing where the top features are promoted above the fold. Then be a salesman; make people buy into the notion that more of what they want to see is in your site.
- Be aware of browser quirks
One of the things you must know as a web designer is that your work operates on finicky and unpredictable platforms, aka, web browsers! Ask any web-designer and they will soon tell you which browsers have notoriously flouted conventions and favoured their own propriety terms over standards (we will remain silent!). It’s not enough that your designs work on a few web browsers, they need to work in as many common browsing situations as is possible. Before production why not test your prototypes using tools like Browsershots. A further key decision is how much backward compatibility will you cater for? Will you carefully cater for all the oldest versions of browsers, will you centre on the utilising the latest technologies for the latest browsers or will you seek a middle ground position. Increasingly some form of compromise decision needs to be found which then affects and drives the design process.
- Make designs that are flexible and maintainable
A good web designer makes sure that the site can easily be updated or modified in the future. A website that is as modular as possible, well commented, with style separated from structure is the sign of a good web designer.
Know that your industry is still relatively young and therefore dynamic. Trends and processes change almost overnight. Bear this in mind when you’re creating flexible web designs.
In case you missed it, the first part of ‘10 Things Every Web Designer Just Starting Out Should Know’ is here.
What are your web design tips? If you have more tips to share to web designers just starting out, let us know in the comments. To learn more about our digital media services visit our Software pages.