When it comes to web design, it’s not all about the bells and whistles. At its very core, a website is meant to be functional – something the user can actually utilize, learn from and leverage in their buying process.
For this reason, web designers shouldn’t aim for the creating the coolest, most innovative websites each and every time, but instead building a though-out, useful one that customers can understand and navigate easily.
The best way to do this is to focus on the user experience (UI or UX in industry speak) from the get-go – to see the website through the user’s eyes and build it to be as functional and as impactful as possible.
But building a great UI is harder than it looks, especially if you’re not very familiar with the target audience of the business. There are a lot of considerations, and balancing UI concerns while still creating a unique overall look and design can be difficult.
Creating the perfect UI can be done, though. And to do so, you just need to keep 6 general principles in mind every step of the way:
1. Be clear.
Users need to be able to interact with the website easily and without frustration. Navigation paths should be clear-cut and easy to understand, and call to actions should be fast, simple and to the point.
2. Be familiar.
A great UI pulls from other common web design practices to deliver something users can recognize and understand quickly. Now, I’m not saying create a site that looks just like another one on the web. You can still be creative and innovative in your design, but add in familiar elements that can put the user at ease. Keep a steady, horizontal menu at the top, incorporate headers and footers, and make sure users know how to use your site from the get-go.
3. Be fast.
Nothing is less user-friendly than a sluggish, slow-to-respond website. Take time to optimize your page loading speeds, and make sure all links, buttons, forms and navigation menus are responsive to user’s actions. You don’t want them clicking something and wondering if it worked (or waiting for 10 minutes for it to load). That’s the quickest way to turn them off to the company forever.
4. Be consistent.
Use common themes and designs throughout all of your pages, so a user can quickly pick up on the patterns and learn to use your site efficiently. Don’t switch up layouts, menus or other major areas from page to page; that could confuse your users and send them running for the hills.
5. Be forgiving.
If a user makes a wrong action on the site, make sure they’re sent to a quality 404 page that tells them where to go next. Don’t punish the user for taking a wrong turn, but instead redirect them back to their path, and keep them on the site as long as possible.
6. Be appealing.
As a web designer, this is probably your favorite UI principle. It’s where you get to be creative. Just make sure you’re creative, while still appealing to the user. You don’t want to just design what YOU would like, but instead what the target audience finds appealing. If need be, do some market research first and get to know the demo before you start designing.
A user experience based on these principles ensures your site is just as functional as it is creative, and it will make your site a more effective one for the company in the long run. If your site doesn’t incorporate all of these elements, it may be time to consider re-designing it. Chances are, your users aren’t getting what they need from the site, and it could be affecting your conversions.