Online Entrepreneur’s Guide to Web Design

If you have an online business, or you’re planning to launch one, chances are that at some point you will be searching for a web designer to redesign your current site or create something completely new.

A different path to choose is to buy a premium, out-of-the-box website template.

Either way, no matter which path you choose you still want your website to be well designed and to represent what your business is about.

However, how do you tell what is good web design and what isn’t? Is a website good just because you like it visually? Is everything that looks good suitable for your business? Or maybe we’re not even scratching the surface…?

Unfortunately, we’re not.

In this post I’m going to explain some of the most important elements of good web design, so you an online entrepreneur can take them and use them to evaluate the work your designer delivers.

First and foremost:

Your goals

I literally don’t know how many times I’ve talked about the importance of goal setting in all of my posts…

And not without a reason because goal setting is the most important activity for every project imaginable, not only web design.

So, two questions for you:

  1. Why do you want to have a site designed?
  2. Why would people want to visit it once it’s created?

The first question is the most important. You need to know the “why” exactly. This will show you and your designer the path to the happy end.

Do you want to sell your products? Do you want to show your expertise by publishing articles? Do you want to make money on advertising? Are you creating any type of a functional start-up (basically, everything where something else happens besides text content being published)?

There are hundreds of possible reasons. You need to know yours and be able to explain them in a sentence.

The second question can be even more challenging to answer. That’s because what you want might not be what your soon-to-be-visitors want. Simply think for a moment and try to come up with a reason for anyone to visit your site… They want to buy your products because of what? They will be reading your content because … ? And so on.

Once you have the answers you have a starting point to build upon. The next thing would be to:

Choose the main element

The main element of your site. The thing that is supposed to focus the most attention. Every site has one. Just. One.

For blogs, it’s the posts themselves. For online stores, it’s the listings of items on sale. For YouTube, it’s the videos.

Whatever it is for you, it needs to be only one single element.

How to decide what is it? Look at your goals (the previous point) and try to come up with this one element that is completely in tune with your goals and makes the most sense.

Defining your brand

Please notice that it’s the third subheading of this design-related post and we still haven’t touched upon a single thing that’s strictly about web design. Or have we?

Actually, goal setting and choosing the main element both are crucial phases of every web design project. However, they are not that well known, in comparison to the phase of creating a logo, for example.

Speaking of which. Nothing defines your brand more than a good logo. I don’t advise you to try to design it yourself if you don’t have the expertise, and don’t ask your nephew to do it either (unless he’s a professional).

What I do advise you to do is to visit a site like 99 designs or LogoTournament and launch a contest. These sites are great for getting some cool logos. All you have to do is define your requirements, set your price, and you’ll have (literally) hundreds of designers working for you. When your contest ends you can pick the winner and pay only them.

Other things that do the job of defining your brand are colors. Be careful while choosing colors for your site because they might mean different things for different people.

For example, green is the color of action, red isn’t. Red and white are the colors of Coca-Cola. Red and orange – McDonald’s. Blue and white are the colors of Israel, but they’re also the colors of Chelsea F.C. These are just some examples, but depending on the environment you’re in, some of them may be really significant to you.

Before you make any decisions regarding the colors of your site, make sure that they, indeed, convey the exact message you want them to convey.

Selecting a platform

My rule of thumb is this: If possible, always use WordPress.

These days, WordPress is the most popular online platform, you should take advantage of it.

I’m only telling you this because web designers sometimes have strange ideas. Like: “we’re going to build your site from the ground up, WordPress is for amateurs!

Whenever you hear a designer saying such a thing you say: “thank you, good bye.

Focusing on simplicity

Well designed sites are simple. Period.

Google, Facebook, ProBlogger, TechCrunch, Tumblr, Flickr, Copyblogger, the list just goes on and on. Every one of them is simple in nature.

I know that sometimes we find it hard to pay for a design if it’s not flashy … when it only uses a handful of elements … when it doesn’t look expensive. But this is a trap.

And it’s a trap for both, designers and their clients. On one side, clients don’t know any better so they expect flashy, pointless designs, and on the other side, designers know that the more flashy the site is, the more money they can ask for it.

That’s why I’m emphasizing simplicity so much here. One rule worth remembering is this: it doesn’t matter how many elements you can place on a website, what matters is how many you can remove – in a way that the website still makes sense, of course.

There’re many indicators of simplicity. In my opinion, the most important and apparent ones are:

1. Whitespace.

Whitespace is a fancy name for the part of a site where nothing is displayed. What’s visible is just the background.

Using whitespace is a tricky thing. Some less experienced designers are often hesitant about using it because they feel that every available space needs to be filled with yet another social media button or whatnot.

In reality, whitespace is a very important “element” in itself. It focuses attention on what’s surrounding it. If you have too much stuff on your site, you will find it hard to focus any significant attention on your most important element.

2. Good typography.

There is a lot more to a well-designed site than just some nice Photoshopped graphical elements. Equally as important are the fonts used in the design.

Whatever you do, don’t request Comic Sans as your desired font. Unless you want your designer to kill you (for real).

Good typography should emphasize the message your graphical design conveys.

Feel free to read this if you want to find more about web typography, it’s a rather big topic: A Basic Look at Typography in Web Design.

3. Your own common sense.

The most obvious advice I can give, I know, but still. Chances are you can tell a simple design when you see it. Trust yourself on this one.

Just a handful of work-of-art elements

Every website needs to shine somewhere. However, just a handful of such work-of-art elements is enough.

Remember, simplicity is what matters the most. And it’s hard to keep your site simple when every element screams “look at me!

How many is enough, then? Focus on the main element of your site, and on having all the work-of-art details driving more attention to this one element, not to themselves. You never want to overshadow the most important element of your site with some fancy graphics.

Final step: Is everything in tune with your goals?

The goals haven’t been set just for the sake of it. The goals are the benchmark. And you should use them to evaluate if your design is any good or not.

Simply look at the design and try to assess if it’s in tune with your goals. Use your common sense. Take each goal and decide if it’s reflected in the design.

There you have it. I believe that these hints are all you need to describe and then recognize a well designed site. Just to recap:

  1. Set your goals.
  2. Choose the main element.
  3. Define your brand by a nice logo and proper use of colors.
  4. Use WordPress as your platform.
  5. Ask for/buy a simple and effective design.
  6. Allow just a handful of fancy graphical elements, and only if they drive attention to the main element.
  7. Decide if the design is reflecting your goals.

The point of this post is not to explain how web design works, but just to give you some tips on how you can recognize a design suitable for you and your online business.

Don’t look at other people because most of the time the fact that a design is beautiful doesn’t matter at all. You want your site to do its job, don’t you? Not to win a beauty pageant. Winning beauty pageants doesn’t pay very well, so I’m told.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? Most importantly, where do you get your designs from? Do you hire a designer or maybe buy a custom theme from a place like ThemeIsle?