Trends in web design these days are hard to get away from. New, interesting layout approaches and cutting edge functionality are constantly arising and driving revisions to the web design process. One thing is for sure though, I am pleased to see that the days of glossy, glassy, gradient-esque, three-dimensional, abstract, or just simply too virtual design elements may be well behind us. Apple broke the barrier and established the standard that cleanness is essential for a good web design. What it really comes down to is that the details matter, and knowing the rules before you break them will ensure success in the design of your website.
Clean design focuses on the careful and precise positioning of the key elements throughout the site – a place for everything and everything in its place. Cleanliness in design comes in many forms: crisp typography, uncluttered layout, unified color choices, strong imagery, visual hierarchy, and careful use of white/open space. A website can be considered quite busy with lots of elements to consider, but as long as the design is kept clean, the website will work. Clean website design conveys elegance. Steve Jobs said it best – “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Clean web designs — characterized by being aesthetically simple and clutter-free — has become a website design-style staple. I’m talking about sites like Apple, Rackspace, PayPal, AtHoc – the billboard style approach. They draw attention and make browsing easy for users, giving a professional impression to visitors, while cluttered, mundane websites make users bounce before you’ve even had the chance to tell them what you’re all about.
Below are some key factors we take into consideration when designing a clean and crisp website
White space and breathing room is key to a clean site design
The extra space between any two elements (breathing room) in a layout keeps the items from crashing into or pushing against one another. This is hands down the most frequent mistake among junior designers. Proper breathing room doesn’t mean that everything needs lots of space around it — but every thing on the page needs “enough” space around it. In most cases this means that all your design elements should have gutters of space (surrounding text in particular), and most other graphic elements. Using as much white (or open) space as needed. Remember – lots of white space doesn’t always mean ‘clean design’. Try not to put too many things on a page. Again, Apple is great at this.
Give each page a focus.
Each page on a site should have a clear focus – whether it’s a picture, or a headline or a graphic. Something that gives the user an immediate clue as to what this page is about, or sets the tone for the page. The users should not be responsible for combing the page and gathering tidbits of information to figure out what kind of page this is and how they might use it. Look at your home page and ask yourself “is the idea clear to people who have never been here? Could I show the page to someone for 15 seconds and would they know what my value proposition is?
Crisp clean lines.
Overly compressed jpgs, glows, and drop shadows can really destroy the clean design approach. This is not to say that a little shadow here and there isn’t a good thing – it can be – but overly done it starts to take the site back to now ancient standards. Drop shadows and gradients can be used sparingly and can offer some nice depth and create a personal style for the design. Also, they should be used consistently throughout. Type should be clean – no drop shadows, except when it overlays an image and needs to a little bit more pop.
Choosing a typeface.
A well-proportioned and properly weighted type face (regular, italic and/or bold) will help establish the hierarchy needed for the layout to feel clean. It also helps the reader to peruse through the information more easily. Many fonts do not render crisply, and so they look a little fuzzy and can have poor letter pair spacing. Having a designer who specializes in typography – someone who know the in’s and out’s – is key. It is literally art and science.
Color and complimentary colors.
Most of the time, the best designs use one major color and one or two complimentary colors. Working with one major color and varying the tone of the color to come up with every other color you need for the design helps to create an elegant website. Introducing one or maybe two additional colors into the design will draw attention to the calls of action or elements that have importance. Perhaps its the logo, main headline, or nav bar since these elements are to be considered separate items.
Give the user a clear sense of importance hierarchy.
The most important elements in any page design should be larger and more prominently displayed on the page. Give the user a clear sense of importance through the user of this hierarchy.
Some may view the clean design styles I have described as boring. You will never please everyone. However, there is an art to effective, clean website designs that not all designers can effectively master. That’s what makes it so important to choose the right agency. When you limit the number of graphic elements you use and put the focus on negative space and typography, a good eye for spacing and proportion becomes crucial. Every element on the page has a reason for being there and is systematically placed.
I hope this helps bring awareness to the importance of working with a professional, highly experienced web design firm when it comes to establishing your online presence, and why clean web designs are so powerful (and elegant) all at the same time.