Every website combines design, content, and technology to bring it to life. The difference between a successful website and an ineffective site is usually because one or more of these factors has not been adequately considered.
The design of a website refers to what it looks like. The colors that are used, the typography, the style and size of the images, what the navigation looks like, and how the elements are arranged on the page are all part of the site’s design.
Like any other type of design, website design relies on many small choices to add up to the finished whole. For example, adjusting any of the following will affect the final impression of a website:
- Are the colors bright or muted, monochromatic or multi-colored?
- Do the elements feel crowded or is there lots of white space?
- What fonts are used and how big are the headings, subheads and body type?
- What is the style of any imagery—photographs, illustrations or drawings?
- What other design elements are used such as lines, color blocks, drop shadows, gradients, etc.
The design of a website affects our first impressions when we first arrive and continues as we navigate through the pages, read text, fill out forms, or more. It touches every element from the background colors, typography, buttons, and images to the footer. Design starts at the top of the page with the navigational items’ size, color, and placement.
Web design and branding
Your website should reflect your brand by using the right colors, fonts, logo files, and design elements.
Templates and themes
When looking at website templates or themes, you usually look at the design. Whether you’ll be building your site using a build-it-yourself tool like Squarespace or Wix or selecting a pre-built theme for WordPress, you may find yourself looking at pre-made designs.
It can be hard to adjust the design of pre-built templates to work with your brand and your vision.
Web design is not everything that goes into making a website
Design is often the first thing someone thinks about for a website. Some people use the term ‘web design’ when referring to all the facets of building a site. For example, I hear small business owners say they want to find a ‘web designer’ to create their website, and then I watch them hire a developer to build their site (with disappointing results).
Technology, development or coding
How your site is built is critical to how it functions. What platform you choose or how a developer codes your site will open up possibilities or restrict your options. Some standard website functionality includes:
- A contact form: so that people can submit an inquiry to you
- E-commerce: allowing customers to purchase items online
- A blog: that shows articles in chronological order and may allow comments
- A calendar that displays events by date
- Slideshows, interactive maps, and more
There are many other web-based applications with more robust functionality but let’s stay focused on business websites.
What platform you choose dictates whether the functionality is possible (or at least easy to do). And every platform can be made more robust with custom development.
Web building platforms
Years ago, you had to know HTML and CSS to create a website, but not anymore.
Many web-building platforms allow someone without any understanding of web development to create a website easily. The most common are Squarespace, Wix, or Shopify. These sites use templates and drag-n-drop editors, plus they include the hosting, so many small business owners can launch their website quickly without outside expertise.
Platforms such as WordPress are more complicated to set up but may offer more functionality or customization. Some people buy a theme and build their WordPress site themselves, but it is more common to use an outside developer to help you. Once WordPress is set up, you are usually focused only on updating or adding content and not adjusting the design itself.
Nearly every web building tool can display text, images, and videos and has a way to create basic forms. But some online functionality is connected to your choice of platform.
For example, you can’t easily sell products without using an e-commerce platform like Shopify or WooCommerce.
The third major component of your website is the content.
Content refers to all of the text, images, videos, sounds, animations that someone experiences on your site. Most of this is text, from the most prominent headline to the tiniest bit of legal copy. The images include product photos, headshots, and other imagery that creates the design of your site. Embedded videos, sounds, or animations may also be part of your website.
A written copy is arguably the essential part of the content on your site.
Many people overlook the importance of the written text when building their site. They don’t consider who will write the copy and how important it is to have concise, impactful writing on a website.
Yet, nearly all of us have experienced great messaging that drives us to take action, confusing content that gets us frustrated, or too-long copy that bores us.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Great copywriting engages your website visitors. And this exact text is also how Google and other search engines rank your site for relevant keywords.
If getting traffic through search is an integral part of your marketing strategy, you’ll need to optimize your content for search engines. This begins with researching keywords and using them on your web pages. You can’t just put the words in the metadata, and you’ll want to use your relevant keywords in your headlines, subheads, and body text.
Writing, editing, porting content
Every piece of content on your website needs to be placed on the website. While this seems obvious, the amount of work involved can be tremendous when you think about everything that’s involved.
If you have a new website or new pages created as part of a website redesign, all of the content needs to be developed. Copy needs to be written. Photos need to be chosen and placed within the design. Even deciding what fields need to show up on a form is creating new website content.
If you have an existing site that you are redesigning or rebuilding, you need to plan to move all the content from the old site to the new site.
Great websites combine design, writing and technology
Websites are a unique challenge because you need to be thinking about all three of these areas holistically.
Otherwise, you’ll likely be frustrated with the process or disappointed with the results.
Problems happen when you don’t consider all three
Maybe a few of these scenarios sound familiar?
You look at a sample template or theme, and it looks great. But when you try to customize it to your business, it doesn’t look as good anymore. That’s because the design is built around different content.
You add a slideshow to your website and customize it to match your site’s design and get incredibly frustrated. This is because the functionality is built around a different design.
You decide to move from one platform to another and realize you’ll have to copy and paste all of your content manually. This is because your content is tied to your development platform.
This is why it’s so challenging for small businesses owners to consider what platform to use or what firm to work with.
Here at Visible Logic, we take a holistic view of building websites, which means the whole process is different.
We start with a planning phase where we consider your goals for the site and how the design, content, and functionality will all work together.
During this discovery phase we:
- audit all current web pages and content.
- create content outlines for new content.
- organize the pages into sitemaps.
- research plugins or options to build the functionality.
- consider the branding (following established brand guidelines or developing the design in conjunction with a new brand development).
During this preliminary phase, our designers, writers, and developers are each learning about your goals and contributing their research and expertise. Considering all of these aspects, we develop a plan and ultimately a website that has considered these critical aspects together.