Four Keys to a Professional Website

A well-designed, professional web site is clean, clear, consistent and compelling. The appearance is should be neat and not cluttered. Everything should be clear; the visual layout, the writing, the navigation, the graphics and the message. If an ambiguity is designed into the site, it should be clear that this is on purpose and not a mistake. The basic layout, look, feel and tone of the site should be consistent, both within the site and with the subject matter. And the navigation should be especially consistent both within the site and with the conventions of the web. But most important of all, the site shold be compelling to the target audience; there should be content that is useful to the target visitor and the material should be presented in an appealing way.

A good web design is clear. Like good journalism, each web page should tell the visitor who is represented by the site, what the purpose of the page is, when they should take some action (including scrolling), where they are and where they might want to go next and how they can get around the site. There should be no ambiguities, either in the writing or the design, of the pages.

An portion of an actual web page. It is not clean, clear or consistent. And the only thing compelling is figuring it out. The text is lost by the background and the confusing font mismatches. The visitor can’t tell what’s a link, a header or important. The images are inconsistent and don’t even match the background. I literally could not have made this up if I tried. But somebody did. And it’s promoting an actual business!

A great deal of visual clarity comes from keeping the page clean and consistent. Cluttered, crowded pages give the impression of a cheap, possibly disreputable business. It’s the visual equivalent of talking too fast and too loud to try and make a pitch. A good web design gives a sense of space, space for the words and space for the graphics. A good web design gives a sense of direction, images and words line up to direct the eye vertically and horizontally instead of having the eye roam randomly over the page.

Clarity and consistency improve recognition. Recognition is created through repetition; images and text have a consistent alignment, a consistent font, a consistent design and color palette. Repetition also builds “brand recognition” and product identity.

A better web site. While this is a constructed example, it’s based on an actual site layout. The single, dramatic image captures the eye and sets the tone. The critical information is logically placed and a great deal of detailed information can be presented in a visually comfortable format. Nothing fancy, but a couple of good graphics and clean, consistent layout.

Clarity, cleanliness and consistancy sound dull, but a whisper can be much more compelling than a shout. We move away from someone who shouts; we lean in to listen to someone who whispers.

And someone who is saying something we want to hear is always compelling.

A good web design presents the target visitor with useful information. Estimates give a web page less than 15 seconds on average to convince the visitor there’s something worthwhile on the page. A compelling web page is focused on a single topic or purpose from the beginning of the download. Eliminate anything that isn’t critical to your subject for that page. Keep the page brief and on topic. Better one single, good, telling visual instead of several smaller, inconsistent, loosely-related ones.

Keep the page clear, clean, and consistent to communicate your compelling message.

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