5 Crucial Elements of Good Web Design


Everyone knows what bad design looks like. I know what you’re thinking: If everyone knows what bad design looks like, then why do people still think animated flaming skulls on websites are a good idea?

Well, hold on. Just because we know what bad design looks like doesn’t mean we know “why” it’s bad. It’s similar to that brief feeling of annoyance (or unbridled rage) we get when using a frustrating product that we’ve come to accept as “just a part of life.” But, little do we realize, it doesn’t have to be. Some examples I thought of off the top of my head:

  • Cords that somehow tangle themselves the minute you touch them. (Solution: flat cords or going wireless)
  • USB-A Connectors: No matter which way you try to plug them in, they always seem to be upside-down. (Solution: the USB-C)
  • Glass Ketchup Bottles: When you used to have to “Hit the 57.” (Solution: plastic, squeezable bottles).
  • Economy airplane seats (No explanation needed).

See? We’ve all become accustomed to bad design. It’s only when someone else says “Hey, what if we tried this” do we realize that there might be a better way. So now that we know what bad design is, what counts as good design?

At its core, good design is about making lives easier. It’s about creating an experience as frustration-free as possible. Color theory, composition, layout–though it all can certainly help a design, none of that truly matters if what you’re designing isn’t useful or doesn’t work for the customer.

Here are five ways to tell if your site is well designed (or could use some reworking):

  1. Good Design Has a Point.

This is an easy one, but you’d be surprised how often people get this wrong or don’t even think about it. This is your foundation. Before you do absolutely anything, you need to know why you’re designing something in the first place. Is it to sell products, to establish a web presence to make yourself seem more legitimate, etc.? If you can’t figure out why you need the website, or are only interested in a website because your competitor has one…you’ve got some soul searching to do.

  1. Good Design is Easy.

Your customers are visiting your site for a reason. I personally use a company’s website as a litmus test to see if I want to do business with them, and if it’s really old or difficult to use, I’m out. If it’s cluttered and there are a bunch of ads and pop-ups and animated GIFs everywhere fighting for my attention, I’m out.

But maybe your customers aren’t like me and they really do want to see what you’re about, where you’re located, or perhaps they just need a phone number. No matter what they’re looking for, it should be immediately obvious (or at least intuitive) how to find any of these basic things. Achieving this goes beyond just how your site looks. Content strategy is a huge part of the design process in the beginning stages of a project, and in summary, is basically how your navigation, pages, and content are laid out to make the user-experience as simple as possible through the site.

“Great web design without functionality is like a sports car with no engine.” ― Paul Cookson

  1. Good Design is Fast.

Eet and Ern are on their deathbeds and dial-up is almost a horrible, distant memory, so at this point there’s no good reason for any website to take longer than five seconds to load – and that’s pushing it. Kids under 20 who haven’t ever experienced waiting that long for something to show up will probably just figure your site is down, and head back to Google to hit up your competitor’s site instead.

You’ve been to a slow website before. How long did you wait for it to load? Five seconds? Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? Even when something finally does show up, your trust in what the site can offer you has already been eroded. Not the first impression you want to make.

We all want to add the coolest new trends to our websites because some of it can be pretty awesome, but consider cutting it out if it negatively affects page speed. Your users will appreciate a simpler (but still beautiful) site that pops up almost immediately over a trendy, awesome, but painfully slow site that leaves them wondering if it’s ever going to work at all. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

For a non-web design example, let’s go back to the Heinz ketchup bottle. Sure, I can get ketchup out of the glass bottle by hitting the 57 a few times (If I’m lucky), but why would I want to do that when I can just squeeze a plastic bottle once and get what I need faster? If you’re thinking that I’m oddly preoccupied with glass ketchup bottles, you clearly don’t know the struggles of lunchtime hunger with inaccessible condiments.

  1. Good Design has the Correct Emotion.

This one can be a little tough to get right because first you need to know what your company is about. What’s your brand? What sets you apart from your competition? What do your customers say about you, and what do you want them to say? You also need to anticipate what their needs will be. It’s a lot to think about, but your customers (and designer) will thank you for it later.

One of many things to keep in mind when deciding on how to present yourself is your company’s color scheme. For example, red is bold and exciting, blue is calming, green offers up a sense of trust, etc. If you’re interested in what your company’s color scheme says about you, Google “color theory.”

Knowing what you want to convey before you even think about how you want your site to look can save you a lot of branding-related headaches down the road. It’s hard to hit a target that doesn’t exist.

  1. Good Design isn’t About You.

If I had to use one word to describe good design, it’s empathy. It’s about looking out for the best interests of your customers and helping them do what they need to as quickly and as painlessly possible.

As a designer I always want to throw the latest and greatest techniques into every new project, but if it won’t work for users who browse the web on Internet Explorer 10, I can’t do it. While this may hurt my creative conscious jut a tad, those 5% of users will appreciate not having to view an unreadable website, or worse, a message saying “Please use Firefox or Chrome to view this site.” What the designer wants, or the client wants don’t matter if it will negatively impact a significant portion of the target audience.

Empathy also includes accessibility. Do what you can to make sure that your site is optimized for low vision and color blindness (8% of men and .5% of women around the world are colorblind, and 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired). Can you imagine visiting a webpage only to find that you can’t read a single word?

In short, Pixel pushing is maybe only 5% of what makes a design great. What design is really about is making people’s lives easier.  An easy way to get your website started in the right direction is to just take a minute to put real thought into everything that you do; eventually it’ll become second nature to think about ways you can make life easier for both yourself and for your customers. You just have to start.

Do you agree or disagree? What else do you think makes up good design? Do you have any other examples of bad design? Leave us a comment below or contact us on our website!