When approaching the topic of designing a website layout, I thought about common mistakes I have seen in my years designing, especially with interns and new designers fresh from web design training.
Within this short list of steps to the perfect website layout, I aim to cover what I believe every new website builder working within a digital agency should know and do before starting a new project, and what they should pay attention to during the process.
These principles cover not only design aspects such as landing page design but also general workflow issues that will get the job nicely done. Follow them and you'll soon be on your way to creating professional website layouts.
01. Put your thoughts on paper first
This seems very obvious but I've found too often that designers jump straight into Photoshop before giving any thought to the problem they are trying to solve. Design is about solving problems and those problems can't be resolved through gradients or shadows but through a good layout and a clear hierarchy. Think about the content, the layout and the functionality before starting to drop shadows.
02. Start sketching a top level framework
When I'm asked to create a look and feel for a project, the first thing I do is come-up with a top level framework that solves all the design problems. The framework is the UI that surrounds the content and helps to perform actions and navigate through it. It includes the navigation and components like sidebars and bottom bars.
If you approach your design from this perspective you will have a clear understanding of what your layout needs will be when designing sections beyond the homepage.
03. Add a grid to your PSD
It's as simple as it sounds. Before starting to design anything in Photoshop you need a proper grid to start with. There are no valid excuses for starting without a grid, and yes if you don't, I can assure in one way or another, the design won't look as good.
A grid will help you to structure the layout of the different sections; it will guide you through the specific screen size requirements, and help you to create responsive templates, to be consistent in terms of spacing as well as many other design issues.
04. Choose your typography
Exploring different typefaces and colours is part of the discovery phase of a project. I would recommend not using more than two different typefaces in a website but it really depends on its nature you could use more or less. Overall choose a font that is easy to read for long amount of text and be more playful with titles and call to actions. Don't be afraid of using big fonts and overall be playful and consistent when using typography.
05. Select your colour theme
Throughout the process of choosing a set of typefaces to use you should start exploring what colours you will use in the UI, backgrounds, and text. In terms of colours I recommend using a limited set of colours and tones for the general user interface.
It's important to apply those consistently across the UI depending on the element's functionality. Think about the layout of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and Vimeo. Besides the UI there shouldn't be any colour restriction for illustrations or graphic details as long as they don't interfere with the functionality of the components.
06. Divide the layout
Each section in your site needs to tell a story. It needs a reason and a final outcome for the user. The layout needs to help the content highlighting what are the most important pieces in that story. In reality there shouldn't be too many call outs on a page so everything should drive to that final "What can I do here".
Think about the most simple layout you can imagine for a simple purpose and start adding components that are necessary. At the end you'll be surprise how hard is to keep it simple.
07. Rethink the established
As designers we shape the way users browse the internet, it's up to us to decide how many steps a simple action will take and how efficient our site will be. Design patterns and conventions are there because they work but sometimes they are there because no one spent enough time evaluating them or rethinking them. It's important to rethink the established interactive patterns on any component and to see how we can improve them.
08. Challenge yourself
I encourage every designer out there to challenge themselves on every project. Innovation doesn't always come as a requirement for the project so it's up to us to come up with something interaction or design related. Examples of different challenges could include using a new grid system, creating a new component, or even minor challenges like avoiding blend modes or using a specific colour.
09. Pay attention to the details
This statement has been overused lately but it's not always visible in the final product. Depending on the concept behind the project, that "love" could come in different ways.
It could be a small interaction, an unexpected animation or an aesthetic touch like a little gradient in a button or a subtle stroke around a box in the background. But overall this touch is essential and also natural if you really enjoy what you do.
10. Treat every component as if it could be presented to a design contest
I have to admit that this piece of advice is not mine. I heard it in the past at Fantasy Interactive and I was shocked by how clear and true this statement was. Each component needs to be designed as it could stand alone as the best component ever. Sometimes designers leave some parts of a site last on their to-do list and show little respect to them at the end.
Next page: 10 more steps to the perfect website layout