With over 35 million websites available today, it is increasingly difficult to get your website noticed. Web design is an important part of the equation when trying to get one's information out to the masses. But the web cries out to be treated differently than other media. With radio and television it's the sizzle, and not the steak, that's important. Getting attention consists of crafting a better hook to fit into your 30-to-60 second time-frame.
The web, on the other hand, doesn't suffer as readily from the ADD difficulties of a (channel) surfing-happy audience. Yes, the inherent nature of search engines is akin to "riding the waves" online. But when crafting messages for the web, it's the steak and not the sizzle that makes a difference. Cutesy animations and pretty graphics lose their charm when navigators can't find the information they've been promised by resilient search engine delivery systems. In fact, the web navigator is less likely to suffer from carpel-tunnel surfing and more likely to experience web rage for this very reason.
So how can you craft your message, yet still catch someone's eye? Well, a properly designed site is not created overnight. Hundreds of books exist, all with great ideas and good suggestions (like the ones at The Design Bookshelf). But you're strapped for time and you'd still like some hints. Here are five ideas to help get you started.
1. Contrast Through Color & Size
This is pretty basic, but you'd be surprised how many websites miss the mark on this one.
Use dark type on lighter backgrounds or lighter type on darker backgrounds. Make the more crucial information larger and the less crucial, smaller. Since it is the information that you want to stand out, proper use of color and size is one way to make your message clearer to your visitors.
2. Scheme Out the Colors
We're not done with that color idea, yet. Unless your product is rainbow brite, your website shouldn't look like you had a bad night at a Mardi-gras festival.
Selecting the right scheme of 3 or 4 colors for your web pages can be a significant part of helping things to stand out. Using a very bright color (yellow, red, or bright blue, etc.) alongside a limited palette of dull colors (black & whites, or black & gray, or blue & gray, etc.) will help to focus the viewer to the areas where you put the color. This gives you the ability to move your readers around the page. Just make sure you're consistent with the presentation throughout your entire site.
3. Liven Things Up with the Oblique
By far and large the biggest mistake beginners make is--they center everything! So basically, don't center everything. People center things because they feel they're important. Like the use of a double-negative, when everything is centered, nothing becomes important. Use off-centered and oblique placement to help you direct where you want people's eyes to go. In photography 101 it's called using the rule of thirds. In the film industry it's leading the viewer (they've been using this technique for years). Try it.
4. Go 3-D
The selective use of self-created backgrounds can add much to helping information stand out.
After blurring the background (slightly), any clearly focused item you place on top of it will have a "3-D" look. That will add extra punch to your site. Blur the grass, the clouds, the water. It's cheap and fast, yet gets the job done. Just keep things inline with your color scheme and you'll be fine.
5. Pull It Together with a Theme
Creating a theme for your pages is not as difficult as it seems.
Many of the best pages build a metaphor into their sites. Using a baseball diamond as a theme for a training site (when you're done you make it "home"), or using a hospital theme for a mechanic's shop can quicken your message delivery. They immediately help the viewer to grasp what types of information exist on the site and even help with navigation. Without a clear theme, navigators simply encounter another set of radio buttons and text.
Tim Clukey teaches web design and development at Plattsburgh State University. He also routinely conducts research on search engine and user pattern behavior as a member of the Community Web Visibility Research Team.
Visit Tim in the Communications Department where you'll find an array of excellent careers in the field of Communications