Effective Web Design

A couple of idea gathered from various readings about Web design, in brief.

Key aspects

  • Usability is more important than visual design.
  • Quality and credibility are essential.
  • Simplicity: KIS principle.
  • Consistency: yes, con-si-sten-cy!!!
  • 80/20 rule (Pareto principle): 80% of result comes from 20% of the users. Identify these 20% and optimise the site for them.


  • Stick on conventions: reduce the learning curve by building on existing user’s knowledge.
  • Innovate only when you know you have a better idea.
  • Baby-Duck-syndrome: users tend to stick with the first design they learn.

General layout

  • Visible language: organise - economise (simplicity + clarity + distinctiveness + emphasis).
  • Law of proximity: group elements spatially for a better perception of their relationship.
  • Split large pages: web pages are not books. Split large content into several pages and make navigation between them obvious, simple and handy.
  • Feature exposure: 1-2-3-done step, large buttons with visual effects = modern web design, … but modern web designs are also criticised for that!
  • Adjust the layout for different sizes (think smartphone -> tablet -> PC)

Graphical elements

  • Fonts: limit their number. Max three fonts in max three point sizes.
  • Page width: max 18 words/50-80 characters per lines. Constrain max page width to match it.
  • White space: reduce cognitive load, help users to scan the page effectively with large white spaces.
  • Images: pictures are eye-catching, use them wisely to convey the message and/or focus attention.
  • Icons should be used where they can easily be recognised (e.g., RSS-feed, Home, Search button, …). Fonts Awesome or equivalent are very useful here.

Effective communication

  • Rapid information: the first page must be quickly informative about the site content and about recent changes. Here is an example of a site pushing this concept very (too?) far.
  • Inverted pyramid: place summary and major points or conclusions at the top of an article.
  • Go directly to the point, e.g., Free service, sign up here”. Even better if “Free” stands out. Use short and concise phrases.
  • Effective writing: do not write web pages like textbooks. Avoid promotional writing, avoid long paragraphs without images, or words in bold (arghh! But I like this), italic or with links.
  • Videos. Use (and abuse) of very short video presentations as complimentary material, but only to convey the message (no funny cats videos, just to amuse -and distract- your readers!). Think also at animated gifs.


  • Scan-click-behaviour: users don’t read but scan pages and click in the first link that looks more or less to what they are looking for. Keep this in mind 110% of the time when designing/writing a web page.
  • Banner-blindness: users are used to advertisements and thus, tend to ignore large and colourful banners that look like advertisements.
  • Focus attention: use eye-catching elements (pictures, bold text, …) wisely to gently direct the reader. Avoid flashing elements or animations that catch too much attention and are distracting, on the contrary.
  • Immediate intuition. Any product that needs a manual to work is broken, this is certainly the case for web sites: web page should be obvious and self-explanatory.


  • Features exposition: let the user see clearly what functions are available.
  • Give control: users want to have control all the time.
  • Impatience: web users are impatient and want instant return.
  • 2-second-rule. Regarding reactivity, avoid anything that would take more than two seconds to load.

Test your design

  • Test early, test often TETO-principle
  • Test is an iterative process: change - test - change - test, etc.
  • Test with naive/new users (and don’t trust your own feeling: you, as the designer, are not a naive/new user)
  • Test on all browser configurations that will be used at least 80% of the time (think about the Pareto principle), and make sure to provide readable -but not necessarily optimised- fallback solutions for the rest, e.g., very old browsers, or Javascript disabled.


  • Copyright: think about license for your site, your data, your images. Don’t enfringe others rights. Give due credits, in particular for pictures you use.
  • Printing style for HTML pages: look how your page look like when printed, if it is pertinent, and design special CSS code for printed material.
  • Inspiration: scan web sites with a critical eye. Get inspired by good ideas.
  • Images and binary resource should be kept outside version control repositories as much as possible, but it complexifies the whole system.
  • URL shortener: good for short-term use, but to be prohibited for web sites, unless you have full control on them, including the URL they point to, in order to adapt them (e.g., Rebrandly).
  • Static pages: you can go very far with static pages generated with Jekyll or Hugo, and you get also full reproducible production including data analysis using Bookdown or Blogdown.
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