Beauty can mean all sorts of things. For mathematicians, it means creating an equation or mathematical argument that’s supremely elegant in its clarity and simplicity. In human beings, we tend to find a high level of facial symmetry beautiful, whatever our culture or homeland.
Does beauty matter in a graphic design context? That’s an easy one. Of course, it does. Whether we realise it or not, consciously or not, most of us are seduced by good design and put off by ugly stuff. And good design is almost always beautiful, blending good taste with relevance, suitability and marketing nous.
So what makes a website attractive? You might, at first, pass, decide beauty is all about the latest trends in web design, well-considered fonts and colour combinations, and of course usability – without which your website won’t pull the right response whether it’s beautiful or not. But is there more?
In some people’s opinion websites are ‘beautiful’ when they do the job they’re supposed to do: fast-loading, consistent, easily navigable, clear and easy to the eye, with exactly the right amount of attention paid to a compelling user experience.
On the other hand, the concept of beauty is highly subjective. You might love the colour blue, but plenty of people can’t bear it. You might adore Brutalist architecture, but someone else might think it’s the ugliest thing in the universe. Your idea of beauty depends on all sorts of things including your upbringing, the country you grew up in and your personal experiences.
Thankfully, when we’re talking online design, there are a few key features without which there’s no way a website could be considered beautiful, assuming you believe that beauty in a design context is a blend of all the attributes we’ve mentioned, from personal to technical and back again.
Here are a few key ways to make a website beautiful.
Keep it clean and uncluttered
You should always design with the user experience in mind. We’re all users, and we all enjoy clear, clean websites where you can easily find the information you need rather than a site so messy and full of stuff it looks like a dog’s dinner.
You can add a lot of content, but there’s a skill to including big lumps of information without cluttering a site so badly it’s impossible to use. That’s what good graphic design is all about: finding creative ways to display information in such a way that people can easily consume it.
Follow marketing best practice
Benefits sell, features don’t. Calls to action are essential – every good web page deserves one. Writing to sell is a specific skill. And beautiful website design always involves making sure you take direct marketing best practice into account.
Tell a story
Rather than clumping all the information you want to get across in one place, you should guide the visitor carefully through your story, working steadily down the sales funnel until they’re at a stage where they’re ready to buy. It’s all about arranging key messages hierarchically and leading visitors gently. Go slowly and steadily and you’re more likely to catch that monkey!
Take care with multimedia
Do you remember the original Yahoo search page, from years ago? It was horribly cluttered, full of moving and changing things, flashing things, video, text content images, icons… all fighting for attention and competing with one another. It was a website design nightmare. As soon as Google’s uber-clean and uncluttered interface was launched, people defected from Yahoo in their millions. Lesson learned.
Put crucial website elements where people expect them to be
Over the years an ideal website user experience layout has been identified. These days people expect to see particular information in certain places. They expect to see social share buttons on every page so they can share your content in one click. They expect the home page to come before the about page in your menu. And they expect a contact us page to be called ‘contact us’, not something obscure.
Colour and font consistency
Colours can be used as shorthand to tell people where different kinds of information are. If you use colour clumsily, you could end up causing confusion because people’s expectations aren’t being met.
On the other hand, some colours are quite simply inappropriate – luminous orange, for example, wouldn’t be the best livery for funeral directors or hospice. And grey and black livery wouldn’t be the best idea for a flower seller.
The same goes for fonts. If you use multiple different fonts in different colours, some underlined, some emboldened, some italicised, some in caps, some in lower case and some in camel case, all you get is a hideous mess so difficult to consume that people just click away. As a rule, the more colours and fonts you use, the less clear, user-friendly and beautiful your site will be.
If your website is more than a couple of years old, it might suddenly start looking old fashioned. Trends come and go, but new trends in website design always place the user experience at their heart. On the other hand, while trends are great, they won’t have all work for your site.
Take Parallax websites, once seriously trendy but something some people took way too far. If you’ve ever come across one of those infinite scroll sites, where you could scroll down forever, you’ll know taking infinity too far can be both confusing and irritating for users. It helps to bear in mind being fashionable isn’t always a good thing. Steer clear of the bandwagon. Think first, act second.
Get navigation wrong at your peril. If your users can’t get to the information they want without scratching their heads, getting lost or clicking through zillions of options, you’ve failed. Flat website structures tend to work best, where there are as few clicks as possible between the home page and the very deepest site pages. If you think you need to create a mega menu or multiple sub-menus, think again and think more creatively. Is there another, simpler, clearer way to order the information so users will be able to find it quickly?
There’s a lot of talk about users being lazy these days. But that’s nonsense. People are not lazy or impatient. They simply expect a smooth user experience, which isn’t a big ask. It’s a basic consumer right, like it or not, and something high street shops also have to factor in. In a nutshell, the easier you can make the buying process, from the information gathering stage to the buying stage, the more people will stick with you and convert.
OK, widgets and whizzy bits are exciting. But they’re a marketing no-no if they distract visitors from the site’s main purpose. The same goes for jQuery and Flash. Resist to the temptation to stuff your site full of zingy things. Less is more.
Load speed and basic functionality
Users won’t forgive you if your website isn’t working. It makes you look dodgy. And if your site loads too slowly people will get bored of waiting and click away. Check for bugs. Test your site in multiple browsers to make sure it works/displays well in all of them. Do everything you can to reduce page loading speed. And check site performance on different mobile operating systems, too.
It looks like beauty in a website design and graphic design context is a slightly different animal to, say, the simple beauty of a sunset or a landscape. In graphic design terms, beauty also means functionality. Take functionality out of the equation and you’re left with a website that’s beautiful in the traditional sense but absolutely useless in a commercial context. It goes without saying that we design and build websites that are beautiful in both ways: practically and aesthetically!