"You only get one chance to make a good first impression."

This cliché, like many time-worn and oft-repeated sayings, rings true.

For better or worse, first impressions are often visual. You need content and substance to your web site, of course, but the design and image are just as important.

So, what exactly are the crucial elements of good design? First, let's take a look at the most common design complaints:

Reasons for Abandoning a Web Site - Among Shoppers
Cannot find what they are looking for 56.4%
Site disorganized or confusing 53.7%
Pages were too slow downloading 53.1%

Reasons for Abandoning a Web Site - Among Professionals
Cannot find what they are looking for 62%
Site disorganized or confusing 61%
Pages were too slow downloading 60%

SOURCE: Quoted by Ken Evoy in his book, Make Your Site Sell!

Keeping these statistics in mind, here are a few basic guidelines to follow. These are not etched-in-stone rules; remember to adapt the tips to suit your design strategy!

1) Understand that some of your visitors will not be using the latest technology

Your design may not look the same when viewed by older browsers. Tables, colours and other elements may look different. Pages that load perfectly on one browser may crash another browser. Some visitors do not have plugins like Java, RealPlayer, and so on. Make sure to test pages on older versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer. Also, some users prefer Opera and the text-based Lynx. Is your site functional on these browsers as well?

In addition to older browsers, some potential clients may be using older and slower modems.


2) Opt for simplicity over flashiness.

Do not weigh down your pages with slow-loading graphics. There are many tools available on- line to shrink image sizes and determine load time. Visitors will quickly hit the <back> or <stop> button if your page takes too long to load. They won't even see your great content if your design bogs it down!

Use animation sparingly. Avoid blinking text. Both can distract from your content. Remember someone will buy your product or service based on your description, not your dancing animation!

3) Site navigation should be clear and easy-to-use

Each page should have a link back to the main/index page. Consider adding a navigation bar with links to key sections.

Check to make sure there are no broken links. If your site has many outside links (that is, links to pages that are not on your site), you should check them on a fairly frequent and regular basis. There are many automated bots that will do this for you.

Consider designing a site map that lays out all the sections.

Consider adding a search engine to your site. There are CGI scripts that you can use, as well as free services like Atomz.

And finally,

4) Read other design guides

We have listed a whole bunch in our Library of Links section. Also ask others what they think of your design. Since visual appeal is so subjective, it might be useful to get more than one opinion.

Site Build It! can help you to easily achieve a professional on-line image.  Its graphics tools allow you to build your own totally custom, polished and professional site logos, navigation bars and web page templates.  You simply point and click to create a web site with a custom look and fell.

Our Library of Links has a list of wonderful resources to help you with your Design & Development.


UPDATED: October 16, 2002
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