In 2010, there were around 210 million websites. In just 12 years, the number has reached 1,139,467,659.
Investing in web design is a convenient way to help your brand stand out from the competitors—as 73% of companies do.
However, 94% of people notice the look and feel of a website and judge whether to continue using or abandon a site based on that.
Even more concerning, users have already formed an opinion about a website in 0.05 seconds.
Knowing the principles of web design will help you make a good first impression and get on the good side of the statistics.
Stick with us as we outline the most important web design fundamentals.
Table of Contents
Designers often talk about visual balance when referring to the way elements are arranged on a page.
In general, balanced designs feel cohesive and harmonious, while unbalanced designs can feel jarring or unstable.
There are a few different ways to achieve visual balance in web design. The most common is symmetrical balance, which involves using identical mirror-image elements on both sides of the page.
Another option is asymmetrical balance, using differently sized or shaped elements to create a sense of visual harmony. In both cases, the visual weight is equal on both sides, except the order of elements in asymmetrical designs varies.
Radial balance uses repeating elements that radiate out from a central point. The focal point attracts the most attention and is usually reserved for high-value CTAs.
Usually, designers set the radial balance in the center, but you can establish it wherever you see fit. For instance, OptinMonster positioned the focal point to the right to cleverly suggest which pricing plan offers the most bang for your buck.
Crystallographic balance is probably the least used type as it is difficult to organize.
Since this type of balance doesn’t have any specific rules, it can easily be overdone, causing the website to feel chaotic and look jumbled. But then again, if done right—just like Pinterest’s layout—it can impress your customers.
A consistent design helps create a cohesive and professional-looking website. It’s all about creating a user-friendly experience that matches your brand's vision and can be easily navigated by your audience.
It’s not just about having the same images, colors, and website typography throughout your site — it also means having similar layouts, menus, and navigation.
This is important as 38% of people look at a website’s page layout and navigational links when seeing a site for the first time and 38% won’t engage if the content and layout are illogical.
Consistency is a term often used synonymously with repetition, which is not what we're talking about here. To achieve consistency in web design, you need to create an absolute sense of identity across all your content and assets.
Consistent branding and navigation are two of the most important parts of consistent design. If you look at a site or app and think, "This is familiar," you are likely looking at something that has been designed with consistency in mind.
Users also need consistent navigation but that's another web design principle we’ll talk more about below.
To keep the design consistent, try to:
- Position the menus at the same place on each page
- Stick to the same fonts and colors across the site to create a sense of cohesion
- Set a visual hierarchy for the elements to ensure your website looks balanced and well put together
- Include a search bar on each page, at the same location
- Add your logo on each page
The F- or -Z-Pattern
When it comes to web design, there are a few different schools of thought.
The most popular methods are the F-pattern or the Z-pattern. The idea behind these patterns is to help visitors scan a web page more effectively.
Users read approximately 28% of the text on a page, so you better put the most valuable information right in front of them. The F-pattern is often used for pages with a lot of text, as it helps the reader quickly find the main points.
A study tracking users’ reading behavior found they have consistent reading habits across different sites—the dominant reading pattern looks like an F.
The F-pattern in web design was born out of this interesting reading behavior, and these are the main principles:
- The first two paragraphs should carry the most crucial information as readers don’t read thoroughly, word-by-word, but rather focus on the first paragraphs.
- Each paragraph, subheading, and bullet point should start with valuable information that users can’t help but notice when scanning the left side of your content, hence forming the F-pattern.
The Z-pattern, on the other hand, is more suited to pages with less text and more visual elements.
It helps the reader find relevant information quickly and makes it easier to process complex information. Similarly to the F-pattern, it finds its roots in people’s reading behavior.
When people read, they often scan the page in an imaginary Z shape: from the top left to the top right, down to the left side, and back across to the right. By planning your content accordingly, you’re giving visitors a natural reading experience that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Whichever pattern you choose, your content will be easy to scan and digest.
Mind you, the F- and -Z-patterns don’t have to be perfectly symmetrical.
Web design is all about creating an environment that will draw in users. One of the most important principles of web design is the use of negative space.
Negative space, also known as white space in web design, is the empty space around elements on a page.
When used correctly, negative space can make a big impact on the overall look and feel of a website, helping it appear more inviting and professional.
It serves several purposes, including breaking up content, directing attention to specific elements, and making pages more visually appealing. It acts as a buffer and prevents the site from looking cluttered, guides the reader’s eye, and ensures your brand’s message is communicated effectively.
The goal of negative space in web design is to create an environment where your content can be displayed without any distractions. This allows for more emphasis on your copy and gives it more impact.
If negative space was good enough for Van Gogh to use in The Starry Night, you shouldn’t think twice about using it when designing your website.
Simple and Logical Page Navigation
Navigating a website should be a simple and logical process for users. All of the pages on the website should be easy to find, and the path from one page to another should be clear to provide a good user experience.
Web design accounts for 75% of website credibility, and 89% of customers are likely to turn to a competitor if you don’t provide good UX.
Visitors should never feel lost or confused while trying to find their way around—37% of visitors claim poor navigation causes them to leave a website. Use a consistent navigation system throughout the site to enable visitors to move from page to page effortlessly instead of going through a maze to find the information they need.
This means using the same Menu, buttons, and links on every page so that users always know where they are and what they need to do to get to where they want to go.
Additionally, prominently displayed search bars can also be helpful in allowing visitors to quickly find what they are looking for on your site.
You can take things a step further by using breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are links that show the user their current location within a website.
For example, if a user is on the “About” page of your website, breadcrumbs might look like “Home > About.” They can help orient users and help them find their way back to the home page if they get lost within your website.
If you're working on a web design project, the use of the right colors is one of the web design fundamentals. In particular, you'll want to create a color palette that is complementary, similar to choosing the right colors in the graphic design process.
Complementary colors are those that are opposite each other on the color wheel. When used together, they can create a look that is both eye-catching and visually appealing, delivering an overall feeling of balance and harmony.
One classic example of complementary colors is the combination of black and white. This high-contrast combo is often used to create a dramatic effect. Other popular combinations include blue and orange, red and green, and purple and yellow.
When you see overlapping or contrasting colors, your eyes will be drawn to different parts of the page and you’ll notice more details as you take in the information.
Simply put, they make the design pop!
When designing your website, experiment with different color combinations to see what looks best. And don't be afraid to step outside the box—sometimes, the most unexpected combinations can create the most stunning results.
One of the most important principles of web design is making sure your site is mobile-friendly since 72% of consumers want mobile-friendly sites.
74% of visitors are more likely to return to mobile-friendly websites while 61% are likely to leave if a site isn’t.
With 48% of users thinking you don’t care about them when they can’t use your site on their device, you can’t let mobile-friendly design slip.
More and more people are using their phones and tablets to access the internet, so it's essential your site is easily viewed on these smaller screens.
There are a few things you can do to make sure your site is mobile-friendly:
Use responsive design so your site adjusts to fit the screen size of any device, no matter big or small.
Use a separate mobile version of your site. If you have a separate mobile version of your site, you can send visitors to the version that's best suited for their device.
This is a good option if you want more control over how your site looks on different devices.
Use an app if you want visitors to access your content offline or want to provide a more immersive experience for mobile users.
Making sure your site is mobile-friendly is essential if you want to reach the widest possible audience.
Optimized Buttons and Calls to Action
Buttons and calls to action are important elements of web design, but they are often overlooked.
When designing buttons and calls to action, there are several principles to keep in mind:
- Keep it simple. The button should be easy to understand and click. Use color and contrast to make the button stand out.
- Use whitespace to create a sense of hierarchy and emphasize the button.
- Use size and position to draw attention to the button. The conversion rate for well-designed websites with carefully placed buttons and CTAs can be 200% higher than for poorly designed websites.
Good web design is about more than just making sure your pages look good.
It's also about creating an effective user experience that helps your visitors find what they're looking for quickly and easily.
One convenient way to do this is to follow the principle of Fitt's law. Named after psychologist Paul Fitts, this law states that the amount of time it takes to reach a target is directly proportional to the distance between the starting point and the target.
In other words, the closer a target is to the starting point, the faster it can be reached. When applied to web design, this means that important or commonly used elements should be placed close to where users will start their journey on your site.
For example, if you have a button you want people to click on, place it in an easily visible location rather than tucking it away in a corner.
Principles of Web Design: Key Takeaways
No one can ever come up with a complete list of website design principles, and the reason for this is simple. Web design comes down to creativity and you can’t really put creativity in a box or count it.
However, the web design fundamentals we discussed above can greatly help in coming up with a winning design. If you like playing by the rules, the only rule you should follow when brainstorming the best design for your website is not to limit your creativity...
...And make your website mobile-friendly.
...And keep a consistent design.
...And use the right colors.