Choosing the right content management system and web host, opting for a template, refining your content, and
But one major decision that takes time, diligence, and a great deal of inspiration is the design of your website.
From familiar corporations to small businesses, to international organizations, the following sites push the status quo on the web. Whether it's the design aesthetic, usability, interactivity, sound design, or value that the site provides, each one is a masterpiece in its respective industry and something to aspire to.
Not surprisingly, many organizations exist to highlight these sites and the contributions they make to the web.
To help surface some of the most inspirational designs, I gathered several award-winners that have made their way through several key awards organizations — including Red Dot, Awwwards, UX Awards, The Webby Awards, SiteInspire, Best Website Gallery, and FWA.
As you browse through the list, know that each site excels in its own way and seeks to serve a unique purpose. While one site may be an excellent example of visual design, another may be an excellent example of interactivity.
This means that not all of these sites may be "conversion machines" or blueprint ideas that you can easily copy over to your site. Rather, they're great ways to gain some website design inspiration and see the cutting-edge marketing that's happening in the different corners of the web.
Keep in mind that web designs are fluid and change often. Some of the designs in this list have changed since they were awarded, but we do our best to keep them up-to-date. We’re confident you’ll find a design here that sparks your creativity.
Usability and the utility, not the visual design, determine the success or failure of a website.
Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has become a standard approach for successful and profit-oriented web design. After all, if users can’t use a feature, it might as well not exist.
We aren’t going to discuss the design implementation details (e.g. where the search box should be placed) as it has already been done in a number of articles; instead we focus on the main principles.
Heuristics and approaches for effective web design — approaches which, used properly, can lead to more sophisticated design decisions and simplify the process of perceiving presented information.
Please notice that you might be interested in the usability-related articles we’ve published before:
Designing A Perfect Accordion
Designing A Perfect Responsive Configurator
How Do Users Think? #
Basically, users’ habits on the Web aren’t that different from customers’ habits in a store. Visitors glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. In fact, there are large parts of the page they don’t even look at.
So, if you do not have a website, when a user is recommended by friends or experts to the products and services that the business provides. When that person wants to find out more, you have to meet face to face to talk to them, and you can spend a lot of time instead of saving by providing information through your website. This also means that you will spend more money for the sales staff, consulting customers for your products or services. In addition, the time a person can use to work with partners during the day is also very limited.
If the new page doesn’t meet users’ expectations, the Back button is clicked and the search process is continued.
Users appreciate quality and credibility. If a page provides users with high-quality content, they are willing to compromise the content with advertisements and the design of the site. This is the reason why not-that-well-designed websites with high-quality content gain a lot of traffic over years. Content is more important than the design which supports it.
Users don’t read, they scan. Analyzing a web-page, users search for some fixed points or anchors which would guide them through the content of the page.
Web users are impatient and insist on instant gratification. Very simple principle: If a website isn’t able to meet users’ expectations, then designer failed to get his job done properly and the company loses money. The higher is the cognitive load and the less intuitive is the navigation, the more willing are users to leave the website and search for alternatives. [JN / DWU]
Users don’t make optimal choices. Users don’t search for the quickest way to find the information they’re looking for. Neither do they scan webpage in a linear fashion, going sequentially from one site section to another one. Instead users satisfice;
They choose the first reasonable option. As soon as they find a link that seems like it might lead to the goal, there is a very good chance that it will be immediately clicked. Optimizing is hard, and it takes a long time. Satisficing is more efficient.
Don’t Make Users Think #
According to Krug’s first law of usability, the web-page should be obvious and self-explanatory. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks — the decisions users need to make consciously, considering pros, cons and alternatives.
If the navigation and site architecture aren’t intuitive, the number of question marks grows and makes it harder for users to comprehend how the system works and how to get from point A to point B.
A clear structure, moderate visual clues and easily recognizable links can help users to find their path to their aim.
Don’t Squander Users’ Patience #
In every project when you are going to offer your visitors some service or tool, try to keep your user requirements minimal.
The less action is required from users to test a service, the more likely a random visitor is to actually try it out. First-time visitors are willing to play with the service, not filling long web forms for an account they might never use in the future.
Let users explore the site and discover your services without forcing them into sharing private data. It’s not reasonable to force users to enter an email address to test the feature.
As Ryan Singer — the developer of the 37Signals team — states, users would probably be eager to provide an email address if they were asked for it after they’d seen the feature work, so they had some idea of what they were going to get in return.
Ideally remove all barriers, don’t require subscriptions or registrations first. A user registration alone is enough of an impediment to user navigation to cut down on incoming traffic.
3. Manage To Focus Users’ Attention #
As websites provide both static and dynamic content, some aspects of the user interface attract attention more than others do.
Obviously, images are more eye-catching than the text — just as the sentences marked as bold are more attractive than plain text.
The human eye is a highly non-linear device, and web-users can instantly recognize edges, patterns and motions. This is why video-based advertisements are extremely annoying and distracting, but from the marketing perspective they perfectly do the job of capturing users’ attention.
Dibusoft combines visual appeal with clear site structure. The site has 9 main navigation options which are visible at the first glance. The choice of colors might be too light, though.
Letting the user see clearly what functions are available is a fundamental principle of successful user interface design.
It doesn’t really matter how this is achieved. What matters is that the content is well-understood and visitors feel comfortable with the way they interact with the system.
5. Make Use Of Effective Writing #
As the Web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Promotional writing won’t be read. Long text blocks without images and keywords marked in bold or italics will be skipped. Exaggerated language will be ignored.
Talk business. Avoid cute or clever names, marketing-induced names, company-specific names, and unfamiliar technical names. For instance, if you describe a service and want users to create an account, “sign up” is better than “start now!” which is again better than “explore our services”.
Strive For Simplicity #
The “keep it simple”-principle (KIS) should be the primary goal of site design. Users are rarely on a site to enjoy the design; furthermore, in most cases they are looking for the information despite the design. Strive for simplicity instead of complexity.
From the visitors’ point of view, the best site design is a pure text, without any advertisements or further content blocks matching exactly the query visitors used or the content they’ve been looking for.
This is one of the reasons why a user-friendly print-version of web pages is essential for good user experience.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The White Space #
Not only does it help to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors, but it makes it possible to perceive the information presented on the screen.
When a new visitor approaches a design layout, the first thing he/she tries to do is to scan the page and divide the content area into digestible pieces of information.
Complex structures are harder to read, scan, analyze and work with. If you have the choice between separating two design segments by a visible line or by some whitespace.
It’s usually better to use the whitespace solution. Hierarchical structures reduce complexity (Simon’s Law): the better you manage to provide users with a sense of visual hierarchy, the easier your content will be to perceive.
Communicate Effectively With A “Visible Language” #
In his papers on effective visual communication, Aaron Marcus states three fundamental principles involved in the use of the so-called “visible language” — the content users see on a screen.
Organize: provide the user with a clear and consistent conceptual structure. Consistency, screen layout, relationships and navigability are important concepts of organization. The same conventions and rules should be applied to all elements.
Economize: do the most with the least amount of cues and visual elements. Four major points to be considered: simplicity, clarity, distinctiveness, and emphasis. Simplicity includes only the elements that are most important for communication. Clarity: all components should be designed so their meaning is not ambiguous. Distinctiveness: the important properties of the necessary elements should be distinguishable. Emphasis: the most important elements should be easily perceived.
Communicate: match the presentation to the capabilities of the user. The user interface must keep in balance legibility, readability, typography, symbolism, multiple views, and color or texture in order to communicate successfully. Use max. 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes — a maximum of 18 words or 50-80 characters per line of text.
9. Conventions Are Our Friends #
Conventional design of site elements doesn’t result in a boring web site. In fact, conventions are very useful as they reduce the learning curve, the need to figure out how things work. For instance, it would be a usability nightmare if all websites had different visual presentation of RSS-feeds. That’s not that different from our regular life where we tend to get used to basic principles of how we organize data (folders) or do shopping (placement of products).
With conventions you can gain users’ confidence, trust, reliability and prove your credibility. Follow users’ expectations — understand what they’re expecting from a site navigation, text structure, search placement etc.
A typical example from usability sessions is to translate the page in Japanese (assuming your web users don’t know Japanese, e.g. with Babelfish) and provide your usability testers with a task to find something in the page of different language. If conventions are well-applied, users will be able to achieve a not-too-specific objective, even if they can’t understand a word of it.
Steve Krug suggests that it’s better to innovate only when you know you really have a better idea, but take advantages of conventions when you don’t.
10. Test Early, Test Often #
This so-called TETO-principle should be applied to every web design project as usability tests often provide crucial insights into significant problems and issues related to a given layout.
Test not too late, not too little and not for the wrong reasons. In the latter case it’s necessary to understand that most design decisions are local; that means that you can’t universally answer whether some layout is better than the other one as you need to analyze it from a very specific point of view (considering requirements, stakeholders, budget etc.).
Some important points to keep in mind:
according to Steve Krug, testing one user is 100% better than testing none and testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end. Accoring to Boehm’s first law, errors are most frequent during requirements and design activities and are the more expensive the later they are removed.
testing is an iterative process. That means that you design something, test it, fix it and then test it again. There might be problems which haven’t been found during the first round as users were practically blocked by other problems.
usability tests always produce useful results. Either you’ll be pointed to the problems you have or you’ll be pointed to the absence of major design flaws which is in both cases a useful insight for your project.
according to Weinberg’s law, a developer is unsuited to test his or her code.
This holds for designers as well. After you’ve worked on a site for few weeks, you can’t observe it from a fresh perspective anymore.
You know how it is built and therefore you know exactly how it works — you have the wisdom independent testers and visitors of your site wouldn’t have.
The first step in winning over more customers is to understand the essential elements that should go into every homepage.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, draw inspiration from 31 top homepage designs so you can find out what will work best for your business and your audience.
The Benefits of a Well-Designed Homepage
A simple homepage design welcomes your audience to your site, tells them what you want them to do next, and allows them to explore your site in more depth.
You can add complexity to a simple homepage design, but you don’t want to start with a cluttered mess and have to selectively prune it. Always begin with the basics.
What do you need on your homepage? What will your audience expect? And which elements take priority?
When you can answer those questions, you’ll have the information you need for better homepage design. In web design, homepage elements have very specific purposes.
Helping your target audience get to know your business
Many of your website visitors will find your homepage first. With that in mind, you need to make a solid first impression.
Your homepage should provide a sense of your company’s values, unique selling proposition (USP), and purpose. You’re more likely to lure in potential customers if you can effectively communicate this information.
Improving the user experience on your website
Consumers visit your website with a purpose. It could be to check out your product line, read your blog posts, or find out if you sell a particular type of service.
Regardless, you want to direct that consumer to the appropriate page. Your homepage design should facilitate this transition by providing intuitive navigation and a sense of how your website flows.
Accruing more conversions
You want website visitors to convert, but they won’t if you don’t give them the necessary incentive and opportunity. Maybe you want to build an email list, but if visitors can’t find a signup form, your database will remain empty.
By making this information easily accessible on your homepage, you will see an uptick in conversions.
Another way to boost conversions is to create a strong first impression with your homepage. If visitors enjoy their experience on your website, they’ll also be more likely to remember it in the future. Maybe you won’t make a sale today, but that customer will return days or weeks later and buy from you.
Improving brand awareness
Make your company memorable by allowing your brand image and messaging to come through on every page. This is especially true when it comes to your homepage design because the homepage serves as the gateway to the rest of your website.
Your logo, tagline, and purpose need to take center stage. In fact, you might even want to add a form or statement to the very top of your homepage — preferably in a large font — that gives your visitors a sense of what you do:
What problems do you solve for your customers? How do you improve your clients’ lives — whether personal or professional?
Don’t force your website audience to have to figure out and guess what it is you do. Make it clear from the get go.
How to Design a Website Homepage
Now that you know the four goals to motivate your design principles, ask yourself three guiding questions: What do you absolutely need on your homepage? Who is your target audience and what will they expect? Which elements take priority?
Once you have the answers to these three questions, you can begin plotting out how best to improve your homepage.
Remember to tie each of your design elements to one of the four goals listed above. Most importantly, don’t worry about getting it perfect. Website optimization is an ongoing process!
The Best Homepage Design Examples (And Why They Work)
There’s no better teacher than an example. I’m going to show you some of the best homepage design examples that I’ve found, and I’ll tell you exactly why they work so you can apply those same tactics on your own site.
In thredUP’s case, the homepage goes for a seasonal approach.
Apparently, boho style is in (at least for women), so we see a custom graphic that advertises lots of boho fashions available. The navigation is hefty but cleanly designed, so visitors can easily find the categories that interest them.
What is a website layout?
A website layout is a pattern (or framework) that defines a website’s structure. It has the role of structuring the information present on a site both for the website’s owner and for users. It provides clear paths for navigation within webpages and puts the most important elements of a website front and center.
Website layouts define the content hierarchy. Content will guide visitors around the website, and it must convey your message as well as possible to them.
Why should you choose one layout over another?
You should carefully make a selection. This is why:
A good layout keeps users on the site because it makes important information easily accessible and intuitive to find. A bad layout frustrates users which then quickly leave the site because they can’t find what they are looking for.
For this reason, it’s best to take as long as you need to find a good layout because users won’t give you more than a few seconds of their time.
There’s a strong relationship between the layout and the engagement of users with the website. It determines how long they dwell on the website pages, how many pages they browse, and how often they come back to the website.
So, besides overcoming the problem of split-second choice, a good layout comes with additional benefits. Engaging visitors can be a rewarding effort.
When selecting a layout, it might be useful to also consider the Gestalt law of closure. It says that, even if an image shape is not complete, the human eye tends to fill in the visual gaps and recognize the image as a whole. How can this be of use to you?
You won’t pay attention to details, rather focusing on the global view of the pages forming the website; users will find themselves the meaning path.
You pay attention to details, using some additional seconds to grow the engagement exponentially.
You intentionally won’t pay attention to details, letting originality speak for itself; users will find themselves the meaning path, and they will keep a strong memory of your website.
Getting familiar with the layout design best practices
To spend a fruitful time selecting a layout design, it’s important to get familiar with some basic notions related to website layouts. We’ve gathered a bunch of concepts that’ll help you get oriented into the abundance of predefined website layouts.
Visual weight and negative space
Visual weight is perceived by people when some objects on the website carry a stronger visual force. This visual force can be induced in specific elements through different techniques. Amongst them, negative space is the one that interests us directly here.
Negative space (space that is devoid of any elements) drives the attention towards elements outweighing the rest through visual force concentrated on them.
Balanced website layouts
In balanced web design, the elements that make up the layout are supporting one another so that the user sees the text content with equal importance. In addition, the elements are easily scannable in a layout that efficiently presents them all. The design gives the impression of stability, and it feels really pleasing, from the aesthetic point of view.
One of the most popular balanced designs is symmetrical balance, where, similar to a mirror image, a visual element will look the same on either side of the center.
Symmetry evokes balance, elegance, and pleasure. You’ve probably felt it too when looking at the architecture of some buildings, gardens, and even at the wings of a butterfly.
Sections for specific audiences or features
Arrangements of elements that can be changed meaning that users can easily switch to other website sections. To help you figure out how this is possible, we suggest you think about fashion websites addressing both men and women.
The layout supports 2 distinctive sections within the website, one dedicated to apparel for men, the other dedicated to apparel for women. The layout split serves functional content, highly useful for the 2 distinctive target audiences.
Go outside the standard layouts
Whereas some layouts follow the traditional path, with an aim at serving functionality at its best, other layouts use daring designs and structures, with the purpose of making an impact on the user.
Breaking the mold means unexpected arrangements of the elements within the web page, and the experiences it triggers stand out in a sea of standard websites, that a user can’t help but remember your website.
Create Visual Tension for Eye-Catching Stimulating Layouts
In web design, visual tension strains the users’ attention by focusing it on key points of the website. Visual tension comes out by contrasts of space, color or luminosity, and it is easily noticeable if interwoven in a perfect overall balance of elements.
Its role is to visually stimulate the users to break off the web surfer routine and process the information on the website in a brand-new light.
Due to focal points, you’ll have your users half-way to conversion (whatever “conversion” might be for your particular website) – users will concentrate their attention on those focal points and are more inclined to take the action you want them to take.
Design layouts that accomplish website goals
It’s a best practice that, before starting to design a layout/to browse through layout templates, you should define what the website goals are.
They might be to sell products, gather traffic, or simply enchant users with some piece of art. The website layout should be chosen based on the website goals. It will trigger certain users’ behaviors that lead to completing those goals.
Effective and evolving design
Have you ever clicked on a website and instantly got lost in the clutter of buttons, text and links? The impression your website makes directly reflects the competency of your business. A well-designed page is important for building trust and communicating value to potential customers.
So, it’s best to always keep the user experience in mind when designing; elements like a compelling layout, whitespace, excellent copy and a thoughtful style guide will go far in grabbing and maintaining customer attention. A good balance in web design encourages a good experience for your customers.
What’s more, responsive design is key: no matter the user’s screen size, platform or orientation, a great responsive website provides them with an optimal experience, every time.
Regular, thorough market research will help you to consistently adapt and evolve your website to fit the ever-changing needs of your consumers—remember, digital design is constantly expanding and so should your website.
2. Communicating your brand identity
Your website plays a key part in building a consistent brand identity.
Your logo, tagline, branded imagery and values should be obvious through the messaging of every page of the website. Accumulatively, your site should clearly answer “who” and “what” your brand is/does so that visitors get it within seconds!
Our favorite web design ideas
With those points in mind, let us start you off on the right foot with a round up of our favorite, current web designs to get your inspiration flowing.
When checking out the themes below, consider your brand identity and target audience to discern what themes or trends could be most compelling to the right people.
Getting cozy with color
A lovely way to welcome your website visitors and invite them to stay a while is to use color schemes that are easy on the eyes, like neutrals or pastels, which naturally influence calm and relaxation.
Natural greens, pastel blues, warm browns, light pinks, cool greys, and sand tones are among those colors that are less jarring to interact with than the contrast of pure black or pure white.
A neutral background allows a brighter or contrasting foreground to stand out, softly.
It draws your users’ attention to the bits you want it to (so your branded visuals or products etc.) whilst guiding them towards call-to-actions and other buttons.
It’s no wonder the waving inflatable tube man is an advertising staple. Its success comes from the fact that motion attracts attention. And the more attention you can draw, the more likely customers will respond.
Recently, technological advancements and a slow shift away from strict minimalism has directed brands to explore digital design through a more interactive approach.
From subtle animations to sweeping page transitions, to an almost overwhelming layering of medias and motion, this movement aims to rid web design of any “static” feeling.
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