Website design is subjective. It’s a matter of taste and can go in lots of different directions. Add in a group of highly opinionated stakeholders and you are likely to end up with a website that resembles a Jackson Pollack painting.

Wood Street Journal Illustration - Pollack Website

Some stakeholders are drawn to warm colors like reds and oranges. Others may prefer blues and greens. Some might like a minimalist look while others want a site that is rich with detail.

You could have a CEO who paints or shoots photographs and has a great eye for art and design. But here’s the thing, she is not your target audience.

Your IT Director might have some strong opinions about user interface but he is not your target user. Maybe your Marketing Director is a fan of polka dots… OK, I’ll stop. You get the picture.

Website design also has a lot of “rules.” The problem with rules and the internet is that the rules of today might be completely meaningless in tomorrow’s web.

I Googled the phrase “website design rules” and got 314,000,000 results (h/t Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing). That’s a lot of rules. Think they all apply? Probably not.

I’ve said this before: your website is for your target audience. Stop and read that sentence again.

While you might find many design ideas and website best practices (73,300,000 results for that phrase), the only hard and fast rule that applies is… do what works for your target audience.

It is much easier to design for conversion than it is to satisfy personal tastes. Take away the hassle of trying to choose a color palette, font or background texture that will please everyone in your office. Whew! What a relief. So what’s left? Your goals! 

  • Who is your target audience and what do you want them to do?
  • How can your site’s design help with that?

Let’s look through the elements of design and see how they might relate to your goals…

Website Design Elements: Color

Color can be used in many different ways. It should not be used simply because it is someone’s favorite (unless that someone is every potential client).

Instead, use color as signal, indicator or tone setting device. Color can be used to draw attention to something, like a brightly colored button or graphic.

Color can also be used to show strength, stability or calm. And of course you can use dark and foreboding colors to show the user you are dealing with something scary.

The use of color should be aligned with the goals of the website and not simply with someone’s personal tastes. The colors used should help the target user get to where they need to go and where you want them to end up.

Website Design Elements: Layout

Here we also run into a lot of opinions about what looks best. But, again, we should really focus on what works best… for the user.

The arrangement of information on a page makes a difference when it comes to usability and achieving conversion goals. Users are driven by layout and visual clues to focus on a particular piece of the design.

Based on most studies, the typical user will scan a page in a capital “F” pattern. Your layout can take advantage of this by placing the most important calls to action in the two horizontal lines within the “F”.

In other words, overlay a big F on your design. Is the important stuff on those two lines?

Vintage Security Website

Extra Credit: A/B Split Testing

Of course, nothing is a given when it comes to the web. The best way to see what works is to test. You can try some A/B split testing with your landing pages…

Basically, create two versions of the same page with different layouts. Then, use those two pages intermittently for a couple of weeks. Then check your web stats to see which layout performed better. From there, you simply implement the winning layout and trash the loser.

Website Design Elements: Images

Last, I want to talk about images (and a little about video). Images are obviously very powerful and can be incredibly effective marketing tools. Instagram and Pinterest (sites built on images) are wildly successful.

Including images in your design can certainly help. A picture is worth a 1,000 words. Make sure those 1,000 words are good ones.

An image, like color, should support a theme or act as a visual cue. Sometimes the images can be part of a call to action or worked into the design as a way to draw the eye to something important.

Whether you are using stock photos or original images, you want to make sure that these tie into your goals. Simply using images to add color or fill space is not always the way to go.

Video is a similar animal. Video marketing is on the rise. Video works. However, it can be distracting, and sometimes downright annoying, if not implemented properly. Make sure you are not detracting from your message or pulling attention from your goals with the use of video.

When dealing with images, remember that speed is the key. Optimize your images and videos for slow connections. You want these to promote your message, not be a barrier to it.

Your Mantra: Does it make sense for the target user?

Sometimes what seems like a great idea in design can deliver disastrous results. If you spend your time trying to be cute or bleeding edge and forget about your target audience, you might not achieve the goals you’ve set for your website.

I’m not saying that cute or bleeding edge is always bad. In fact, if it will drive positive action on the part of the target user, these design methods could prove to be very effective. Just make sure that what you use in your design is tied to your overall objective…

  1. Bring visitors
  2. Engage visitors
  3. Convert visitors

What do you think?

How much is your website designed for you?

And how much is it designed for the user?

Jon-Mikel Bailey - Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.

9 Responses to “Website Design: Are You Making Bad Choices?
  • Great post and can’t stress enough the “website is for your target audience”. Have run into that problem a few a times with clients. I would certainly put that up there for one of the most important parts of design.

  • Exactly. It’s certainly not for us. Nothing like a pretty picture for yourself. Oh, that’s called a painting. In my house!

  • These are great tips! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This will sure help me. I am developing a website design for my mom’s business and your ideas count.

  • Unfortunately, it is not just about the target audience. We have to consider algorithms from Google. With their wishy-washy approach to what they like in a website, we often lose sight of the customer base. Content is great, too bad getting there is such a hassle.

  • Thanks for sharing such valuable information! Getting a web design right is really not easy. All I want is to be able to create a clean site that is polished and attractive.

  • You’re so right – it’s all about the Target Audience! Great tips, thank you for sharing!

  • Great write up! I enjoyed your post.

  • I enjoyed reading your article knowing these elements of design you mentioned is very useful for marketing purposes of your website. Thanks for posting

  • Great post! This is very interesting and informative to read.

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