Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff
Whether you’re in the market to purchase an existing web-based business or to launch one of your own, the site’s user interface (UI) is always a chief concern.
The interface makes or breaks the customer experience. A great one increases conversion rates and purchases, a bad one scares users away in droves. So how do you know how to design one that people will love?
Creating a great UI requires an intelligent mix of creativity, tried and true tricks of the trade, and an intimate awareness of your demographic. You’ll have to do your homework on your audience, but look no further for some time-tested tips on the universal elements of great design.
Here are the core principles to keep in mind as you peruse Flippa for a new site purchase, or as you hunker down and design your own new digital business.
#1 Don’t Make Me Think!
For a website to engage and convert any user, it must immediately feel intuitive. Pioneering Apple developer Jef Raskin had this to say about the process:
“An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.”
If that sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. But this is the single most prevalent reason most UIs don’t work. They aren’t designed with the user in mind.
Need some inspiration? Buy Steve Krug’s classic book on web design called “Don’t Make Me Think.” The title brilliantly expresses the cardinal rule in design: if a user has to stop and think about how to navigate through your site, they’ll go somewhere else instead.
Chances are your business isn’t a brand new niche in the web world, so take the time to study your competition. See which sites are most successful, and study the elements of the UI that you suppose are key reasons customers return. And use Steve Krug’s design bible to help guide you into the intuitive space. This takes some time and planning, but it sure beats launching with a site that no one will know how to use.
#2 Be Consistent
Your site needs to express what you can do there. For example, is it an ecommerce site where we can buy shoes and crafts? Or is it a game site where we can play against our friends?
The language you use through the site needs to be consistent, concise, and true to your brand. If you decide to keep it professional and tidy, never ever stray from that model. If you decide to infuse some personality, be extremely consistent with the tone and traits.
Consistency is critical across the board. If you use “Login” on the login screen, never call it “Sign-In” somewhere else. These little trip-ups are classic ways to confuse and lose your customers.
#3 Develop Smart, Fast, and Easy Navigation
Your homepage is not the most critical aspect of your site: your navigation is. Why? Because many people won’t ever land on your homepage, if you’re doing your marketing right. Most marketing campaigns funnel users to specific pages for conversions, and whip-smart navigation is essential to retention. Just think about Amazon. When was the last time you visited their homepage? Your homepage has to convert too, but it shouldn’t be your main focus.
Make it easy to navigate between major user interface sections. And like everything else in your design, be ridiculously consistent across your site, no matter how large or small. The flow between your pages should feel well-paced and intuitive (yes, there’s that word again!)
To nail this, create user interface flow diagrams before you design your site, so you can get a good feel for the user experience. This approach invites you to think like a visitor, and as a result, your site will become more user-friendly.
#4 Show the Big Picture
Be clear about your site’s purpose or goal. Every landing page has to tell the entire story of what your site is, and why they should stick around. Consider your UI to be a window into your business.
Help the user to develop a clear mental picture of who you are and what you offer with minimal effort.
#5 Use Color and Contrast Wisely
Shocking color contrasts and over-the-top visuals (no matter how impressive you think they might be) are sure-fire ways to make people flee. Simple is better. Resist the urge to overtly stuff your site with flashy images and noisy intros. Your site is better off without it.
Use colors sparingly. Again, consistency is key. If your logo features a color or two, use them in the creation of your site, but don’t go overboard. For example, if your logo is red, don’t have a red background, but use red color accents instead. And never make color an integral part to navigating your site, or color blind folks (and there are many) won’t stick around.
Use contrast to work in your favor. It’s shocking how many sites have unreadable text thanks to the color contrasts they use. This is a fatal error, which must be addressed. Blue text on a white background? Easy peacy. Blue text on a red background? Dang near impossible. Functionality is first, beauty is second. So, pick your colors carefully.
Remember to design your site for someone who has never seen the likes of what you have to offer. Consider your site a how-to description of your business, written for someone who has never encountered a web page before. The easier you make it for the newbies, the more seasoned customers will adore the process too.
Form should never, ever come before function in UI design. That’s why it’s wise to map out your vision via flow charts and interface documents, and to create your perfect site from there. And above all, test your intuition!
Once you have a design in place, ask friends, colleagues and family members across all age demographics to use your site, with no leading by you, and watch how they interact. Nothing reveals your success better than watching people actually interact with your work.
Do you have any other must-use tips for creating a fabulous website? Please share them below!