Want to learn all about web design and the basics you need to be covered before you hire a web designer? Keep reading to learn about what web design is, what it entails, what are the most important skills to have and where to outsource it.
Web design is extremely important for businesses’ success as of late. If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, it is your whole business, and if you do, it helps customers form a good opinion about your branding and company success.
You might wonder if you truly need a professionally designed website. Here are some facts that might help you decide:
- 38% of visitors will stop engaging with a website if the design is unattractive, and 48% say the design of the website is the most important factor in determining a business’ credibility (Blue Corona)
- 98% of people who’ve had a bad website experience will shop with a competitor (Web FX)
- 61% of consumers plan to spend more time online post the covid-19 pandemic than before it (Salesforce)
So, you need a well-designed, optimized, easy to navigate and intuitive website that is packed with your branding colors, logos, elements and typography. That seems like a lot of requirements! But, we can walk you through it.
Let’s take it step by step, and show you all you need to know about web design.
What is web design?
Web design is a graphic design subcategory that covers the look and feel of a website. It is very important to understand that it is very different from web development, which covers the coding of the website and making it responsive and functional.
So, web design relates to the way a website or app looks. But getting it to actually work is the responsibility of web development teams.
What does web design include?
Seeing that web design mostly focuses on design elements which are part of the website, that you most likely don’t notice as separate design works, we’ll go through all the small buttons, backgrounds and other cogs in the clockwork that make a website what it is.
All these elements are supposed to enhance the branding look of the website, help the user navigate it easily, give them a great user experience and be well optimized so that the web developers can “give them life” and make them responsive.
These are the most common web design elements.
A CTA, or call to action, is a banner or headline that helps the viewer make a decision or take an action, as the name itself suggests.
Calls to action are everywhere on websites: whether it’s “Buy now”, “Preorder”, “Learn more” or “Schedule a call”; companies use them to gain traction and make their visitors turn into prospects.
A good web designer should help the target audience easily notice the CTA, and make it stand out from the rest of the visual elements. This can be achieved with colors, placement, visual hierarchy, typography, etc.
But, it shouldn’t stand out too much so it looks out of place.
The buttons are another interactive design element that should be noticed, flashy, but look user-friendly. Buttons are most of the time part of CTAs, but can sometimes be a standalone element and take the viewer to another page/action.
Their noticeability is achieved with different shapes, colors and sometimes effects.
Backgrounds seem like a very simple and basic element, but they need to seamlessly fit in the overall design, and unnoticeably change during transitions and change of screens or web pages.
Often backgrounds include patterns or symbols that need to be used moderately, so as not to overwhelm the overall web design.
Infographics are a digital design product that shows a large amount of data in a visual way. It often helps audiences understand the full scope of a complicated and wide presentation, and often they are interactive.
The web design side of these infographics needs to be easy to comprehend, seamlessly designed and distinguishable from the rest of the design, so it doesn’t fully blend into the rest and is noticeable.
Here is an example of an interactive infographic about the New York City skyline, by National Geographic.
Icons are some of the most basic, but incredibly helpful small pieces of web design: they give the website dynamic, inform the viewer through symbols and are easy to create. They are the same as road signs are to a wanderer on a street. It is very important to use a singular style of icons throughout the whole website, otherwise, it will look sloppy.
Transitions are motion graphics designs that help the viewer unnoticeably go from one screen to another. They are, simply said, the animations between two screens, which help establish an easy connection between the user and the website and an intuitive movement between pages. Transitions are commonly created in UI and UX design, as a way to improve the experience and interface of the website.
When a user is waiting for a web page to load because of poor internet or heavy elements that are slow to load, it is a good UI design practice to add an animated or visually rich loading screen. The small circles being filled in or animated three dots you see when waiting for a page design to load, help a lot with preventing visitors from bouncing away from the site.
Widgets are small interactive components that provide other functionalities on the website. For example, an Instagram widget will pull the pictures from a company’s Instagram profile, and show them on the website.
Widgets can be screen captures, subscription boxes, clocks, quick payments on e-commerce, etc.
Although widgets are often predesigned, web designers have some control over the size, colors and way widgets can be well-incorporated in their creations.
Forms are small boxes where a visitor can opt in to leave an email address, and in turn, get an ebook, subscribe to a newsletter, answer a survey, etc.
They are interactive, and need to be designed in such a way that they catch the attention of the visitor, but aren’t too obnoxious or flashy. A best practice is to use branding colors, so they do not stand out too much.
Types of websites
There are many different types of websites that serve different purposes. From a one-time promotional activity website to e-commerce, or simply informative websites that consist of the most important information for a business, there are many reasons why websites are designed.
In this chapter, we’ll go through some of the most commonly produced websites, and some basic features they should have.
Although often synonymous with a homepage, a landing page is not exactly that.
The key difference between the two is that a landing page is built with an intended audience and purpose in mind. Whereas a homepage informs people about a business or service, the landing page prompts visitors to take a certain action.
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The design of a landing page is extremely important, as it is supposed to inform viewers of its purpose, and intuitively lead them to take action. Whereas long blocks of text might be useful for someone just looking for information, a clear layout and a smooth user experience are vital for a high-performing landing page.
Marketers often create separate landing pages for different campaigns, events and even sub-services or products within the same company. Generally, there are 3 main types of landing pages: homepages, hero pages and product pages.
A regular landing page usually can consist of these most important elements:
- Hero section
- Value proposition
- Call to action
- Social proof
- Time counters
- Ecommerce functionalities
Ecommerce websites need more functionalities, such as the ability for quick payment, gallery view on photos in cases where there are plenty of products that are sold, an intuitive layout that demands good user experience design, and space for testimonials.
Whereas most e-commerce websites can be designed directly on platforms like Shopify, Wix, Bigcommerce, Squarespace and others, if you want a website with e-commerce functionalities from scratch, you need a great web designer that has all of the users’ needs in mind when creating it.
A blog is a website that is usually regularly updated and needs to be easy to use for writers so that they can publish their own blogs.
It doesn’t usually need too many flashy widgets and features, but a clean and easy to navigate design, as well as a lot of white space will help with legibility and ease of use for it.
Web designers working on blogs will need to focus mostly on it looking tight and concise, and a good interface so that readers can easily navigate from one page to another.
A business website consists of all the important information about a company, as well as education about buying, prices, locations, company mission and vision, etc.
The most common pages a business website has are:
- Homepage: the main landing page
- About us: a page to share the company’s mission, vision and team
- Products and services: page with a catalog view where visitors can learn about the products and services, and possibly purchase them with the help of an e-commerce feature
- Contact page: all the important social media links, addresses, emails, phone numbers, etc.
It is extremely important for a business website to be easy to use, but above all, to include the branding guidelines of the company.
Portfolio websites are usually constructed as a way for creative professionals to showcase their projects. Most commonly, you can find designer portfolios, photographer portfolios, art directors, etc. They can also be easily built using a do-it-yourself portfolio platform online.
They are most commonly a one-pager website with a simple and clean design, but sometimes can be closer to a business website if they include multiple categories that need to be showcased.
Web design skills
You’ve learned the main elements and types of websites a web designer will be in charge of creating. But what skills do they need to be able to do that? What is their process? Why does a web designer need actual knowledge to create a website, and not just go through design tips and tricks and draw an outline? Here is what is most important to see your web designer is capable of doing.
The thing that makes a good web designer different from a mediocre designer or DIY project, among other things, is that they base their creations on research.
They need to understand the audience, trends in the behavior of users and design, competition, company branding guidelines, etc.
Wireframes are visualizations of the basic look and layout of your web pages, and together they create a complete sitemap. This is a critical step in ensuring that the website goals are evident for anyone landing on it.
Information architecture is the structural design of the website, for which again the web designer is in charge. It is a process of structuring, organizing and labeling web pages that construct a whole website so that everything is in order and internally connected the right way when it reaches the development stage.
As plain as it can be: this stage is the actual designing of a website. Based on research, branding guidelines and client briefs, the web designers individually design each design element on the website, as well as the web pages one by one.
Interaction design goes beyond graphic design and consists of creating and testing web designs and how users interact with them. It includes elements like motion, sound, space, reaction time, etc.
Web design tools and programs
Same as theoretical skills and knowledge, web designers need to have technical knowledge in software and tools. Here are some of the most common important tools and programs that web designers use.
- Figma: Figma is a vector graphics editor and prototyping tool that is web-based and offers multi-people project views and collaboration tools. It makes it possible for web designers to design and test websites, and show their progress to clients in real-time or as a project available in cloud software.
- Sketch: Sketch is a software tool very similar to Figma, in the sense that it is also a vector graphics editor. The main difference between the two is that Sketch is a desktop application, whereas Figma is mostly an online tool, so Sketch makes it hard to work with many people in real-time and for clients to follow the design process.
- InVision: InVision is a design, prototyping and workflow tool that is mostly used for the creation of mockups and presenting the work process and designs.
- Adobe XD: Also a vector-based design and prototyping tool, with plenty of features for front-end design.
- Photoshop: Probably the most widely used program in design, Photoshop is also commonly used in wireframing and web page designing.
- Illustrator: Used to create unique graphics and illustrations included in the web design.
Where to get web design done?
As with most digital services, there are plenty of ways to get web design for your needs. These are the most common:
In-house web designer
The IT industry’s services are the most outsourced ones and for a good reason. If you are not a startup, chances are you will not have the need to tweak and update your website all the time or change the services as you grow.
That means that, for a small business, hiring an in-house web designer is a waste of resources, as you would only need them for one big project, and then they wouldn’t have much work on their hands.
Freelance web designers
You can hire freelancers on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to take on the full website building process, or just the design portion of it, and discuss the details, time management and scope of work with them.
There is a slight risk of working with freelancers in the time of delivery, lack of quality assurance and the possibility of a lot of back-and-forth without effective communication.
Essentially, if you can handle managing an outsourced freelance worker, you can have a good web design project in your hands. However, if you don’t quite understand what you need, it’s better to go for an option that includes management of output and scope of work too.
Web design agencies
A web design agency will take care of your design needs, and can scale up and down based on the complexity of your design.
Web design agencies usually include way more services than just the design, such as SEO copywriting, responsive design, e-commerce features, custom themes and style, domain names, content management systems, etc.
The cost of hiring a web design agency can be anywhere between 3.000 to 100,000 dollars on average for the US market. For the smallest price, you can expect to get just the look and layout of the website.
It comes at a heftier price, but a higher level of professionalism and larger scope of services are to be expected.
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Unlimited graphic design services
An unlimited graphic design platform instead of a web design agency or company? It might sound unusual, but it is an extremely effective and affordable option if you don’t necessarily want the same company to deal with the development and hosting of your website.
For example, ManyPixels in its scope of work in the Advanced and Business plans (549 and 899 dollars respectively) covers UI design, as well as all the other graphic design needs in the Essential plan.
That means that for a flat rate of 549 or 899 dollars a month you can get both a website design and other graphic design projects like custom illustrations, social media posts, digital ads, print design, landing pages, etc.
A limited, but extremely resourceful and DIY way to have your own website, is a website builder. Platforms such as Wix, Shopify, Instapage, Squarespace and others (most of which support WordPress websites), are popular for a reason: for a small price, you get a large library of design templates and many integrations you can use in your website.
However, after doing some research you can easily see that plenty of companies use website builders, and the wow factor will not be achieved with them.