Trying to choose a really good design agency can be tough.
Even if someone's helped you out with a handy guide to choosing the right design agency, a big part of your decision is going to be based on that company's work.
But when we're going through case studies, it can be easy to fall into the trap of simply thinking "do I like it?", instead of "is it good?".
And that's an important distinction.
Remember when you're going through a design portfolio, or checking out someone's website, YOU aren't always the target audience. Some of the very best website designs might not actually be something you like personally.
So if you can't just rely on your own gut feeling, how do you decide if someone's creative work is good enough?
You need to look at the 3 web design principles: Audience, Technology and UX. If a website scores highly in those three tenets of web design, chances are, it's an example of great design.
But wait! I hear you say. None of those things are about the visuals? How can they possibly show you whether something is good or bad website design without specifically addressing the visuals?
But you see, great web design is so much more than just making something aesthetically pleasing.
We'll go into a bit more depth and find out about:
The hardest thing to remember about judging someone's design, is that it might not actually be designed to appeal to you.
Great web design is user friendly and created to appeal to the target audience. And that should shape every visual, structural and content decision that gets made.
So the first thing you need to ask about any web product is: who is it for?
And every answer and judgment you make about it shouldn't be based on your own reaction, but how you'd expect that target audience to react.
So when you're looking at a homepage design, here are the design elements that you want to think about:
What sort of feeling do you get from the colours? Are they calming, vibrant, subtle, striking?
The colour choice should be a fit for the target audience, for example, bright colours might suit a website aimed at children, whereas more muted colours might give the site a more professional feel.
Font choice is a subtle art, so you might not even really notice it unless it's particularly distinct. That's often because readability is absolutely essential with font choice.
If the font is distinctive, you want to think about the impression it's giving. Handwriting style fonts often make a site feel personal and friendly. Strong, straight-edged fonts might give a more high tech feel.
So you want to think about whether the font choice is tailored towards the audience who will be reading it.
So much of our impression of the overall design of a website comes from the images, so that's a great way to judge design choices. Although you should always bear in mind that image choice can often be affected by what the client has available.
So don't judge a site just because they're using stock photography - judge them if they're using BAD stock photography!
The pictures on the site should do a number of things: illustrate what the business does, create the right atmosphere for the target audience, and give you a sense of the organisation's culture and attitude.
If a website is using photos that are poor quality, don't seem to have any relevance to the business, or create an impression that's at odds with the rest of the site, it's not great design.
Good website photography is often overlooked when planning website design. So be careful - bad photography can often ruin a great website.
Now this is a hard one to judge, because it's often the client, and not the design agency that provides text - but it's still an important factor. So, does the text make sense? Is it the right tone for the target audience? Does it help guide your journey through the site? Good website copy can help increase user engagement.
Bad text isn't a clear sign of bad design, but it is another element to consider when you're assessing someone's work.
Features and animations
Design features and animations can add an extra level of interest and movement to a site, but they also have to work for the style of site that's being created.
An animation heavy site can actually be a barrier if the site has a lot of content and the audience is looking to get information quickly.
Similarly, a website with no design flourishes or features can look very bland and uninspiring. It's all about how the design works for the audience.
Take a look at a case study example of how we used animation to bring a brand to life.
Also known as negative space (because it's not always white!), this is an important element to look out for, as it usually breaks up the website content to make it easier to read and understand.
White space can give symmetrical balance, and help create a bit of a break around focal points on the website such as CTAs, making them stand out more.
Too much white space can be a common problem with website templates, as it's not been designed with this specific content in mind.
But too little white space often leaves sites cluttered and difficult to read.
Thinking about each of these elements in the context of the target audience should give you a good idea of whether this site has been carefully planned with them in mind.
Of course, you can't forget that the site will have been impacted by the personal taste of the client who commissioned it too. So it's no good looking at a single site to get an impression of a web design company's work. Make sure you take a look at several examples before making any judgement!
It's funny how we think of creating websites as "web design", but development is just as significant if you're trying to work out what makes a good web product.
There are some simple tests to see if a website has been built well:
Is it responsive?
Sounds obvious, but if a website gives you a bad experience on mobile devices, then you're alienating a huge potential audience. No good website design should overlook the user experience on phones or tablets.
- Is it fast?
A modern website design has to have great page speed. It can actually have an effect on your search engine rankings. But on top of that, a slow website leaves users frustrated and likely to leave. A sluggish website is a design fail.
- Is it accessible?
Web accessibility should be a crucial consideration for any site build. Your website should be usable to everyone, including people with visual impairments or who use screen readers to navigate the internet.
Great design requires your web designer and web developer to put their unique skill sets together to make the best possible product.
After all, if a site is poorly built, it doesn't matter how good the visual design is, users will not stay for long.
The third principle you can judge a website design on is UX.
UX design is shorthand for user experience design, and it's all about making things simple for people on your website.
As a user, your experience of a website should be straightforward. You should know where to click to find the information you want. You should be able to finish a process really quickly. You should never be in a situation where you're left thinking 'what should I do now'?
And that's where UX design comes in.
UX is part of the design, structure, development and pretty much all aspects of a website. But in terms of our design principles, it's probably the easiest bit to test.
Here are some simple ways to see if the UX on a website is up to snuff:
- Can you find the call to action?
The most essential part of UX - getting customers to the CTA.
- What is the visual hierarchy?
This isn't as complex as it sounds, it basically means, is everything in the right order? Is what you expected to find first at the top of the page, with less important stuff further down?
- Can you find what you're looking for?
Give yourself a task to find a piece of information, to search for a product or sign up for an account. Was it easy to do? Did you get confused or frustrated?
Great design requires good UX, because it transforms something from just being "pretty" to being useful.
Your website isn't a work of art, it doesn't exist purely to look good. It exists to do a job for you and your customers.
It's great UX that ensures that your website is doing both, looking fantastic whilst also being simple and intuitive to use.
So how can you spot good web design? Just look at the 3 key graphic design principles.
- Audience: Is this website designed to appeal to its target audience?
- Technology: Is the website based on great development?
- UX: Is the website easy to use?
Of course, there will always be emerging web design trends to keep on top of, too.
There are some other great ways to check if an agency is producing excellent design. See if they've won any industry awards for their work, or if their case studies show that their websites have brought measurable success.
And last of all, you can always just ask! Most digital agencies love to talk about their projects and how they work.
If you want to talk to us about our award-winning web design services, and how we can create something incredible for your business, get in touch with us today (seriously, we really do love to talk about our projects)!
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