Experts answer: What makes websites great?

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How many times have you bookmarked a beautifully crafted website? Not because the visual design was great, not because the interface was amazing, but because there was something special about it — everything worked.

Great web design work is definitely a result of great skill, expertise and experience. You can read a lot of great books and articles on this subject but hearing directly from experts is priceless.

That’s why this time we decided to bring you some of that goodness — we spoke with 3 top tier web designers and asked them all the same question: “What is the single most important quality of a perfectly designed website?”. Here’s what they had to say.

Douglas Hughmanick

doug

Website: Douglas Hughmanick

Douglas is an art director from San Francisco with 7 years of agency experience and a BFA in New Media from the Academy of Art. Today he runs ANML, his own design studio and creates absolutely stunning web design work.

Here’s what he had to say to 99designers:

“The most important part of a perfectly designed website is connecting the user with the information they came to find. If your design is easy to navigate and captures the interest of the user, you have likely made good design decisions.

“This doesn’t mean using the same standard layout every time, but thinking through the objective of your project and the audience you are targeting.”

I particularly like how Douglas pointed out “using the same standard layout every time”, which is a mistake I see more often than not here on 99designs, but also everywhere else around the web.

You know how everybody makes a homepage with big photos or a carousel on top followed by 3 to 4 smaller sections below? You’ll rarely see that on Douglas’ sites.

Adham Dannaway

adham

Website: Adham Dannaway

Adham is a designer from Sydney with a proven track record of creating simply amazing web design and UI work. His work has been featured in top websites and publications by Smashing Magazine, Web designer magazine and Abduzeedo. Did I mention he has nearly 20,000 Twitter followers?

Here’s what he had to say to 99designs web design community:

“Firstly, I don’t really think there is such a thing as a perfectly designed website, let’s instead strive for a “well designed” website. In my opinion, the most important quality of a well-designed website is that it fulfills its purpose or function.

“For example, if the goal of a website is to sell soccer balls then first and foremost it should allow people to buy soccer balls easily with as little friction as possible. Sure it would be nice if the website looked great too, but it needs to function well first. Most websites or applications are built to solve a certain problem.

“If the website fails to solve the problem at hand then it doesn’t really matter how beautiful the design is. Make sure the site fulfills its purpose first. Test it out on a bunch of people, get feedback and iterate from there. You might not get it right the first time, but if you persevere you’ll get it right in the end.”

It’s important to note how Adam puts site functionality first, and looks second. This is also a common mistake — I myself sometimes created sites that looked great but lacked intuitiveness, ease of use or even a typeface large enough for people to read. Form – or visual design – should always follow function, not vice versa.

Pat Johnson

pat

Website: Pat Johnson

Pat’s website designs won 10 AAF Awards during past 5 years — a great proof of his craftsmanship in and of itself, if it wasn’t for the stellar work in his portfolio. He also gives back to the design community with a list of freebies available on his site.

Asking him about what makes for a perfect website, here’s what he had to say:

“A website design needs to be clean and simple so it’s easy for the user to quickly find what they want. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use large photos & graphics (I encourage that) — you have to be bold to stand out.

“It just needs to be done in a tasteful, uncluttered manner — use whitespace, good typography and be subtle with rounded corners and drop-shadows. The “fold” is a thing of the past — long, responsive websites are the new trend.”

There are 2 important gems in Pats’ reply — keeping sites clean and uncluttered, and forgetting about the old school above and below the fold.

Cleanliness and whitespace is really paramount for web design, as there is always lots of information to be presented without overwhelming the user. Giving the eyes lots of places to rest and laying out information in small chunks instead of large blocks of content is always the right way to go.

What’s perfect for you?

I really hope you enjoyed this first in “Experts answer” post series. I kept the post intentionally shorter than usual, to see how you like this approach where design mavens answer common design dilemmas.

I’d really like to thank Douglas, Adham and Pat for being apart of this post and helping 99designs’ web community learn something from their vast experiences.

What questions do you have for the experts?

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Peter Vukovic is a seasoned designer & creative director with 10 years of experience in worldwide advertising agency. He is a proud member of the 99designs community. http://99designs.com/people/pvukovich