If you’ve been using the web for a while, you’ve no doubt witnessed how web experiences have changed fundamentally over time. Long gone are the days of blue hyperlinks on static text-based websites (an early 1990s staple), and in its place have come more elevated and elegant experiences. These days, web design is closely linked to user experience and interface design as well as search engine optimization, especially as the number and kinds of surfaces we view it on has grown (from mobile devices to AR/VR and physical installations). A huge industry that’s growing at an exponential rate, web design is an exciting discipline to be part of but it also requires an adaptive skill set. No wonder the lines between web designers, front-end developers, UX and UI designers and product designers are increasingly blurred. 

Designers no longer throw their designs over to the developers; they now collaborate closely and often know how to code themselves, influencing the aesthetics and functionality of a website’s front-end design as much as possible. The terms web design and front-end development are often used interchangeably, and designers are often expected to be proficient in HTML, CSS and JavaScript and keep up to date with all the latest technologies and frameworks. 

Let’s look at the evolution of web design, the basic requirements of strong, user-friendly designs, and how you can optimize the UX for every medium. 

What is web design?

Web design refers to the process of creating websites that are displayed on the world wide web. It’s part of web development and focuses mostly on the user experience aspects that you need to make a website visually appealing and easy to use: graphics, layout, and content.

Web designers used to design websites for the desktop experience and concentrated on what they looked like in different browsers (often using tables to arrange text and graphics). The introduction of the iPhone and iPad, however, changed everything. Designers now build websites that need to work on mobile, tablet and a myriad of other devices.

Basic requirements for strong web design

Effective website design needs to deliver a content-focused experience, which is clean, decluttered and aims to create a strong information architecture. It’s a shift away from using elements (such as web animations or carousels) — the primary purpose of which is to impress. 

Removing all distractions and unnecessary background noise that get in the way of the user experience can help prioritize the most important information and communicate the main message. This can be achieved by implementing a clear and intuitive visual hierarchy, using color contrast and a simple, stripped down design to help the user focus, and plenty of whitespace, which gives the content more room to breathe. It also explains the popularity of flat design, a minimalist 2D style, which puts functionality over ornamental design elements.

Another aspect that can add real value to the design, as it contributes to a better user experience, is consistency. If users feel familiar with a website and brand because they recognize repeatable patterns in the design elements (such as the navigation menu, body copy, and buttons), it will not only make it easy for them to use any of the company’s experiences comfortably, but it also establishes trust. Consistency therefore needs to be part of every design phase, from planning to testing, and can be achieved with the use of pattern libraries and design systems — the keys to consistency. They’re an essential point of reference to keep everyone within the company on the same page.

Optimization for every medium

One of the most important ways of designing a website these days is responsive design. Responsive layouts ensure that content moves dynamically depending on the screen size as well as the orientation the device is being held in. It ensures the experience is as consistent as possible, no matter how it is being accessed, which again increases user trust and engagement. 

As screen sizes differ wildly from tiny mobile devices to massive desktop monitors, designers are faced with the challenge of designing a site that doesn’t sacrifice the user experience. The key is content prioritization for every medium, which means including only the most crucial functions and features to help users find what they need more efficiently when accessing a site on a mobile device.

The power of web design

It’s an exhilarating time to be a web designer. Visual styles and trends continue to change, but the explosion of mobile has revolutionized web design, and that’s presenting new challenges and opportunities for human-centered design. Essential skills now include taking into account the usability and accessibility of the design, and how it appears across devices. 

Web design has matured; it’s no longer just about what we can do with technology. An essential part is what we should do to make our experiences as inclusive as possible, no matter what the device, network connection, or ability of the person accessing them. Content prioritization is as important as a strong information architecture, visual hierarchy, and consistency. A strong web design can build a positive relationship with your audience and win their trust. Keeping all of this in mind throughout the process can increase engagement and conversions and ultimately have a positive effect on your entire business.