Let Your Content Determine Your Website’s Design Elements

By Mark Zeni

When creating a new website, the first thing most people do is search for a beautiful theme on sites like Theme Forest of Template Monster. This makes sense; websites should look good. However, there are reasons to avoid choosing a theme based on looks alone.

When you select a theme based on looks, you’re going to need to fit all of your content into that theme’s existing structure and it may not be a match. For example, say you’re building a website for your local mail center business. Your content will likely consist of a few pages detailing the services you provide and perhaps a blurb on who runs the company.

If you look at most themes today, you’ll notice nearly all of them come with a sidebar and endless spots for stock photos. From a professional designer’s point of view, a small, local mail center wouldn’t benefit from a sidebar or stock photos. Regardless, when you fall in love with the demo version of a theme, it’s tempting to want to recreate the way the demo site looks – excess elements and all. However, doing this can detract from the usability of your website.

Filling in those excess elements makes your site look complicated. Users form an opinion about your website in less than 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds). That opinion will determine whether they stay or bounce. If your website looks too complicated for what it’s designed to be, visitors will bounce.

Design elements should be used intentionally

A sidebar isn’t just a placeholder for aesthetics. It’s a page element designed to highlight important information that visitors should have easy access to. If you don’t have anything to highlight, you don’t need a sidebar. Stuffing content into a sidebar just to fill in the space is a backwards approach to web design.

The proper way to build a website is to allow your content to determine the design you choose. When you organize your content ahead of time, you’ll know which page elements you need, and which ones you don’t. For instance, if you’re a building a photography portfolio, you’ll benefit from a homepage slider. Or, if you’re building an in-depth research website, you’ll benefit by using a sidebar for extensive navigation.

The possibility that any website benefits from stock photography is questionable. As Intechnic puts it, “No matter how professional the stock photo, it will always be someone else’s vision and someone else’s interpretation of the idea, concept, emotion, etc. that you are trying to convey.”

You can avoid making these mistakes by determining which page elements you need before you search for a design. Look at potential themes through the lens of what you actually need. You can’t afford to make a bad first impression.

According to Kat Kocurek from Kinesis, first impressions are 94% design related. This makes sense considering 90% of the information we process is visual. Kocurek remarks, “Even the best content is rendered powerless when it’s embedded in poor design. Studies of user behavior have found that visual appeal and website navigation have the biggest influence on people’s first impressions of your brand.”

Popular elements aren’t always relevant

Just like sidebars, there are other website elements that aren’t relevant for every website. A prime example is the mega menu. Just like sidebars, mega menus are popular because they look cool, but often make navigation too complicated. It’s rare for a website to make proper use of a mega menu, but it’s not unheard of.

Implemented well by Decaso, their mega menu supports the content. With high-end and one-of-a-kind décor, Decaso uses the mega menu element sparingly. Rather than bombarding users with links to every page on the entire website, they use the menu space to display images of their décor. This appeals to the visual orientation of the human brain. When users click on main menu items, their visual mega menu provides satisfaction rather than confusion.

Premade themes come with limitations

Regardless of how well thought out your content is, using a template will always limit you to the structure of that template. If you’re using a dynamic CMS like WordPress you can add and remove elements like headers, sidebars, and widgets. However, you’ll still be stuck with the overall structure created by the template designer.

A website is an asset for any business, whether you’re a brick-and-mortar store, an ecommerce shop, or a blogger marketing content. To give your website the best chance at impressing, retaining, and converting visitors is to hire a designer to develop your website from scratch.



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