How to make design decisions for websites when you're not a designer

How to make design decisions when you're not a designer

March 22, 2019

It’s very easy for people to get caught up in the design of their website.

Most likely they have no design experience, and overthink every decision related to it. The truth is: If you’re not a designer, spending your energy trying to come up with a design is probably going to take forever, kill your motivation, and you’ll likely end up with something sub-par. So, if you can’t hire a designer, I’ll show you an easier method you can use to come up with appropriate design for your website.

You may be tempted to find a popular template that you can copy and adjust to fit your needs, but that’s not exactly the best way to stand out. Popular templates are, by definition, common, and that’s the last thing you want to be if you’re running a business. So if you’re not going to use a template, and certainly not going to come up with a brilliant design yourself, how else can you going to get a great design?

Before you even ask that question, what you should be focusing on is your message. Design is mainly a way to implement and add to your message, so make sure you know what your message is before you think about how you want to display it. For me, this means writing down the major goals of the website, creating an outline for each page, then going back and writing out what I plan to say for each section of the outline. Make sure everything you write in some way advances the goals you’ve set for your website.

So many people don’t identify this as the first step and instead jump straight into design, only to end up with a convoluted website that serves no purpose but to look pretty. Remember: The message should dictate the design, not the other way around.

Ask yourself: what are you trying to communicate? If you’re a business, what are you bringing to the table? Your message should obviously be unique as well, and you’ll use that to help make decisions regarding your design.

After your vision is clearly defined, then you can start looking at templates.

Instead of looking for a one-size-fits-all template, you’ll start to look through templates and real websites for components: specific chunks of a website that achieve a certain goal.

The trick here is to pick & choose certain elements from the templates that work well with your brand. For example, you might love how one theme’s color scheme reflects your brand, so grab that and leave the rest. Then, you’ll find another template with a great About Me section, so you’ll take that too. Keep picking & choosing pieces from the examples you’ve searched until you’ve found all the parts you need.

If you need help finding good example to choose from, you have a couple options. The easy solution is to look at your competition, but this comes with some downsides. If you copy too much, you’ll cease to be a distinct brand and give up any reason for a customer to choose you over them. No copy is ever as good as the original, so make sure you can bring something different to the table.

The other downside is that focusing too much on the competition can cloud your judgment. When you reflect on your own vision, you’ll have certain ideas associated with that. If you focus too much on other people’s vision, all of a sudden your vision molds into their’s. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you should do something just because someone else did it. Make sure to stay true to your original ideas.

Once you’ve got the right pieces to build your website, you’ll need to make it uniform. Refer back to your examples for help on achieving this. Try to focus on achieving consistency in these main areas:

  • Layouts: Try not to use more than three types of page layouts. Stick to a few options that are flexible and adaptable to multiple types of content.
  • Spacing: Make sure your content follows the same spacing rules everywhere on your site. Body text should always be the same size, with the same margins. Images should follow a similar framework.
  • Color: Keep a consistent palette that mixes well, without too many different colors. Always use the same color to communicate a specific idea (For example: always use the same shade of red to denote an error message)

Following these steps will save you a lot of headaches if you’re not a designer. Outsourcing the designs themselves helps speed up decision-making, and the ability to pick & choose what works will allow you to stand out.

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