Three Tips To A Successful Web Site Design

The ever-handy Rule of Thirds


Remember the Rule of Thirds.

Ever wonder why is a 12-grid layout?

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It’s no accident that 12 is a multiple of three.

For a couple of thousand years, the Rule of Thirds, or the Golden Ratio for you mathematically-inclined folks, has worked an aesthetic guideline which states that a given visual space (your web site layout) should be divided horizontally and vertically into thirds, and that important design elements should be placed along the dividing lines, or at their intersections.

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This, the rule says, provides the most visually appealing layout. Both left- and right-brained figures throughout history, from Euclid to Rothko, have utilized this rule to create ingenious observations and works of art.

The Rule of Thirds is often tagged as the lazy man’s way to lay things out, but that’s really because of its simplicity and universality. In short, the rule works.

Web layouts are a bit trickier since the monitor size and screen resolution on everyone’s individual computers is a variable that the designer cannot control; however, if you stick with non-fluid layouts to constrain the horizontal space of your design, or use percentages in your CSS (a bit trickier, especially if non-scalable images are involved), the Rule of Thirds can provide you with focal points and design layouts that web users find easy to visually digest. Another popular method of utilizing the Rule is to design an “impact area” (often dominated by a “hero graphic”) that is divided in thirds aesthetically and is designed to be the primary focal point for the page. As the user scrolls down, simple 1/3 ratio columns for the text or remaining content can be used. Columns work well in vertically variable workspaces.

2. KISS all those pretty fonts goodbye.

Remember that annoying acronym we all learned in school? Just in case you’ve been living on a deserted island for the last decade or so, KISS stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And that’s precisely the best way to use type fonts.

I’m not saying you can’t indulge in unique, hand-created typography, or that you can’t mix typefaces, ever. But it must be done with care and artistry. Adding in that really cool font you downloaded for free from the link your nephew in HTML class sent you may not be your best bet for communicating your client’s message.

In fact, communicating your client’s message is the goal of the web site you’re designing. If that message isn’t already contained in the design of the typeface you want to use, skip the typeface and go neutral. Something like Helvetica Bold works incredibly well to get messages across (which is why we’ve seen such a resurgence of it in the self-publishing & blogging trends). The type font does not interfere with the actual words. You have something like 1/gazillionth of a second to get your message across to the web user, so do it the fastest, clearest possible way. If that isn’t with a fancy font that says it all for you, then say it with words, and make the words concise and easy to absorb.

I like to use no more than three fonts (excluding any fancy or unduplicatable logo fonts) in my designs: one main graphic font, one secondary graphic font, and one web-safe HTML font. Save the pretty stuff for non-text graphics.

3. Don’t give up.

Sounds like touchy-feely pandering, right? Well, it’s true.

These days, Photoshop, CSS, and your own artistic talents can pretty much do anything with a layout. Anything you want. If you have an idea in your head that’s just not translating onto a sketch pad or a monitor, keep at it.

Sometimes we all get a little bit too reliant on filters and effects, and when the desired outcome isn’t met with a drop-shadow or a gradient, it’s tempting to settle for “good enough.” Don’t do it. Nobody ever won a design award by settling. No client was ever thrilled to pay for a design that was settled on. And no web user has ever been wowed by “good enough.” If that brush stroke isn’t working for you like it should, go old school: get out your ink, brushes, and watercolor paper and draw precisely the stroke you need. If that typeface just isn’t quite right, pull it into Illustrator and tweak the anchor points until it is. If you think the paper effect you’ve made isn’t convincing, grab a real piece of paper and tear the edges, fold the corners, crumple the middle until it is.

There are also plentiful tutorials and resources on the web for just about any specific effect you’re trying to achieve. Do a Google search and see what you come up with. At worst, you’ll slightly expand your knowledge. At best, you’ll learn skills and tricks that will make your web layouts really shine.

And if all else fails, get up, and take a walk around your neighborhood. Fresh air is a great re-motivator, and inspiration is all around us, all the time.


Stephanie Long is an artist and designer with over a decade of web-specific experience currently lending her talents as Creative Director at WebSight Design. She believes that listening to the client is the key to a successful project, and that listening to yourself is the key to a happy life. And she actually likes deadlines “” go figure. Stephanie recently got a Twitter account and now feels much younger.

Like this post? You might like this one, too: Design Is Not A Pretty Picture

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