An article titled "10 principles of effective web design" by Smashing Magazine does a great job discussing principles to effective web sites. I have highlighted the key points below, but encourage you to check out the full article.
Usability and the utility, not the visual design, determine the success or failure of a web-site. Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has become a standard approach for successful and profit-oriented web design. After all, if users can’t use a feature, it might as well not exist.
How do users think?
- Users appreciate quality and credibility.
- Users don’t read, they scan.
- Web users are impatient and insist on instant gratification.
- Users don’t make optimal choices.
- Users follow their intuition.
- Users want to have control.
- Don’t make users think According to Krug’s first law of usability, the web-page should be obvious and self-explanatory. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks — the decisions users need to make consciously, considering pros, cons and alternatives.
- Don’t squander users’ patience As Ryan Singer — the developer of the 37Signals team — states, users would probably be eager to provide an email address if they were asked for it after they’d seen the feature work, so they had some idea of what they were going to get in return.
- Manage to focus users’ attention The human eye is a highly non-linear device, and web-users can instantly recognize edges, patterns and motions. This is why video-based advertisements are extremely annoying and distracting, but from the marketing perspective they perfectly do the job of capturing users’ attention.
- Strive for feature exposure Guidelines are extremely effective as they lead the visitors through the site content in a very simple and user-friendly way.
- Make use of effective writing As the Web is different from print, it’s necessary to adjust the writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Writing should be adjusted to fit the medium.
- Strive for simplicity Even my dad always says "less is more"!
- Don’t be afraid of the white space White space helps to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors, but it makes it possible to perceive the information presented on the screen.
- Communicate effectively with a “visible language” Organize. Economize. Communicate.
- Conventions are our friends Follow users’ expectations — understand what they’re expecting from a site navigation, text structure, search placement etc. (see Nielsen’s Usability Alertbox for more information).
- Test early, test often This is an often overlooked component to many web sites, although very important. According to web usability expert, Steve Krug, testing one user is 100% better than testing none.