The one subject that I have found missing from all the Web design classes I’ve taken has been Page Layout. How do you arrange the elements of a Web page so that it is not only usable, put also visually pleasing? Not until I started taking courses in graphic design did the answers start coming.
Visual design teaches you how to arrange elements on a canvas and balance a composition so that the viewers eyes move where you want them to. Taking the skills I learned in art and design classes, I came up with these guidelines for composing a Web page layout.
1. Information grouping.
By the time you start laying out the page, the information architecture of the site should be nailed down. Hopefully you haven’t decided on more than 3 or 4 major information groupings. The information within these groupings should be visually related into descrete regions on the page. This can be done by using similar font, color, size or proximity to make the groupings obvious.
The information groupings on the page should be visually balanced. No one grouping should draw attention much more than the others. Eye movement should be controlled so that user’s eye naturally moves from one grouping to the next, then back to the first and so on. Any element that creates too strong a visual focus will cause many visitors to miss some of the other content. It can also cause tension or discomfort if their eyes are drawn to one part of the page, and the content they need is on another part of the page. This is the reason flashing banners and animated gifs are so annoying. In my opinion, cycling movement should never be used on a Web page unless it is the only item of interest on the page.
3. Manageble content
Each information grouping in the page layout should contain no more than 7 discrete pieces of information. Any more than that and the user will have trouble processing information.With less than 7 pieces, the user usually has no problem comprehending the choices and making a decision about which, if any, navigation path they want to follow.
You learn by doing, so I suggest that if you design Web sites, but haven’t taken a good, challenging art or design class, you do so immediately. Good luck, have fun and keep learning!