Design My Own Website: A Getting Started Guide

Before you say, “I need to design my own website,” consider whether your website really does need a design. Sure, the default WordPress or Drupal (or whatever) theme looks like a million other websites—but that can be an advantage.

Problems With Designing My Own Website

The more your website looks like other websites on the Internet, the easier it will be to use. Consider the default WordPress theme—you’ve probably seen it on dozens or hundreds of websites. The main column has the blog posts. The right column has navigation links and links to the monthly archives. Under each post is information about the post and, optionally, its author. At the top of the page is the blog name on a banner. The familiarity of the default WordPress theme leads visitors into exploring your site. Everyone knows how to browse the archives. Everyone knows how to explore all the posts from a particular category. Everyone knows to look for the RSS subscription link in the right column. But if you want to “design my own website”, nobody will automatically know how to browse your custom design. You’ll have to put a lot of thought into making things obvious—and if you get it wrong (as many sites do)—you could discover that most of your organic search traffic leaves after reading a single page or blog.

If you look at the screenshot of the Max Mag WordPress theme you will see the menu in the typical place, the social icons, the search box, a sub menu with boring main pages and more obvious design choices. When you visit a post you will see black text on a white background.

Design My Own Website: A Getting Started Guide image Max Mag1Design My Own Website: A Getting Started Guide

If You Must Design Your Own Website

Here I should admit I’m a bit of a hypocrite—I rarely use the default template for websites without making a few tweaks. I still try to keep things as close to default as possible, but I’ve discovered there are several things you can do to help your readers. All of the ideas below come from my own experience as a website reader. Too many times I’ve stumbled across an interesting website with a horrible design. I’ve sworn not to make the mistakes they made when I design my own website.

Design My Own Website Error #1—Black & White

Nothing makes a website more difficult to read than a bad background color or image which blends into the text. You want your text to stand out, not disappear into the background. The easiest and most effective color layout for the text part of your site is black text and white background. Not gray text or gray background, but simple and 100% contrasting black text on white background. You’re free to add a background image or color to the non-text parts of your website, but make the text parts easy to read.

I know this sounds boring but I am all for a minimalist website theme as we are not here to whack people with way out designs when they are visiting our websites for our fantastic content.

Deisgn My Own Website Mistake #2—Tiny Fonts

Consider that you’re probably going to “design my own website on my PC or Mac.” That’s going to give you a lot of screen space to fill and, if you’re a novice, you’re going to feel like you have to fill every inch of your website with text, images, banners, and advertisements. I’ll discuss why that’s wrong in the next section; for now consider what that does to your text. When you crowd in your text, you get short lines, which don’t quite look right. (Most people think lines look wrong if they have fewer than 40 characters or more than 80 characters.) So instead of getting rid of the crud which crowds in your text, you simply shrink the text. That’s a bad idea. Most people sit a foot (1/3 meter) or more away from their computer monitors. That means any decrease in the text size makes reading your website very hard. And, if it’s hard to read your website, who’s going to bother to read it at all when there are so many websites which are easy to read? I recommend you never shrink your text size. Better yet, I recommend you try to increase your text size when possible. My own personal website uses a font size of 16pt—that’s 30% larger than the 12pt default and 60% larger than the 10pt many websites use.

Build Your Own Website Mistake #3—Big Design, Little Device

Have you tried reading websites on your mobile phone or small-screen tablet or netbook? Some sites are a pain, aren’t they? Pay close attention to which sites are a pain—it’s almost always the sites with multicolum, crowded layouts. Some of these sites scroll off the side of your screen; other sites assume your cell phone has the resolution of a 30-inch (90-centimeter) computer monitor, so they crowd out the text with advertisements and navigation features.

Design My Own Website: A Getting Started Guide image responsive mobile websiteDesign My Own Website: A Getting Started Guide

There’s no magical way around this problem. More and more people in the future will read your site from mobile devices, so when you start think about how “I’m going to design my own website,” make sure you test your design on mobile phones, tablets, and other small devices. (A quick way to test mobile design on your computer is to open a new Web browser window and resize it until it isn’t very wide. A longer but better way to test mobile website design on your desktop is to install the free Google Android Emulator.)

Conclusion

Except for the above tweaks—black text on white background, large font, and uncluttered design—I highly recommend you stick with a popular website layout theme when you start to design your own website.

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