The most important rule in website design is that your website should be easy to read.
What does this mean?
You should choose your text and background colours very carefully. You don't want to use backgrounds that obscure your text or use colours that are hard to read. Dark-coloured text on a light-coloured background is easier to read than light-coloured text on a dark background.
You also don't want to set your text size too small (hard to read) or too large (it will appear to shout at your visitors). All capitalized letters give the appearance of shouting at your visitors.
Keep the alignment of your main text to the left, not cantered. Center-aligned text is best used in headlines. You want your visitors to be comfortable with what they are reading, and most text is left aligned.
Your website should be easy to navigate
All of your hyper links should be clear to your visitors. Graphic images, such as buttons or tabs, should be clearly labelled and easy to read. Your website graphic designer should select the colours, backgrounds, textures, and special effects on your website graphics very carefully. It is more important that your navigational buttons and tabs be easy to read and understand than to have "flashy" effects. Link colours in your text should be familiar to your visitor (blue text usually indicates an unvisited link and purple or maroon text usually indicates a visited link), if possible. If you elect not to use the default colours, your text links should be emphasized in some other way (boldfaced, a larger font size, set between small vertical lines, or a combination of these). Text links should be unique - they should not look the same as any other text in your website pages. You do not want people clicking on your headings because they think the headings are links.
Your visitors should be able to find what they are looking for in your website within three clicks. If not, they are very likely to click off your website as quickly as they clicked on.
Your website should be easy to find
How are your visitors finding you online?
The myth, "If I build a website, they will come," is still a commonly held belief among companies and organisations new to the Internet.
People will not come to your website unless you promote your website both online and offline.
Websites are promoted online via search engines, directories, award websites, banner advertising, electronic magazines (e-zines) and links from other websites. If you are not familiar with any of these online terms, then it is best that you have your website promoted by an online marketing professional.
Websites are promoted offline via the conventional advertising methods: print ads, radio, television, brochures, word-of-mouth, etc. Once you have created a website, all of your company's printed materials including business cards, letterhead, envelopes, invoices, etc. should have your URL printed on them.
Not only should your website be easy to find, but your contact information should be easy to find. People like to know that there is a person at the other end of a website who can help them in the event that:
1. They need answers to questions which are not readily available on your website
2. Some element on your website is not working and end users need to be able to tell you about it, and
3. Directory editors need you to modify parts of your website to be sure that your website is placed in the most relevant category.
By giving all relevant contact information (physical address, telephone numbers, fax numbers, and email address), you are also creating a sense of security for your end users. They can contact you in the way that makes them feel the most comfortable.
Your website page layout and design should be consistent throughout the website
Just as in any document formatted on a word processor or as in any brochure, newsletter, or newspaper formatted in a desktop publishing program, all graphic images and elements, typefaces, headings, and footers should remain consistent throughout your website. Consistency and coherence in any document, whether it is a report or a set of website pages, project a professional image.
For example, if you use a drop shadow as a special effect in your bullet points, you should use drop shadows in all of your bullets. Link-colours should be consistent throughout your website pages. Typefaces and background colours, too, should remain the same throughout your website.
Colour-coded website pages, in particular, need this consistency. Typefaces, alignment in the main text and the headings, background effects, and the special effects on graphics should remain the same. Only the colours should change.
Your website should be quick to download
Studies have indicated that visitors will quickly lose interest in your website if the majority of a page does not download within 15 seconds. (Artists' pages should have a warning at the top of their pages.) Even websites that are marketed to high-end users need to consider download times. Sometimes, getting to websites such as Microsoft or Sun Micro systems is so difficult and time consuming that visitors will often try to access the websites during non-working hours from their homes. If your business does not have good brand name recognition, it is best to keep your download time as short as possible.
A good application of this rule is adding animation to your website. Sure, animation looks "cool" and does initially catch your eye, but animation graphics tend to be large files. Test the download time of your pages first. If the download time of your page is relatively short and the addition of animation does not unreasonably increase the download time of your page, then and ONLY then should animation be a consideration.
Finally, before you consider the personal preferences of your website page design, you should consider all of the above rules FIRST and adapt your personal preferences accordingly. The attitude "I don't like how it looks" should always be secondary to your websites function. Which is more important: creative expression/corporate image or running a successful business?