Designing for the Internet, Part 1:
Making the Sale With "Ugly" Web Design

As marketing continues to move over to the Internet, graphic designers are moving there too … and often with disastrous results. However, if you’ve been trained as a graphic designer who specializes in direct-marketing design, you are already prepared to do well in Web design.

Most print-focused graphic designers want their products to look elegant, beautiful, striking, super-modern, and so on … to show off their design skills.

Web-focused designers, on the other hand, are concerned about one thing: making the sale.

Sound familiar? Of course! That’s exactly what your focus is as a direct-marketing graphic designer.

It doesn’t matter how fancy your creation is – if your design doesn’t help make the sale, you have failed.

But if your design is plain or even downright ugly and it sells a million dollars worth of product – you are a success.

There are a great many similarities between DM-focused and Web-focused design. But there are some important differences, too. Today, we’ll cover some of the general differences. Next week, we’ll delve into slightly more complex issues like images, designing for different monitors, and Web-safe colors.

The First, Last, and Only Rule of Web Design:
Your Site Must Be Easy To Read

"Easy to read" means that your text, background images, and the text within graphic images should have the highest contrast possible. And the highest color contrast comes from using basic black and white.

Another good combination is a light yellow background with dark blue or black text. Dark blue text on white makes good subheads.

Color combinations that have less contrast can be used in headings, mastheads, sidebars, navigation buttons, and image maps. (But make sure they are still easy to read.)

Do not use graphic images as backgrounds. While they can make a website more "artistically" pleasing, they can also make it more difficult to read … and take longer to load.

The most legible fonts are standard serif fonts (like Times or Courier) and sans-serif fonts (like Arial or Helvetica). Decorative or cursive fonts are much more difficult to read and should rarely be used.

If your client insists on using a decorative font (for instance, in his logo) bring it into the site as a fast-loading GIF image made in an image-editing program like Photoshop. (We’ll discuss image file formats next week.)

Try to stay away from really small type. To keep the site readable, use the equivalent of 12-point or greater. If, for some reason, the client insists on a small font, make it a sans-serif font – which is easier to read in small sizes.

Italicized, oblique, or condensed fonts are harder to read than standard typefaces. Except for very short runs (such as italicizing quotes), they should be avoided.

The Other First, Last, and Only Rule of Web Design:
Your Site Must Load Quickly

If you use only text on a website – and keep to the above design guidelines – the site will load super-fast. But "text only"? That’s not likely to happen. So next week, we’ll tell you what you need to know to make sure your site loads fast … is easy to read … AND makes the sale!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: March 14, 2005

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