From time to time, you can actually judge a book by its cover. And when it comes to websites, you can almost always judge them by their covers.

Your sites overall aesthetic can make a world of difference to each individual users resulting experience. Despite how many calls-to-action, banners and contact forms you have, visitors will rarely bother to invest their time if those cleverly engineered facets don’t look good.

But which design elements can truly affect how a user interacts with a website, and what can be done to improve their experience?

A designer should always put users first!

Your website design should therefore put users first. In other words, the user is the only reason you need to exist in the first place. Make sure that the interface, the content, and especially the content structure are laid out in such a way as to be easily navigable by a human visitor. The human visitor is the only reason you have a website in the first place. You don’t need to explain what you do or sell what you offer. Just get the user on board.

Use clean, minimalistic typography and design to encourage simplicity.

Its been proven that people don’t read very far into websites, instead scanning their way through them. This leads to an overall reduced perceived value of the website on the part of the user, and makes the website less useful, not more. Your website design should therefore be such that the first letter on every page is clearly legible.

Its no good hiding behind a large image file, particularly if the majority of users are not broadband. The image must be available without downloading. Don’t forget that image files are just smaller versions of the original, so there is no loss of quality. There is some loss, but not enough to warrant uploading the original on its own. The image should be embedded into the website as an external image (a graphic), then linked from the website. Your website design should therefore be such that the visitor cannot make out what the website is actually about, if they cant locate it. Its very important for you to make sure that all logos are clear, as well as company branding etc.

Keep the navigation very simple and easy to use. Try and provide a single point of call for users on each page, so that people do not have to search for what they want, they can just click on it. If you have lots of pages, make sure they are organized so that they can find the page they are interested in easily. Make sure they are all clearly identifiable from the home page. (It’s no good having lots of menu items if the user cannot see them, especially if the menu items are small). Make sure that the search bar is located on every page, as well as the main menu. Make sure there is no duplication of effort on the layout and design, as many users have problems locating certain things, especially if they are on smaller screens. Also make sure all links work, that they look correct and are functioning, and that they tell the user where they are.

If you use images on your website, make sure they are optimized. There are various ways to optimize images, the best being using the lossless file compression method. Not all computer programs support this file compression option, but its the best available technology to work with. If you find it difficult, and its not an option, then you might need to employ an image optimizer.

The third point is to make sure the site loads fast. Make sure all your pages are optimized so that they load quickly, as any second means a visitor has the same amount of time to decide whether they want to go ahead, or look elsewhere. This of course is very important with mobile devices, as they don’t have time to wait for pages to load. A quick and effective way to make your pages load fast is to convert them from HTML to CSS. This way you wont have to think about the code, the designer will do all the work, and you will be able to keep your page as is, and add the CSS afterwards, or even delete the code altogether if you don’t need it. This takes care of the above two points.

These are the most important factors to consider when designing a user-friendly website. Some people don’t even use a website at all, as they think it’s unnecessary and can be done without. However, if you have used a website, you will know what I mean. Any website that isn’t user-friendly is a constant disappointment to the user. That said, I wouldn’t go out of your way to design a user-friendly website, because there are plenty of websites already out there, with no thought put into their user friendliness.