web design
What Is Web Design? A Comprehensive Guide

Web design has come a long way since the first site was published in 1991. With over one billion live websites on the internet today, it’s no surprise that this industry is here to stay. Wix is home to thousands of website design professionals, enthusiasts, and designers who are empowering the industry to reach new heights. So, if you’re here to learn more about the world of web design, you’ve come to the right place.

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As a preliminary to learning how to design a website, this article will hone in on the role of web design and go over helpful tips by defining critical terms and ideas, and looking at examples that will give you further insight. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is a web design

  2. Web design vs. website development

  3. Web design tools

  4. Principles of design applied to websites

  5. Website layouts

  6. Functional components of web design

  7. Visual elements of web design

  8. Website maintenance

  9. Web design inspiration

01. What is web design?

Web design is the art of planning and arranging content on a website so that it can be shared and accessed online with the world. A combination of aesthetic and functional elements, web design is what determines the look of a website—such as its colors, fonts, and graphics—as well as shaping the site’s structure and the users’ experience of it.

Today, creating a website is one of the pillars of having an online presence. Because of this, the world of web design is as dynamic as ever. It is constantly evolving, including mobile apps and user interface design, to meet the growing needs of website owners and visitors alike.

Web design is often a collaborative process that combines knowledge and tools from related industries, ranging from web design statistics to SEO optimization and UX. Web designers will often bring together professionals from these areas who can optimize performance and focus on the larger process and outcome.

02. Web design vs. website development

The first step in our web design journey is to clarify the difference between web design and website development since the two are closely related and often (mistakenly) used interchangeably:

Web design refers to the visual design and experiential aspects of a particular website. We’re going to dive into more detail about web design throughout the rest of this article.

Website development refers to the building and maintenance of a website’s structure and involves intricate coding systems that ensure the website functions properly.

The following are the software languages most commonly used by web developers to build a website:

  • HTML or HyperText Markup Language is a coding language used to create the front end of websites. It is written to include the structure of a web page and carried out by web browsers on the websites that we see online.

  • CSS or Cascading Style Sheets is a programming design language that includes all relevant information relating to a web page’s display. CSS works with HTML to design the style and formatting of a website or page, including the layout, fonts, padding, and more.

  • CMS or a Content Management System, is a computer software application that manages the digital content of a website. Wix is an example of a CMS, which functions as a user-friendly system for website content development. This makes it possible for individuals to create a website and make updates without the knowledge of using code.

03. Web design tools

Web designers require their own unique set of tools to create and design. There are a few key elements that will determine which types you’ll use, and at which stage you’ll need them.

Here are a few questions to consider: How big is your team? What kind of budget do you have? What kind of technical requirements will your site need? What is the overall aesthetic you wish to achieve? Will you create an adaptive or responsive design? What is the purpose of your website? The answers to these questions will also help you understand​​ which kind of website builder you want to work with, or other design software tools.

Website builders like Wix are great since they don’t require code, and come equipped with a range of ready-made templates suitable to every industry. For novice web designers, website builders are a great foundational tool that can easily be customized both in terms of visual elements and functionality. For more experienced web designers, Editor X is the ideal platform with more advanced features for layouts, interactions, effects, and designed assets.

Design software tools such as Figma, Photoshop, and Sketch can be used to create wireframes, custom features, and design elements. However, the major difference with these tools is that all elements must be converted to code. While these tools offer creative flexibility and collaborative integrations like hand-off features to web developers, they can require more time, knowledge, and resources.

As you gain more experience with a range of web design tools, you’ll know which are best suited to you and your business needs.

04. Principles of design applied to websites

One of the first parts of understanding what web design is knowing what good web design is—and how to achieve it.

We can have a look at the principles of design for reference, a theory practiced by artists and designers that outlines the visual qualities any composition should aim for. Applying these principles to web design can help beginner and advanced web designers alike achieve a site with a harmonious look and feel.

Of course, these are not strict rules to follow, but rather guidelines to learn how we can apply the various elements of a website’s design. Take it from Picasso, “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Once you understand the goals of web design and become more comfortable with each website element, you can tweak the approach with a more creative touch.

05. Website layouts

Planning your website layout is like setting its foundation since it will determine the arrangement and sequence of visual elements on each page of your website. This critical step in web design plays a role in a site’s visual appearance, level of usability, and amplifying its message.

The best layout for your website can be determined by a variety of factors: the goals of your website, the message you want to convey to viewers, and what kind of content you’ll include. While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution, there are two major directions you can take:

  • Layouts to accommodate your content: The layout you choose should be fitting for the type of content. For example, if you want a layout that will showcase products you might go for one that leaves ample space for highlighting images. A blog layout, on the other hand, will need to convey new information in an organized way.

  • Common layouts: There are plenty of tried-and-tested website layouts out there. These tend to feel familiar to users, as they build on their existing expectations or past experiences of other websites. Since they may result in a more intuitive, easy-to-use interface, they can be great for beginners.

When designing a website of your own, you can use website templates in a wide range of categories to provide a solid infrastructure for your site’s layout. If you want to design a layout from scratch, we recommend using wireframes to start. This process will allow you to draft out the layout of your website before the implementation process.

06. Functional components of web design

Website functionality essentially refers to how your website works; everything from its speed and ease of use, to what specific actions can be performed on it.

At the risk of dating myself, when I think about how speedy and efficient websites function today—compared to the ‘90s (I can hear AOL’s dial-up signal in the background), I’m reminded that we’ve come a long way. Given the advancements across the industry of web design, it’s in our best interest to utilize the modern tools available to guarantee our websites perform well, and are easy to use.

Let’s go over the components of web design that will affect how your site functions:

  • Navigation

  • Speed

  • SEO

  • UX

  • Adaptive design vs. responsive design

07. Visual elements of web design

A website’s visual elements are just as important as the functional qualities and work together to shape its overall look and feel. From color schemes to fonts and video, these details play a role in user experience and the shaping of your brand. In this section we’ll go over the visual elements of web design, along with some tips for making aesthetic decisions of your own:

  • Website header

  • Website footer

  • Color scheme

  • Typography

  • Website background

  • Imagery

  • Animation

08. Website maintenance

The web design industry is one that’s constantly introducing new features, tools, and solutions. The downside of this quickly evolving world is that it requires you – and your website – to stay constantly up-to-date and implement a website maintenance plan.

After you’ve completed your first design, you’ll eventually have to update your website to ensure the content is relevant, and the design is not obsolete. While seemingly futile, any outdated elements on your website can negatively impact your visitors’ interactions, resulting in decreasing overall performance and sales.

Check-in on your website at least once a month to make sure there are no bugs, everything works properly, and your information is current. When considering a redesign, think about the changes you can make to keep your web design relevant, improve its ease of use, or amplify its performance. This might mean adding fresh visual content, an extra page, working on SEO, or performing an accessibility audit.

09. Web design inspiration

Now that we’ve covered the basics of web design, it’s time to seek creative examples. Web design inspiration is everywhere, and we recommend you regularly browse through sites like Behance, Awwwards, and Pinterest to find new ideas.

Here at Wix, we’ve got our finger on the pulse of web design trends, and are constantly on the lookout for the best websites made by users. We love seeing what these proud website owners do with our product – from artists to small business owners, and everyone in between.

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