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How to Use Design Strengths To Your Advantage

This may sound obvious, but one of the biggest and most common design flaws boil down to either too much going on or not enough going on. There are a variety of elements of design that you can utilize in any number of websites and designs, but knowing which elements to use when and how much becomes the problem.

The Different Elements at Your Disposal

There are plenty of different avenues of web design that designers have at their disposal. Effectively deciding between them really boils down to understand the effect, style, and tone of each element and how they relate to the root ideas behind your website.

Photography

There is a reason that photographs are one of the most commonly used elements of web design. A well-composed photograph placed in just the right area of a website can really pull a design together. Take the art blog ThisIsColossal as an example:

The header here relies almost solely on the photograph. Sure, there is also a nice text and logo overlay that adds elegant contrast to the design as well as displays the title, but the bread and butter of the design lies in this one photograph that effectively anchors the rest of the page. Note the interesting positioning and directional orientation of the photograph as well.

Sketches

For a while sketches were huge in web design. People didn’t expect them, and they were a nice relief from the standard solid color, box shape of most web designs. Now they are a bit more common, but they still work incredibly well depending on what your site is and what aesthetic you’re going for; in general, sketches give an informal feel to a design. Kunal Chhajer’s portfolio has an excellent incorporation of sketching into design:

Here we have a good mixture of script and nonscript fonts as well as sketch graphics and photography. Most importantly, it serves the valuable purpose of flexing his various design skills while also demonstrating an insightful design concept. The sketches have a clear purpose as opposed being a gimmicky space-filler.

Textured backgrounds

There is so much you can do with texture in web design that looking at all of your options might make you dizzy. Some textures stand out while others blend, so texture is unsurprisingly the most common element of graphic design that becomes misused or incohesive. Mel Kadel’s portfolio provides an excellent demonstration of using a texture that pops:

Water colors give a wealth of texture to a design because their consistency and density of color is uneven and they reveal the texture of the paper itself. Here you can see that texture, along with color, is the forefront of this design. The pattern and links are all very straightforward as not to overload the viewer that is already captivated by the bold textures and colors on display.

Detailed Typography

As a designer, you have to be aware of the vast amounts of fonts and typefaces available at your disposal. Some designers will even scan their own script to incorporate into a site, so options truly are limitless. The best advice you can follow is to use a typeface that makes sense with your site and design concept. Kuba Dabrowski’s photography portfolio is a great example of well-thought-out typography in design:

Photography portfolios typically lend well to creative or experimental typeface choices. Because most of the site is images (and images with distinct frames and edges), the typography can be a bit more ostentatious. I like the fact that Dabrowski went with a messy script font (presumably his own handwriting) because it emulates the roughness and flare of his photography.

Clean, Minimalist

Sometimes the most effective sites are the ones that don’t get in the way of content or confuse brand. While extraordinary design details and effects can be exciting and memorable, some (in fact most) sites just need a design that doesn’t overpower their message. Postmachina is a design company with a website that does just that:

The front page is all monochrome, just black, white and shades of grey. Differences in texture or color between the two columns of content (the main body and the sidebar of links) are not necessary because the site effectively uses shades and space. Simply doing these two things well can make an excellent design.

Incorporating Elements into Your Own Design

Now that we’ve considered the different elements of design, we must decide which ones we should use for which situation. An important step is deciding whether the site you’re designing is intended to have a “loud” design or a modest one (or likely something in between). Regardless of this decision, I think it’s best to start with a minimal design. If you decide the design should be modest keep it minimal. If your client wants more flare, add some texture to it or experiment with fonts. Only if you’ve decided from the beginning that you want a loud design should you begin your design project with lofty ideas and intricate design concepts. Otherwise, it’s much more difficult to strip ideas from a working design than it is to add ideas to one.

Bogdan

Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.

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