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How to Design 'Dirty'

The common behaviors I've described to this point can result in websites that look great, but ultimately don't provide significant value to the user. Dirty design is a move in the opposite direction. It means putting value and functionality first, and aesthetic considerations last. By following a few straightforward best practices for website design, you can render sites that are popular and successful:

  • Get your priorities straight.
  • Make your pages easy to scan.
  • Format hyperlinks with blue underline.
  • Use text-based menus.
  • Understand the purpose behind your pictures.
  • Include clear, visible calls to action.

Let's take a brief look at how these principles affect modern websites.

Get Your Priorities Straight

Don't let crucial content functionality be displaced by trivialities. Remember, the user is probably visiting your site for one specific reason. Try to find out what the user wants, and then give it to him as quickly as possible. It's fairly common for user activity of any website to fall into broad patterns, and one specific scenario probably is more common than all the others. That scenario should be the main focus of the website, and it needs to be clearly visible and accessible on the site's home page.

Make Your Pages Easy to Scan

In text, use bullet points, subheadings, and highlighted keywords. When users enter a website, they scan the home page for trigger words—specific words that describe the information they want. Your trigger words will be much easier to spot if they stand out from the rest of the text in some way.

Format Hyperlinks with Blue Underline

Many designers find blue underlined links boring and old-fashioned, but that format is the best way of signaling the presence of clickable content. At the very least, the color you use for your links should be clearly different from the rest of the text, and preferably underlined as well.

Use Text-Based Menus

Menus should be text-based for the sake of good search-engine optimization. Text-based menus also generally provide the best accessibility, and in most cases they're just plain easier for most people to use. Text menus also tend to create the fewest problems across platforms.

Understand the Purpose Behind Your Pictures

Make no mistake: For almost all websites, pictures are less important than text. The reason is that the user needs to interpret each picture in order to understand it, and various users will have different interpretations, depending on their personalities and backgrounds. Users tend to examine pictures more closely if they look like they contain important information; on the other hand, most users tend to ignore stock photos and other generic picture material.

Include Clear, Visible Calls to Action

If you want the user to do something, your "call to action" should stand out on the page. This rule applies particularly strongly to conversion points, such as checkout buttons. They need to be in a visible and predictable location, and they should differ visibly from other content elements in size and color.

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