Web Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Web Design and collection of videos and articles

What is Web Design?

Web design refers to the design of websites. It usually refers to the user experience aspects of website development rather than software development. Web design used to be focused on designing websites for desktop browsers; however, since the mid-2010s, design for mobile and tablet browsers has become ever-increasingly important.

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A web designer works on a website's appearance, layout, and, in some cases, content.

  • Appearance relates to the colors, typography, and images used.

  • Layout refers to how information is structured and categorized. A good web design is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and suits the user group and brand of the website.

  • A well-designed website is simple and communicates clearly to avoid confusing users. It wins and fosters the target audience's trust, removing as many potential points of user frustration as possible.

Responsive and adaptive design are two common ways to design websites that work well on both desktop and mobile.

What is Responsive Web Design?

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Responsive Web Design (a.k.a. "Responsive" or "Responsive Design") is an approach to designing web content that appears regardless of the resolution governed by the device. It’s typically accomplished with viewport breakpoints (resolution cut-offs for when content scales to that view). The viewports should adjust logically on tablets, phones, and desktops of any resolution.

In responsive design, you can define rules for how the content flows and how the layout changes based on the size range of the screen.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Responsive designs respond to changes in browser width by adjusting the placement of design elements to fit in the available space. If you open a responsive site on the desktop and change the browser window's size, the content will dynamically rearrange itself to fit the browser window. The site checks for the available space on mobile phones and then presents itself in the ideal arrangement.

Best Practices and Considerations for Responsive Design

With responsive design, you design for flexibility in every aspect—images, text and layouts. So, you should:

  • Take the mobile-first approach—start the product design process for mobile devices first instead of desktop devices.

  • Create fluid grids and images.

  • Prioritize the use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs). These are an XML-based file format for 2D graphics, which supports interactivity and animations.

  • Include three or more breakpoints (layouts for three or more devices).

  • Prioritize and hide content to suit users’ contexts. Check your visual hierarchy and use progressive disclosure and navigation drawers to give users needed items first. Keep nonessential items (nice-to-haves) secondary.

  • Aim for minimalism.

  • Apply design patterns to maximize ease of use for users in their contexts and quicken their familiarity: e.g., the column drop pattern fits content to many screen types.

  • Aim for accessibility.

What is Adaptive Web Design?

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Adaptive design is similar to responsive design—both are approaches for designing across a diverse range of devices; the difference lies in how the tailoring of the content takes place.

In the case of responsive design, all content and functionality are the same for every device. Therefore, a large-screen desktop and smartphone browser displays the same content. The only difference is in the layout of the content. 

In this video, CEO of Experience Dynamics, Frank Spillers, explains the advantages of adaptive design through a real-life scenario.

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Adaptive design takes responsiveness up a notch. While responsive design focuses on just the device, adaptive design considers both the device and the user’s context. This means that you can design context-aware experiences—a web application's content and functionality can look and behave very differently from the version served on the desktop.

For example, if an adaptive design detects low bandwidth or the user is on a mobile device instead of a desktop device, it might not load a large image (e.g., an infographic). Instead, it might show a smaller summary version of the infographic.

Another example could be to detect if the device is an older phone with a smaller screen. The website can show larger call-to-action buttons than usual.

Accessibility for Web Design

“The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

—Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Web accessibility means making websites and technology usable for people with varying abilities and disabilities. An accessible website ensures that all users, regardless of their abilities, can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web.

In this video, William Hudson, CEO of Syntagm, discusses the importance of accessibility and provides tips on how to make websites more accessible.

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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) lists a few basic considerations for web accessibility:

  1. Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background. For example, black or dark gray text on white is easier to read than gray text on a lighter shade of gray. Use color contrast checkers to test the contrast ratio between your text and background colors to ensure people can easily see your content.

  2. Don’t use color alone to convey information. For example, use underlines for hyperlinked text in addition to color so that people with colorblindness can still recognize a link, even if they can’t differentiate between the hyperlink and regular text.

  3. Ensure that interactive elements are easy to identify. For example, show different styles for links when the user hovers over them or focuses using the keyboard.

  4. Provide clear and consistent navigation options. Use consistent layouts and naming conventions for menu items to prevent confusion. For example, if you use breadcrumbs, ensure they are consistently in the same position across different web pages.

  5. Ensure that form elements include clearly associated labels. For example, place form labels to the left of a form field (for left-to-right languages) instead of above or inside the input field to reduce errors.

  6. Provide easily identifiable feedback. If feedback (such as error messages) is in fine print or a specific color, people with lower vision or colorblindness will find it harder to use the website. Make sure such feedback is clear and easy to identify. For example, you can offer options to navigate to different errors.

  7. Use headings and spacing to group related content. Good visual hierarchy (through typography, whitespace and grid layouts) makes it easy to scan content.

  8. Create designs for different viewport sizes. Ensure your content scales up (to larger devices) and down (to fit smaller screens). Design responsive websites and test them thoroughly. 

  9. Include image and media alternatives in your design. Provide transcripts for audio and video content and text alternatives for images. Ensure the alternative text on images conveys meaning and doesn’t simply describe the image. If you use PDFs, make sure they, too, are accessible.

  10. Provide controls for content that starts automatically. Allow users to pause animations or video content that plays automatically.

These practices not only make a website easier to access for people with disabilities but also for usability in general for everyone.

Learn More about Web Design

Learn how to apply the principles of user-centered design in the course Web Design for Usability

For more on adaptive and responsive design, take the Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide course. 

See W3C’s Designing for Web Accessibility for practical tips on implementing accessibility.

Questions related to Web Design

How to design a web page?

Designing a web page involves creating a visual layout and aesthetic.

  1. Start by defining the purpose and target audience of your page.

  2. Understand the type of content and what actions the user will perform on the web page.

  3. Sketch ideas and create wireframes or mockups of the layout.

  4. Select a color scheme, typography, and imagery that align with your brand identity.

  5. Use design software like Figma or Sketch to create the design.

  6. Finally, gather feedback and make necessary revisions before handing off the development design.

In each step, remember to keep the user experience and accessibility considerations foremost. Here’s why Accessibility Matters: 

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How much do web designers make?

The salary of web designers varies widely based on experience, location, and skill set. As of our last update, the average salary for a Web Designer in the United States is reported to be approximately $52,691 per year, according to Glassdoor. However, this figure can range from around $37,000 for entry-level positions to over $73,000 for experienced designers. It is crucial to mention that salaries may differ significantly by region, company size, and individual qualifications. For the most up-to-date and region-specific salary information, visit Glassdoor.

How to become a web designer?

To become a web designer, you should start by understanding design principles, usability best practices, color theory, and typography. Next, learn the essential tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch. Familiarize yourself with web design languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It's important to create a portfolio of your top work to impress potential employers. Additionally, consider taking online courses to enhance your knowledge and skills. 

Interaction Design Foundation offers a comprehensive UI Designer Learning Path that can help you become proficient in user interface design, a key component of web design. Lastly, continuously practice web design, seek feedback, and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies.

What does a web designer do?

The role of a web designer entails the task of designing a website's visual design and layout of a website, which includes the site's appearance, structure, navigation, and accessibility. They select color palettes, create graphics, choose fonts, and layout content to create an aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly, and accessible design. Web designers also work closely with web developers to verify that the design is technically feasible and implemented correctly. They may be involved in user experience design, ensuring the website is intuitive, accessible, and easy to use. Additionally, web designers must be aware of designer bias, as discussed in this video. 

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Ultimately, a web designer's goal is to create a visually appealing, functional, accessible, and positive user experience.

Is web design coding?

Web design and coding are closely related, but they are not the same. Web design involves creating the visual elements and layout of a website, while coding involves translating these designs into a functional website using programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Typically, dedicated web developers translate the designs to code. Several design tools can also export code directly.

Although some web designers also have coding skills, it is not a requirement for all web design roles. However, having a basic understanding of coding can be beneficial for a web designer as it helps in creating designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and technically feasible.

What is responsive web design?

Responsive web design guarantees that a website adapts its format to fit any screen size across different devices and screen sizes, from desktops to tablets to mobile phones. It includes the site to the device's resolution, supports device switching and increases accessibility and SEO-friendliness.

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As Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics mentions in this video, responsive design is a default, and not an optional feature because everyone expects mobile optimization. This approach is vital for Google's algorithm, which prioritizes responsive sites.

How to learn web design?

To learn web design, start by understanding its fundamental principles, such as color theory, typography, and layout. Practice designing websites, get feedback, and iterate on your designs. Enhance your skills by taking online courses, attending workshops, and reading articles. 

Consider the Interaction Design Foundation's comprehensive UI Designer learning path for essential skills and knowledge. If you're interested in expanding your skill set, consider exploring UX design as an alternative. The article "How to Change Your Career from Web Design to UX Design" on the IxDF Blog offers insightful guidance. Start your journey today!

Is web design a good career?

Absolutely, web design is a rewarding career choice. It offers creative freedom, a chance to solve real-world problems, and a growing demand for skilled professionals. With the digital world expanding, businesses seek qualified web designers to create user-friendly and visually appealing websites. Additionally, web design offers diverse job opportunities, competitive salaries, and the option to work freelance or in-house. Continuously evolving technology ensures that web design remains a dynamic and future-proof career.

Is web design the same as front-end?

Web design and front-end development are related but distinct disciplines. Web design involves creating the visual layout and aesthetics of a website, focusing on user experience, graphics, and overall look. Front-end development, on the other hand, involves implementing the design into a functional website using coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. While there is overlap, and many professionals have skills in both areas, web design is more creative, and front-end development is more technical.

In this Master Class webinar, Szymon Adamiak of Hype4 shares his top tips for smooth designer-developer relationships, based on years of working as a front-end developer with teams of designers on various projects.

Is UI different from web design?

Yes and no! A web page is a type of user interface—it is the touchpoint between a business and the user. People interact with web pages. They may fill out a form, or simply navigate from one page to another. A web designer must also be familiar with UI design best practices to ensure the website is usable.

That said, in practice, the term UI is most often associated with applications. Unlike web pages, which tend to be more static and are closely related to branding and communication, applications (on both web and mobile) allow users to manipulate data and perform tasks.. 

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UI design, as explained in this video above, involves visualizing and creating the interface of an application, focusing on aesthetics, user experience, and overall look. To learn more, check our UI Design Learning Path.

What is a modal in web design?

A modal in web design is a secondary window that appears above the primary webpage, focusing on specific content and pausing interaction with the main page. It's a common user interface design pattern used to solve interface problems by showing contextual information when they matter. 

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The video above explains the importance of designing good UI patterns to enhance user experience and reduce usability issues. Modals are crucial for successful user-centered design and product development like other UI patterns.

What does CMS stand for in web design?

In web design, CMS refers to a Content Management System. It is software used to create and manage digital content. 

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The video above implies that the content, including those managed by a CMS, is crucial in every stage of the user experience, from setup to engagement. The top 10 CMS in 2023 are the following:

  1. WordPress

  2. Joomla

  3. Drupal

  4. Magento (more focused on e-commerce)

  5. Squarespace

  6. Wix

  7. Shopify (more focused on e-commerce)

  8. TYPO3

  9. Concrete5

  10. Umbraco

The popularity and usage of CMS platforms can vary over time, and there may be new players in the market since our last update. 

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Literature on Web Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on Web Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Web Design

Take a deep dive into Web Design with our course Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide .

In the “Build Your Portfolio” project, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience with the methods we cover. You will build on your project in each lesson so once you have completed the course you will have a thorough case study for your portfolio.

Mobile User Experience Design: Introduction, has been built on evidence-based research and practice. It is taught by the CEO of ExperienceDynamics.com, Frank Spillers, author, speaker and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

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