By Cameron Chapman
We’ve all seen articles devoted to the various web desing “rules” out there. In fact, they’ve probably been drilled into all of our heads ad nauseum. And for many, they serve as a comforting set of guidelines that make our lives easier, at least when it comes to design.
But what about those occasions when you have an idea that doesn’t quite fit in the rules? Or what if you’re just sick and tired of doing everything by the book and you want to challenge yourself creatively? Are the rules really set in stone?
The answer to that is of course not. For one thing, a lot of the rules are outdated. So while they might have been true at one time, they’re not anymore. The other thing is that there are almost always circumstances that demand that the rules be bent or broken entirely. And as designers, we need to learn to recognize those times.
Below are a bunch of commonly-accepted web design rules, along with the reasons you might want to break them, and how to do so effectively. We’ve also included examples for each and the one unbreakable rule.
Your Web Page Layout and Design Should be Consistent Throughout the Site
Consistency can help make your visitors feel at home on your site right away. This makes them more likely to look around and spend more time there. Comfort is a good thing. Most of the time.
But there are two problems with this rule. First, some designers interpret it to mean that every page should be virtually identical. They use the same basic template for every page on your site, regardless of the content present. This almost always results in a site that’s boring and no fun to look at.
The other problem is that different content often calls for different design treatment. Removing most of the consistency on your site can make for a much more interesting user experience. Note that I said “most” of the consistency, though. You’ll want to choose one or two anchor points to keep your visitor from feeling like they’re visiting a different site entirely every time they go to a different page. Consider keeping either a design element like your header or color scheme or something as simple as your logo the same on every page on your site.
Jason Santa Maria’s website uses a different page design for a large number of his articles. It’s refreshing and shows just how much thought he puts into the content he provides. At the same time, it’s worth clicking through to multiple posts just for the designs alone. Always a good thing if you’re looking for deep engagement from your visitors.
The unifying element that keeps you feeling like you’re on the same site is the top navigation.
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