Picking the correct theme for your website is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a web designer, even if you are only designing your own website. It’s as important as choosing the right hosting for your website. If you pick the wrong theme, visitors will click away from your site much more quickly. If you pick the correct theme, visitors will stay much longer. This means they will click on more ads, buy more products, and sign up for more newsletters. No matter what the goal of your website, the right theme will help immensely.
Choosing the correct theme can be quite a lengthy process, so you may be tempted to use some of the common shortcuts available to web designers. However, these shortcuts will not only mean that your website doesn’t look as good as it should, they will cause your site to look the same as millions of other websites on the Internet. This is almost worse than the design not being optimal.
The first shortcut to avoid: Overlooking symmetry
It may be tempting to not work on making your website as symmetrical as possible. Symmetry seems like a minor detail in web design. It certainly isn’t the most eye-catching aspect of a website’s theme. However, it may just be the most important. Symmetry is not only pleasing to look at, it helps visitors digest the information you want to give them. If you don’t worry about lining everything up and instead throw all of your content on your website as quickly as possible, your site will be much less effective.
The second shortcut to avoid: Having more than one function per page
Designing many pages takes longer than simply designing a few pages. This self-evident statement is the cause of many designers using themes that have too many pieces of information per page. Many available themes make it easy to have a call-to-action, blog, and shopping cart on every page, and many web designers do this. However, the average visitor can only really process one piece of important information per page.
The third shortcut to avoid: Placing too much media on a page
Many websites these days try to stand out by having music and videos autoplay and by having many images. A number of commonly used themes are available that suit this style of website design. While this sort of design may seem like it provides an exciting experience for the viewer, it is actually overwhelming. This is especially true if the website in question has multiple popups, which a sizable number of websites still do for some reason. Not only will all of this content cause the visitor to be overwhelmed, your website will load considerably more slowly, no matter how good the hosting for your website is. Even if the visitor doesn’t leave the site immediately (and many of them will), they will likely not come back to it. It is more work to choose a few pieces of quality media rather than a large quantity of mediocre audio, video, and images, but it is worth it in the long run if you truly want your website to be successful.
The fourth shortcut to avoid: Using the default color scheme
All website themes have a default color scheme as an integral part of their design. Some of them have very well-chosen colors that work well in this context. Many of them, however, do not. Thankfully, most themes offer their users a choice of colors. Do the work of choosing the right colors, and visitors will like your site more. Their is a whole field of academia devoted to studying people’s perception of and feelings about different colors, but you don’t need to study for hours and hours to find colors that work for your site. Keep it simple. Choose colors that are both unique, and pleasing to the eye. Generally, lighter shades are better for the background, but don’t use white. The brightness can hurt a visitor’s eyes after a short while and cause them to leave your website prematurely. A light blue might be a better choice.
The fifth (and most common) shortcut to avoid: No clear message
This might not sound like a problem caused by taking a shortcut with the theme. However, a focus on a theme that simply looks pretty as opposed to helping convey necessary information is, in fact, the most common culprit for a website that has no clear message. Many website owners spend hours upon hours choosing the prettiest theme they can find, and then put the actual content up without a second thought. Many modern websites are evidence of this common mistake.
As most themes available these days are simply designed for aesthetics, it is difficult to find one that puts the focus on information. A good rule of thumb is that all uses of contrasting color in a theme should highlight information, rather than simply look good. Of course, that means that there shouldn’t be contrasting colors in other places, like around the edges of the page.
Maintaining your original theme: It’s harder than you might think
You might think your website design work is over once you’ve avoided all of these pitfalls and come up with a beautiful and functional theme. However, it is really just beginning. For example, look at the first principle mentioned in this article: symmetry. As you continue to create new pages and add information to existing pages, it can be very hard to maintain a symmetrical design. If you are ever tempted to be lazy and not maintain your design, think about your competitors. There are millions and millions of them, and you have to beat at least 99% of them to be even reasonably successful. There are many website owners out there who are working tirelessly to not only maintain their websites, but to innovate with their designs and content. If you don’t do this as well, you have a much smaller chance of having a successful site.