Under the Hood of Good Web Design - Why Looking Good is Not Good
In this case study we show there’s a lot more to good web design than looks, even though that's what many web
designers and website reviewers focus on. To see what I mean you only have to visit one of the showcase websites
for good website design like siteinspire.net or unmatchedstyle.com.
When you read the reviews and comments or listen to video reviews on showcase websites like these they
constantly use words like cool, great, love the colors, awesome and beautiful. Frankly, I don’t much care what a
website looks like quite so much as whether it does what it was meant to do, which is serve a purpose for its
visitors and owner.
By serving a purpose I mean it should satisfy the objectives and goals that should have formed the basis for
designing the website in the first place. If the objective of a website is to inform and influence visitors or to
sell products or services, how good the website is designed should be measured by how well it achieves those
objectives, not how good it looks.
A web page and website should be a form of effective communication with a purpose, not a piece of graphic art
for its own sake, unless of course being "art" was the intention.
When deciding whether a website uses good web design or not, I use a checklist which covers over 150 elements of
page design in 12 different categories. For assessing whether the website as a whole is a good design I have
another checklist that has over 120 elements in 12 categories.
These checklists enable consistent and objective evaluations to be carried out. It also allows me to give a
rating to the severity of an issue identified with each element of the web page or website design.
The severity rating is determined by the impact the issue has on the design and the frequency with which it
occurs on the web page or throughout the website. The severity rating can be used to assign a priority to
correcting issues or problems identified in the design.
How this works is best illustrated with an example website I selected from unmatchedstyle.com.
Case Study – ehousestudio.com
In choosing a good website design example for this case study I was looking for the showcase site of a web design
firm that had some age, a high review rating and had been selected for a video review.
I wanted an example website of a web design firm since they should know how to design a good website. I also
wanted a site that had been around long enough for the owners to have enough time to make any changes based on
issues raised by the unmatchedstyle.com review.
The website I chose was ehousestudio.com which was reviewed in Dec 2009, had received a rating of 9.1 and a
video review from unmatchedstyle.com.
What was also interesting about this website was the owners had asked for a review from unmatchedstyle.com, but
despite some issues about the design raised in the video review they had not made any significant changes to the
design in the 11 months since the review.
"This suggests they did not take on board the reviewers issues
with the design
or did not feel they were significant enough to implement any changes"
Good Web Page Design Checklist
Applying my checklist for good web page design to the home page of ehousestudio.com it achieved a web design
quality rating of just 3.9 out of a possible maximum score of 10. This falls well short of the rating of 9.1 from
the website reviewers of unmatchedstyle.com
Web Page Design Checklist Summary
Of the 157 design elements that could have been assessed, only 135 were considered for this web page. The 12
categories under which the page was evaluated were:
- Page Loading & Page Weight
- Page Navigation & Orientation
- Page Functionality
- Page Help & Support
- Page Errors
- Page Visitor Control
- Page Visitor Language
- Page Keeping Visitors Informed
- Page Consistency
- Page Visual Design
- Page Conversion
- Page Search Engine Optimization
The web page scored particularly badly for page loading and page weight being in the bottom 5% of the slowest
pages on the web. The primary contributor to slow page loading was very poorly optimized images on the page.
Four images in the web page had a combined file size of 636KB which with better optimization it was possible to
reduce to 87KB with no loss of image quality, a saving of over 86%.
The page also scored badly for Page Conversion by including only 48% of the possible elements and only 51% of
the expected page elements for SEO.
The page passed on only 57% of the elements a good web page design should have and of those elements that failed
the checklist, 31% were considered to be of medium to high severity.
Overall based on the 135 elements evaluated,
the calculated web page design quality rating
was a low score of 3.9 out of a possible 10.
The web design quality score is a function of the pass rate and the number of failed elements in the severity
range medium to high. This means the lower the number of elements in the severity of medium to high the better the
page quality score will be for a given pass rate.
Good Website Design Checklist
Applying my checklist for good website design to ehousestudio.com the overall website design quality rating
determined was 4.2 out of a possible score of 10.
Of the 121 web site design elements that could have been assessed it was only possible to consider 91 for this
website. The 12 categories under which the site was evaluated were:
- Site Loading
- Site Navigation & Orientation
- Site Functionality
- Site Help & Support
- Site Errors
- Site Visitor Control
- Site Security
- Site Keeping Visitors Informed
- Site Consistency
- Site Visual Design
- Site Conversion
- Site Search Engine Optimization
The website passed on 60% of the elements a good website design should have and of those elements that failed
the checklist, 29.7% were considered to be of medium to high severity.
Many web page and website reviewers rate good web design based on a subjective perception that concentrates
mainly on the visual elements of the design. Showcase websites for good web design like siteinspire.net and
unmatchedstyle.com are typical of sites that arrive at ratings for good website design based on a very superficial
Using a web page design checklist or a website design checklist it is possible to conduct a more thorough and
less subjective evaluation that results in a more accurate rating for the quality and effectiveness of the web
In the case of ehousestudio.com this was a website chosen for its high 9.1 rating on unmatchedstyle.com and
because as a website of a web designer and web developer it should have represented all that’s best in good web
However, using the web design checklist methodology there was no doubt ehousestudio.com did not deserve the high
rating it was given by unmatchedstyle.com. In fact on both checklists the overall web design quality rating was no
more than 4.2 out of 10.
The checklists used on ehousestudio.com can be downloaded at website design checklists
Website Audit Expert