Is web design an art or science?

Web design can be tricky. There are many elements to balance and get right to create a positive user experience. Whether it’s elements to try and encourage users to engage or interact, creating a visual and aesthetically pleasing design, or making sure your website design has its users in mind. When your web design plays such a crucial role in your online presence and driving conversations, it poses the question – Is web design more of a science than an art? Well, let’s take a look…

Web design and user experience

Web design needs to do more than just look good. It is important to make sure your website looks professional and strikes a balance between written copy, imagery, and whitespace. But there’s far more to it than just that. Websites need to drive action, engagement, and positive experiences. Unfortunately, that cannot happen from just having good looks. Instead, websites need to achieve a positive (and lasting) first impression, build trust and drive action. In essence, it needs to work well to capture a visitor and convert them to a customer. Not much to ask for, right?

Back in the old days, businesses just needed to create a website to develop an online presence. Now, there’s a lot more to it than that. A simple brochure site is not enough anymore. You need to keep your customers at the forefront and create a web design that effectively establishes a positive experience. A good web design will look to:

Art or science?

Looking at the points above for what a good web design will achieve, it is interesting to note that some of these points relate to the art of web design, while others relate to science. Elements such as reflective brand image and consistency as well as fonts and typography are artistic elements of a website. Other elements such as being widely accessible and making navigation easy are more scientific elements.

But that leaves two others. You may be surprised to find that both using a balanced colour theme and providing a clear and simple layout combine elements of art and science. You may be inclined to think both of these elements are more art over science. At the surface, yes. But if you delve deeper into both of these elements, there is more science at work than art. What colours you use in your web design have psychological implications. The same goes for where objects are placed.

Colour and web design

Colour is so important in web design. Without it, websites would look lifeless. While colour is an essential tool in helping to build a positive user experience, striking the right balance is even more important. Without a balance of colour, websites will look unappealing and unengaging.

While you should try and create a colour theme around your brand, you need to be careful about the feelings and moods they can evoke. It is here that science comes in. Colours are more than what they may seem. You need to carefully plan each element of your web design with the associations of each colour. If you want to encourage action and engagement, you’ll want to stay clear from the cooler colours altogether as it can have an adverse effect. Using complementary colours can help to create an appealing web design that helps to improve interaction and engagement.

Find out more on the psychology of colour in web design

The science of colour and web design also comes into play when striking the right balance. This can include implementing the right colour balance against other visual elements and within your layout in general. A good web design will balance light and dark tones to achieve the perfect balance.

A good balance can lead to a lasting first impression. Referred to as the halo effect, if you can gain a user’s attention and draw them in by using an attractive design, they will be more willing to overlook any flaws within your site. It can even lead to that user rating your content favourably. And why does this happen? It all comes down to cognitive bias and that people enjoy being right. If you created a good first impression, a user would continue using your site as it helps prove they made a good initial decision.

Clear and simple layouts in web design

A good page layout is also a work of science and not art. While you’ll want to make sure that the layout looks good, the placement of objects again comes to down psychology. The layout of your web design can affect a user’s mood. If you want to positively influence your user’s mood, you need a clear, simple, and effective layout for your website.

Each element you incorporate into your web design should be carefully considered. Aside from determining whether it’s relevant and adds value, you also need to think carefully from a usability point of view. A good page design will look to provide a visually pleasing and aesthetic layout, a balance and emphasis on different content (such as text and images), and differentiation on the most important elements using size, position and colour. You should also consider using a range of call-to-actions depending on your different target groups (determined by your buyer personas) and easy navigation to the various content sections on your website.

Placement of content, including call-to-actions, is extremely important. Placing them in a position where a user is not ready to act just yet, or providing them too late, will affect your conversation rates and engagement. People tend to scan pages in a ‘Z’ pattern. To help make your layout clearer and simpler to understand, you should consider placing the most important elements of your content on a page in that position. The most crucial elements should be presented at the top, middle and bottom of your ‘Z’ shape.

Heatmaps and gaze trails

The effectiveness of your layout and placement can be found by using a heat map. A heat map is used to show the elements on a page that are most (and least) interacted with. The ‘hotter’ colours show areas with the most interaction, compared to the cooler colours that show the least interacted areas. You should use heat maps to determine the effectiveness of object placements and to discover if anything is distracting users. You should also bear in mind ‘gaze trails’ when evaluating your page layout and design. Typically, a user will (depending on the layout):

  • Begin looking in the middle
  • Head up to the top left
  • Move over to the top centre
  • Head down the right column or navigation
  • End at the bottom of a page

When examining these elements to designing a clear and simple layout, there’s more than just making sure the site looks visually appealing. While maintaining consistency is fundamental, the layout of your design is down more to the behaviour of users and how they interact. In this regard, web design should be considered more science than art.

Testing and performance analysis

It can be argued that science is based on facts, data and results, which is also true for web design if you want to create a successful website. Testing and conducting performance analysis allows you to see how effective your website is.

Performance analysis (or website analysis) allows you to look at data and analytics to determine what is working well and what is not working so well. If you want to continually improve your website, you should be looking at performance analysis. If you know what your site needs to accomplish, then it makes it easier to determine whether you’re achieving your goals.

Testing your website allows you to see how well your design is working. If you don’t test, you will have no idea about what the strong points of your website are and where the weak points lie. Testing can also help you to determine how the weaker elements can be improved. Testing comes down to science, using data-driven results to find out which elements are the most effective. By conducting tests on your website, you can also strive to continually improve your web design to help make it much more effective at generating a positive user experience. You should never stop testing, and that’s something you don’t do with art.

Web design is never clear cut. A site element in your design that you feel may work well maybe ineffective at generating the engagement and conversions you thought it would provide. The same goes for determining whether web design is art or science. In the end, while websites do need to look visually appealing, ultimately that is only face value. An effective web design will delve deeper into the science to discover the most effective positioning and layout of your design elements to keep your bounce rate low and user experience high.