Bad vs Good Website Design: Know the Difference

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Chris Schutte

May 4, 2018

What defines a good website design?

When it comes to good website design, there are three principles to consider; Visual Design (i.e. how pretty it looks), Usability (i.e. ease of use) and Objectives (i.e. what are the goals). This article will show you how great websites combine all three of these principles.

Visual Design

48% of people cited a website’s design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business. (source). The facts do not lie – the design of your website says a lot more about your business than you think!

It’s all about first impressions. If your website has a cluttered, messy or outdated design people will think that of your business. Our primitive brains form lasting opinions about things way before our rational mind can kick in.

The foundation of good website design lies in the visual aspect.

not an example of good website design

I have a headache just from looking at this.

Good website design leaves a lasting positive impression with visitors. Immediately it will be easier to turn that visitor into a lead or sale because they feel comfortable on your site. They haven’t been assaulted by a combination of Comic Sans & bad clipart.

Visual design mistakes that annoy visitors:
  • Flash! Google and Firefox have disabled the flash plugin on their browsers due to a ‘critical’ security flaw, which means your once-awesome FlashTM website no longer works… anywhere. You can read more about that here.
  • Background music! Background music should be reserved for elevators and holding whilst on the phone to Telkom. It interferes with a person’s browsing experience. Don’t do it.
  • Too many colours & fonts! Your website is not a Where’s Wally book! Don’t confuse your visitors with a myriad of colours and fonts, giving them a migraine as they try to find the “Contact Us” page.
  • Cluttered pages. Besides just looking bad, cluttered pages are confusing and require the visitor to put in a lot of energy to find that they are looking for. Too much of this and they will leave your website.
  • Long paragraphs of text. Remember when we spoke about short attention spans? People want quick answers, they do not have time to dissect large paragraphs to find what they are looking for.
  • Bad quality images. Images that are pixelated (low resolution) will make any website look cheap and amateur.

One last point: The biggest design mistake you can make is using a “free” website builder. Whilst you think it might save you money – it will actually cost you more money in the long run. Read our article: Free Website Builders are Killing Your Business

If we had a loaf of bread for every time we had to tell a business that the website they designed does not look great, we could start a successful bakery. Ok, enough about what makes a bad website – let’s talk about good website design.

Visual design principles that delight visitors:
  • White Space. Use space to your advantage in a website – it will allow you break up all the information on your site into digestible chunks. Using spacing effectively can also help to place emphasis on important sections & content.
  • Less is more. Try not to use 5 different fonts and colours when one or two will do. When in doubt, simplify.
  • Consistent design. This is a big one and it applies to spacing, fonts, colours, everything. Ensure that you carry one design theme through out your website.
  • Creative but not distracting. Its tough to reign in creativity but sometimes you have to. If you want large illustrations or decorative sections on your page, you need to balance it out with that white space we spoke of earlier.
  • High-quality images. Nothing annoys a visitor more than badly formatted images with poor resolution. If you have lots of images on your site, ensure that they are the correct size so that they display well.

One thing to note is that good website design is something that changes with the times. Design trends change, and it’s up to you to stay with it. Here are 19 web design trends for 2018 – get inspired!

good website design

A nice example of a creative design with ample white space


Really simply; usability is how quickly and easily a visitor can find what they are looking for on a website. Another term for usability is “user experience” – are visitors enjoying their time on your website? Or are they getting frustrated?

You might have a beautifully creative web design, but your visitors can’t find what they are looking for. So, in the end, they just get frustrated & leave. You can see how usability & design are linked. Another example: by using the visual design principle of white space, you can improve the usability of your website by breaking up information into logical chunks.

mailchimp a good example of good website design

MailChimp is an excellent example of a combination of creative design & usability

Improving usability really comes down to understanding your customer. How do they think? Are they technologically inclined? Do they understand the services you provide? Do they prefer speaking on the phone or sending an enquiry?

Knowing your customer means you can design a website that will really engage with them. Businesses fall victim to the mistake of creating a website that they like and not a website that their customers will like.

Let’s look at a few ways you can improve your website’s usability.

Improving your website Usability:
  • Add a USP. A unique selling proposition is generally a one-sentence statement that explains your business & services to a visitor. It sits on your homepage, above the fold so that it’s the first thing a visitor sees. It let’s them know what you do and why they should stick around.
  • Establish Information Hierarchy. This is arguably one of the most effective UX design principles. It means arranging & prioritising the content on a webpage so that it does not overwhelm visitors, but rather slowly educates and intrigues them, keeping them on the site.
  • Guide visitors with colour. If your overall website colour scheme is green then consider using an orange or red to highlight buttons or important areas where you want visitors to take action. If your website looks like a Jackson Pollock painting, your visitor has no chance of knowing where they need to go next!
  • Simplify Text. Keep the content on your site limited to headings sub-headings, short paragraphs of text, bullet points and lists. People want answers and fast, they aren’t going to stop and read long paragraphs. The easier to digest, the better.
  • Simple navigation. Your website must be easy to navigate so visitors can find what they are looking for without wasting time. Dont add endless menu’s & sub-menus – limit menus to 1 sub-level only. If your website is really information heavy (i.e. lots of articles, pages etc.) then consider using a sidebar navigation menu. Navigation is probably the most overlooked aspect of website design. Users will abandon a website if the navigation is not intuitive.

But all of the above is worth nothing if you don’t understand who your customer is, and how they would browse a website.


Whilst design & usability make good website design, to us great website design is one that achieves objectives! Yes, I did say that you should be designing your website for your customers, but actually, you need to design it for your business objectives.

Knowing what it is you want your website to do, will guide your design process in the right direction from the start. Whenever we start a WordPress web design process with a client we follow this order:

  1. Objectives. What do you want the website to achieve?
  2. Usability. Who will be visiting this website?
  3. Design. What does the website need to look like, to achieve the above?

This is truly a recipe for success. Follow this process with your own website and you can’t go wrong.

Good Website Design: TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)

First impressions matter, especially when it comes to your website. A clean, professional website will promote confidence & trust in your audience. Simplicity is the name of the game – when in doubt use fewer colours and fewer fonts. Try to balance creative design with simple page layouts. Stay up to date with the latest design trends!

Understanding your customers and how they interact with websites will allow you to craft a pleasurable website experience for them. Prioritise content on your pages so that the most important features or benefits sit near the top of the page. Add intuitive navigation to pages so that visitors can easily find what they need.

And finally, determine what it is you want the website to do, and let that be your guiding light throughout the entire design process. Design with the end in mind!

Bad websites are cluttered & confusing; indicative of companies that can’t communicate efficiently with their visitors. Good websites achieve objectives through a combination of great visual & user experience design.

Want more leads from your website?

Use our 36 Point Website Checklist to turn your website into a lead-generating machine.

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