Two must-read articles about good web design

In the past few months I came across a couple of articles that are must-reads if you are designing a website or paying someone else to design it for you. I was tied up with several clients’ projects and the birth of my first son (on Father’s Day!), so I am only now getting around to sharing them.

The first came from HubSpot, a marketing software firm that publishes great content about social media. 15 Things People Absolutely Hate About Your Website highlights some of my biggest pet peeves about websites. Tips on Great Web-Site Design With Donors in Mind from the Chronicle of Philanthropy outlines good principles and specific instructions that are useful whether you are a charity appealing to donors or a business attracting customers.

Here is a summary of some of the best points:

Pop-Up ads are of the devil

These get-in-the-way ads are the first on HubSpots list of hated features, as they should be. Think back to the last time you visited a website, only to have the entire screen dim after the first few seconds; and after a split second of worrying that your screen was dying, an ad appeared. Was it more annoying, or helpful? Did it bring you useful information, or delay your quest?

There is even a website that claims to be a great resource for teaching people to be web designers which always has one of these ads asking people to sign up for the newsletter. I’ll confess that it worked: I signed up for his newsletter. But now, whenever the newsletter gives me a link back to the website, I have to endure the pop-up ad asking me to sign up for the newsletter that just sent me to the website!

These are bad for a number of reasons. For one, it distracts website visitors from what they want (which might just align with what you want—a purchase or some sort of relationship). Also, it is unkind to those with slower internet connections.

There are proper ways to do pop-up or animated advertising. But remember a couple of tips:

  1. Never make the entire screen go dark for an ad to pop up. Make it take up just  part of the screen.
  2. If you are advertising something that you anticipate would bring people back to the website—such as a newsletter—set up your popup ads to not pop up when someone comes to the site through a link in the newsletter.

Clarity is king

Imagine if I welcomed you to my website with text like,

I developed structured marketing content and display mechanisms that clearly communicate messages important to clientele.

It would be much better for me to tell you:

I design websites and write web pages that help you reach customers and convey your story.

The second makes much better sense, doesn’t it? Remember that your website readers do not have a dictionary (and not everyone is OCD or inquisitive enough to Google the definition for every word) and they do not already know what they do. Be clear. Be exact. Use real-world examples. Whatever you do, define it clearly.

Don’t use so much stock photography

This also made the HubSpot list. Sometimes this is necessary, but stock photos are overused. If you don’t think your clients or employees are photogenic enough to be the stars of your website, hire a professional photographer who knows how to get the lighting and angles just right to make everyone look great.


These are just the beginnings of things that can make or break a website. Whether you are designing a website yourself or paying someone else to do it, keep these things in mind. If you’re going to break one of the rules, come up with a list of several good reasons, and see if you can convince someone who is very rule-oriented that they need to be broken. If you can’t convince that person, perhaps you need to play by the rules.

Now, tell me, what are your website pet peeves?