The 6 design principles that guide every website I design

According to Roman Mars, the rules of great flag design are the rules for good design in general.

Websites are different, sure.  But the principles are the same.  To that end, I’ve designed and built a LOT of sites that act as marketing funnels and sales platforms.  Every single site I’ve built follows these rules.

Priority means priority

When we build sites, we get a list of goals from the customer.  For example, they might be after more sales or more subscribers.  These goals need to be prioritised and set in order.  The very definition of priority is that you can’t have two goals at the number one spot.

Recently a customer with a call to action bar at the top of the page, also wanted another call to action to another area of the site.  It was to be placed at the same location.  I had to ask her which was the priority.

“Can’t they both be a priority?”

“No” was my answer by the way.  You need to evaluate which is more important.  Besides, responsive design might make that decision for you.  Which is the first one you want the customer to see?  Which call to action is more likely to result in your goals?

Will this look good on a phone?

Speaking of responsive design.  It’s pretty much accepted that all websites need to be responsive and easily viewable on a range of devices.  However, that’s very different to seriously asking “will this look good on a phone?”

We can do some amazing, clever things with HTML and CSS now. But it’s forcing a lot of people into showing off just how clever they are.

The reason I ask about phones, is because it forces the opposite of over cluttered, fancy design. It strips content down to it’s essentials and makes sure that we PRIORITISE (there’s that word again) what’s important to us and the reader.

One colour means take this next step, one colour means you’re here and one colour means this is different

This is a little rule of three that came up after I was presented with a very limiting colour palette but I needed a way to direct users around the site. We’ve all seen blue hyperlinks that indicate click here to go somewhere else.  But how do we tell people that they’ve arrived or that this selection is different?

So with that, whenever we have a new site, we decide on a colour palette that can lead someone on a journey.  Typically we’ll choose colours that get warmer to indicate that they’re getting closer to the goal.

Or we’ll use colours that get closer to the main colour or logo colour to represent that they’re getting closer to us.

Half it then half it again

This old rule of copy is so powerful that I’ve kept it.  Whenever we have new blog posts or copywriters, I’ll ask them to half the copy.  Straight away.  It’s tough – like, really tough.

They consider every word beautifully crafted and selected from their genius.  But just like prioritising and forcing mobile design, halving the copy by FORCE means you have to bare back the content and copy to what really matters and what speaks to a reader.

Then. After the copy massacre. I’LL DO IT AGAIN.  After I’ve got the writer to halve the copy, I’ll go through it myself until it’s reduced again.  By the end, you’re left with the fundamental core of what the copy should be.

Ultimately, it makes life as a designer much easier, because you’re left with fewer words.

Is this the most interesting thing someone could be reading? If it isn’t, why isn’t it?

I got this from story and script writing. Ask yourself, “is this the most interesting thing that can happen to my character?  If it isn’t, why aren’t I reading that?”

We can turn that on its head and ask “is this the most interesting thing that a user could be reading?”  If it isn’t, why?

Be honest and be brutal, let yourself get inside the head of a reader and understand WHAT they want to read.  The usual results show that users want results, how-to and insight.

What is the next step I need someone to take?

Finally, and this is arguably the most important principle.  What do I need a reader to do next?  Do I need them to sign up?  Do I want them to buy or get in contact with me?

Whatever the goal is, it needs to be clear and obvious and EASY to complete.


Mike Killen

Mike is the world's #1 sales coach for marketing funnel builders. He helps funnel builders sell marketing funnels to their customers. He is the author of From Single To Scale; How single-person, small and micro-businesses can scale their business to profit. You can find him on Twitter @mike_killen.