Paul's Blog Various thoughts on design & business

So why is it that around 70% of websites that I go to, specifically South African websites, are so poorly designed? Granted, the corporate websites usually look pretty good, but the local small businesses have websites that look like they were designed by their neighbour’s kid teenager or even worse, designed by a programmer or IT guy.

(This is seriously no dig at you programmers out there, and if you are one of the few who have a knack for design, then please ignore that statement, as you are by far the exception to the rule.) Most programmers and IT guys are good at what they do and they should keep doing what they’re good at.

So to answer my question, I believe that one of the reasons these websites look so bad, is for this exact reason – they have given it to a student to design or someone who has discovered how to save Word docs as html files. Why would they do this? My money here would be on the money! Who needs a design company to design your website when you can get a website of your own for less than a quarter of the price, and hey, if you play it right, you might even get it for as little as a 6 pack.

Another reason I believe is that they go to a company who claims to do web design, but do not do their homework on that company well enough. They do not realise that this company specialises in network cabling and since Piet joined the company who has his own copy of Photoshop and Frontpage, they now also offer web design.

As I said before, one of the more obvious mistakes people make is that they think that programmers are web designers. They have a brother-in-law or cousin who is a brilliant programmer, and as such is quite capable of designing a very functional web page. However, as a result, it may offer all sorts of capabilities, but your website visitor gets lost in poor layouts and appalling graphics.

Finally, and I think that this is one of the main reasons, is that there is a huge segment of the business population that does not have a clue what a good website should look like or how to recognise one if they see one – this includes a high margin of the local design companies. In other words, clueless people go to clueless design companies to design a website that all parties involved are happy with, and yet is far from the quality that is required.

You may be thinking to yourself now, well if no one is the wiser about the poor design – obviously the client is happy with the result, then what’s the problem? Well that all depends on what the client was hoping to get out of their website. Do they just want a website because they’ve been told that they should have one or because the company next door has one? Do they have a website because they have been told that they will not be taken seriously without one? Or do they have a website as a marketing tool to bring in additional business?

In most cases I think there is truth to most of these questions. A website nowadays is a must.

Unfortunately, the only thing worse than not having a website at all, is having a bad website!

Not only will companies not be taken seriously, but a bad website can damage the very image that a company is trying to project.

So if you are a small business owner and are failing to see any significant yield from your website, perhaps you should be asking yourself the question – could my website be lacking the professional design that is required to project my image correctly? Yes, there may be other additional reasons that your website may not working for you yet, but this is the place to start! Once you get this right, you can work on things like Search Engine Optimisation and online marketing. First get your house in order, then you can worry about marketing it. It is not cool to invite people over to a messy house!

So how do you tell if your website design is not up to standard? You may be the person that up until now has thought that there is nothing wrong with your website. Here are a few classic indications of good design:

High quality images

I cannot stress enough how important this aspect is. The use of quality images can make or break your website. It’s a simple enough area of design to get right, so insist on it!

Continuity in the layout flow

Does your website have a banner which is stuck on some contrasting background, followed by a space and then a handful of isolated buttons. This is also a big thing to keep in mind. Your website needs to look like it was designed intentionally, not thrown together haphazardly.

Simple, clean and intuitive layout

One of the most frustrating things is getting to a website and not being able to find what you are looking for easily and simply. It’s great to have loads of content for your web visitors to look at, but avoid clutter. Make sure that the pages are clean and elegant. Do not be fooled into thinking that a busy web page makes people think that you hard working and industrious. The message that this usually communicates is that you are overworked, disorganised and messy!

Correct colour combination

Your company has a logo – this logo has colours in it. Use these colours in the rest of your design. Stick to 2-3 main colours that work together. High contrasting, eye-catching luminous colours may get your visitors attention, but it may cause nausea or an epileptic fit in the process.


Make sure that you use the same font for the same sections of content. In other words, if you have used one font in a certain colour for a heading – stick to this for all the headings on your site. Make sure your paragraphs are the same fonts and font sizes. There is wisdom in using selected colour change in text or boldness to highlight a word or phrase for emphasis, but keep it within the bounds of normality, don’t overdo it! And again, make use of the same emphasis techniques throughout the site.


This is becoming less of an issue as bandwidth speeds go up, but if your homepage is taking longer than 30 seconds to load, it is taking too long!

Browser compatibility

You may use Internet Explorer or Firefox to browse the internet, but there are other browsers too. Make sure that your site looks good in all of them.

If you are still not sure what a bad website looks like, take a look at these 3 examples and all will be revealed!


These are just 7 areas of design that you can use to assess the quality of a website. If your website is lacking in any of these areas, perhaps it is time to consider cleaning up a bit! But wait - before you go running back to your current web designer, make sure that they are going to be able to deliver what you need. Perhaps do a bit of homework first. Go to their website and use these 7 points to rate their website, and then go to their portfolio and look at other websites that they have designed. If their own website does not even meet these criteria, what makes you think that they will do any better on your website?

Your designer is cheap, you may say, you can’t afford a better designer! All I can say is that you cannot afford not to. Let me say it again, the only thing worse than not having a website at all is having a bad website.

And now I would be doing you an ill favour if I did not suggest looking at my web portfolio. My web design is affordable and I can assure you that I will not only meet these 7 basic requirements, but give you a whole lot more!

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Paul Russell is a freelance graphic designer who has been designing for screen and print for over a decade. His design expertise has included the creation of corporate identity, branding, design of corporate stationery, portfolios, profiles, brochures, multimedia presentations, posters, signs and most importantly, websites.
South Africa
076 194 4357