K.I.S.S. – Graphic Design on the Web

K.I.S.S. – Graphic Design on the Web

by Terry Kent

Design in any media can be a difficult task and can easily fail to convey the message intended. Many traditional ideas about design do not even apply to the web. Web design is still a mystery to many and too many try to use print design theories on the web. You need to wade through all the confusion and have a web page that works/sells.

One way to achieve success is to “Keep It Simple Stupid” (K.I.S.S). If you’re unsure about how fancy you should make your page, you’re probably better off not making it fancy at all. Bells and whistles may catch temporary attention, but you need substance to make the sale. Thinking about you’re target market is the same with graphics as it is with web copy; both of these things go together.

Too often when people cannot afford a professional design firm. They grab graphics from “here and there” because they think the graphics are “neat”. When these graphics are all placed together they create one clashing mess. If you are creating a page on your own, think hard about consistency. Make each page similar so people know they are still on your site. Think about “themes” and “schemes” to help keep yourself on track. Graphics without function serve no purpose at all; they just waste bandwidth.

You can use free graphics if you wish, but try to think about colors and style. Only use a few – a button and a texture perhaps. Be sure they go together, that they complement each other in color or style.

Think about your product/service. Would a big pink animated button be good for a Cremation Service? Obviously – the answer is, “NO!” Just because it’s loud and animated doesn’t make it appropriate. It also doesn’t guarantee a sale, in fact, it may drive people away.


WYSIWYG – what is it? “What You See Is What You Get” is a term used by computer designers since the computer first took off as a design tool. If you can get used to the fact that WYSIWYG does not really exist on the web you’ll have a lot less stress.

The web differs from most other media by the fact that every single person is viewing it with different tools. Everyone has a different size monitor, different speed modem, different speed computer, some are even using their TV’s! What this means is everyone is seeing your web pages a little differently. Everyone is seeing colors, line breaks, the quality of images, absolutely everything, differently.

What can you do about it? First, learn to accept that you cannot be everything to everyone. Second, try to escape without an ulcer. The best you can do is make it look the best for most people.

  1. Don’t try to force line breaks.
  2. Don’t use tables or frames to force layouts of images or text.

If used properly you can create “a look” with tables or frames, but just try not to force anything, you’ll only fail. I work mostly on a smaller monitor to be sure our pages fit well even on smaller screens. Just remember that not everyone has a 17″ monitor.

If you accept what you can’t change, and live within those limits, your site will be much more successful. Sometimes, this is why simpler is better.

Always remember that, even within these limits, some people change their color settings – no matter what you do, your page will look different from what you intended. Some prefer to have their browser only take up half of their screen because they’re multitasking, doing several things at once. Is this the type of person you’re marketing to? Catch their eye with a clean and simple design and web copy. If you have gaudy graphics, they’re even more likely to keep right on browsing because their eyes can’t take it.


All of the above leads to “whitespace”. Having worked in print media for several years, I’ve seen every design rule/theory broken, bent and burned. I’ve seen ads for newspapers that are only 3″ x 6″ that try to cram every single product a business sells into that one, tiny space. Who reads those ads? Not many. Instead of focusing on getting people into their store and THEN “wowing” them with their prices – they’re doing it backward – trying to make a sale before they get you to the store.

The Web is slightly different in that regard. You may only have a virtual store – so you want every product available. However, this doesn’t mean you have to sell them all on one page. Whitespace can be your friend! Studies show, that while reading, the eye strays toward whitespace. Why? Because your eyes need rest, so they’ll drive that way, regardless. If there is no whitespace available your eyes will just float right over the more confusing stuff looking and searching for that glorious whitespace. If you are kind and include whitespace on your site, people are more apt to stop and stay awhile without necessarily knowing why.

Spread your products/services out over several pages if needed. Be sure they follow some order or sequence that will make sense to visitors. White backgrounds can be your friend, too. The same applies here, just because you can put some gaudy background in doesn’t mean you should. Backgrounds can work if used appropriately.

Try to use a grid for your layout to help you control the whitespace. If you picture a grid in your head when doing the layout you’ll find that if elements are lined up somewhat rigidly it will be easier to read, even if you do have a lot on the site. This is where tables can come in handy.


While trying to make your site accessible to most, providing the least amount of confusion, and trying to lead people through the site – you may find yourself overwhelmed. That’s ok, just don’t panic.

First, try breaking it down to the most basic elements as I have done here. Put it down on paper so you can see it all, links, and everything.

When surfing the net, be sure to note sites that you find pleasing or ones you think work. Remember the styles/layouts they used compared to their product or service. You can learn a lot from this.

Don’t forget – if you still feel it’s over your head you can talk to the professionals. (Many web designers give out a “free consultation”.) Maybe you just need a consultation; maybe you have to break down and pay for a professional. Possibly, you just need someone to create the graphics and then you’ll feel comfortable enough to tackle the rest of the site yourself. It never hurts to get the advice of a professional, they may be able to recommend something you hadn’t thought of.

Always remember, “don’t try this at home!” If the success of your business depends on the success of your website then it may be time to bring in the professionals.

Terry Kent has been a graphic designer for the last 10 years. Her graphics expertise can be seen at The Write Market.
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