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GuidesUser experience (UX)Web design 101: what you need to know

Web design 101: what you need to know

Last updated

27 April 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Today, the web is a popular destination; the average person visits it multiple times daily. Websites create a digital gathering place for consumers to explore the different services on the web in a simplified way.

These online environments must be appealing to visitors in both design and functionality for them to deliver an enjoyable experience achieved through web design.

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What is web design?

Web design is the process of planning, conceptualizing, and implementing a combination of aesthetic and functional elements online. In other words, it involves the website's appearance through color, layout, fonts, and graphics to create the overall look and brand identity. Moreover, web design relies on persuasive content and delightful user experience.  

Web design vs. website development

When talking about building websites, the terms web design and website development are generally used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Here is the distinction between the two terms and their respective roles in website creation:

Web design

Web design relates to designing the visuals and functionality of a website. It’s tied to graphic design and deals primarily with visual communication. It handles design concerns like typography, images, and color to enhance a website's usability and branding. 

Web design is also integral to the adaptability and responsiveness of a website by allowing users to interact with images, texts, contact forms, buttons, and navigation menus.

Web development 

Web development is the technical part of creating a website that focuses on code. It’s the creation of the framework that a website uses to store and organize data. It manages the resources in the back end by coding the data into a database and optimizing its delivery. 

Web development uses languages like Python, PHP, Java, JavaScript, Ruby, HTML/CSS, or .Net to ensure applications, servers, and databases work harmoniously.

Web design tools

There are various ways to create and design a website. Choosing a tool to use depends on your unique needs for your goals, budget, timetable, the work needed to maintain the webpage, and the desired user interface design. The two most common options available are website builders and desktop apps.

Website builders

Website builders, also known as content management systems (CMS), allow users to create websites using customizable templates with many tweaking options. They include platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, or Wix and are a good option for users who aren't coders or don’t want to include a developer in their project. 

Websites produced with builder tools are less interactive and complex than those developed with a custom build.

UI design tools

Designers use these tools to map out a website sample by drawing down the specific user interface elements like animations, information architecture, and look. The design is then sent to a web developer who codes these elements the way the designer specified. Some of the most popular UI design tools are Figma, Adobe XD, InVision, and Photoshop. 

Web design using UI design tools is reserved for complex and large websites since it requires multiple specialists, is more costly, and takes longer.

Principles of design applied to websites

An effective website should satisfy its intended purpose by conveying its message to users clearly and engagingly. Creating a good user experience involves optimizing your website for functionality and usability. 

Here are some factors designers should consider when creating a website:


Balance means that none of the visual elements in the website overpower others, not unless that’s the intended design. A website is a composition of functional and aesthetic elements, with each piece having its weight hence the need for balance. 

Web designers can achieve balance by considering the pieces' relative size, position, symmetry, or asymmetry within the website's composition. 


Contrast involves placing different elements side-by-side to highlight their differences and make them stand out. For example, designers can place dark and light elements together or bold and delicate fonts. The contrast gives a website a sense of organicity, movement, and excitement, capturing viewers' attention. 


Emphasis makes particular elements stand out by merging them with other visual tools. These tools include animations, white space, bold fonts, or catchy texts. Emphasis ensures that certain aspects of your website are visually dominant and help users complete their actions.


You can achieve movement by arranging elements in a way that makes users navigate around the website composition. Moving elements are attention-grabbing, giving the website a more dynamic look. Web designers incorporate movement through animations or tiled content to create a lively website experience.  


Rhythm is the repetition of graphics, phrases, or elements to emphasize a specific message so the website can have a coherent narrative structure. Repetition creates patterns that are visually appealing to the eye. For example, using the same colors and fonts on different parts of your page helps users recognize the website exclusively and connect with your brand.


Hierarchy is deciding the importance of each element on a page by determining where it should be positioned, how it should look, and the information it conveys. A web designer must determine the parts that should stand out and those that are less important and manipulate them by changing the color, size, or position. 

Establishing a hierarchy of website elements ensures users pay attention to the essential details.  

White space

White space refers to regions in a website that don’t have visual elements. Such areas include the space between images or text blocks and the margins of the webpage. The space can encompass solid colors, patterns, or background photos in the design. 

White space creates harmony between the visual elements by removing clutter, giving users time to absorb the information.


Unity refers to the way the different website elements harmoniously work together. Each element on the webpage should have a precise role and position in the design. Unity ensures that every aspect of the website functions and performs as designed for the page to deliver the best user experience.  

Website layouts

Website layout design provides the foundation for a good website by balancing design aesthetics with practicality. Mapping out the website layout occurs in the early stages of website development before a graphics program can create the interface. 

A website layout is created through a wireframe, a skeletal map showing how the elements fit together. The website visual design follows the wireframe to ensure each graphic element is positioned strategically. 

Here are some common website layouts:

Single-column layout

The content is arranged into one column that is often centrally aligned. Mobile websites often use this type of layout due to their size limitations. 

A single-column layout is useful for feed-based content like blog sites and social media or landing pages because it reduces the number of page elements, thereby encouraging scrolling.

Two-column layouts

This involves a split-screen design that arranges the content side by side. The layout can emphasize the contradiction between two elements—for example, dual pricing options or a before and after service. 

Multicolumn layout

This is also called the magazine or newspaper layout and utilizes multiple columns to display content. It caters to heavy site content on a webpage and is suitable for websites with many categories, like home pages, online publications, and shopping websites. 

The layout maintains hierarchy by allocating a larger column space to important elements like body content and less space to elements like navigation menus, banner ads, or sidebars.

Asymmetrical layout

The elements on the website are arranged unevenly in terms of scale and proximity. This layout emphasizes specific elements by exaggerating aspects like size, placement, or coloring. 

The layout may seem chaotic, but it achieves balance when properly designed. For example, a website may feature a large visual element on one side paired with smaller elements on the other.

Functional components of web design

When creating a website, you need to keep its functionality in mind to establish how it works and what it can do. Web designers must account for these functional elements in the early development stage to ensure the website produces the results they want. 

Here are some components that affect the functionality of a website:

A webpage should be simple and easy to navigate. Sections with web portals must be properly labeled for easier user interaction. The portals should follow a logical progression, from general to specific, to ensure users are not overwhelmed with information.


Slow loading speed on a website is a major issue regardless of aesthetics. A website should be fast and load without delays to meet the users' expectations


A website should use keywords seeded into the content to ensure it attracts organic search traffic. Ensure that the content on the website matches popular queries in your industry so that it can have a higher search engine ranking, which will help gather more visits from potential users.


A delightful user experience (UX) is all about providing meaningful, painless, and relevant experiences to increase retention and interaction. To accomplish a delightful UX, companies must research users to understand their goals, challenges, and motivations. 

Armed with this information, web designers and developers can create web pages with information architecture, labeling, and navigation that helps users solve particular problems.

Types of web design: adaptive vs. responsive

In web design, the presence of a wide range of digital devices creates the need for designers to account for different screen sizes. From widescreen TVs to smartphones, a website needs to adjust its layout to cater to the various screen sizes to enhance user experience. 

There are two approaches that web designers use to achieve this:

Adaptive design

This approach utilizes custom-made layouts for different devices. The website identifies the device's screen size and loads a layout designed for that particular interface size. Designers utilize common screen resolutions like 320px, 480px, 760px, 960px, 1200px, and 1600px in their website design. 

Responsive design

This is a website layout that responds to the change in screen size by adjusting its elements to fit in the space available. The website is built on a dynamic grid that calibrates itself depending on the interface, which ensures the website design stays consistent and the site remains usable.

Visual elements of web design

Visual elements are website components that web designers use to enhance website looks. These elements help to create interactive and fun website designs that guarantee user engagement. Here are the visual elements that every website should have:

Website header

The website header is the area at the top of the page that includes the navigation menu and logo. The header is simple and concise, leading users to the navigation menu. It may include a tagline, phone number, address, search box buttons, and social media icons.

The website footer is a consistent area at the bottom of a website appearing on every page. A footer can contain copyright information, links, social icons, a map, or a search box. A footer should also contain contact information since most users expect to find it there. 

Color scheme

The color scheme is an essential visual element that makes a website aesthetically pleasing. Color improves a website's readability while also displaying your brand. You should craft your color scheme carefully to ensure your brand design is more polished and memorable. 


Typography is arranging letters and text creatively to make the content clear and more understandable. It helps to build a hierarchy in the elements with readable content so the text is easily read and understood by the users.

Website background

A background enhances the depth and contrast of website elements to make them more inviting to readers. The background influences how the user will view the website content and their overall interaction. A background can utilize images, patterns, or solid colors.


Images on a website help explain critical points and topics by making the content more understandable. Images are more memorable than words, and they convey information more effectively. They also enhance the look and credibility of a website by making it look more professional.


Animations are a creative way of expressing different opinions. They convey information to users in a fun way and are best suited for educational blogs. Animations make a website more engaging and interactive.

Web design examples for inspiration

As a web designer, you should explore new design solutions to create unique and stylish website designs. Luckily, some platforms can help you keep up with these digital trends and increase your creativity. Sites like Pinterest, Awwwards, and Behance will help inspire your creative vision.


What are breadcrumbs in web design?

A breadcrumb is a navigation scheme that shows a user's location on a page. It helps users easily navigate higher-level pages on the website.

How do I start web designing?

It would be best to begin by studying visual design's technical and creative aspects. It ensures you have a basic understanding of principles like colors, layouts, and typography.

What skills do you need for web design?

A web designer should have a basic understanding of design tools and UX design. Languages such as HTML and CSS are also important for the structuring of websites.

Can I self-learn web design?

Yes. It just requires you to learn the basic guidelines and tools for web design. You can then improve your skills gradually as you take on projects.

Which language should I learn for web designing?

A web designer should learn these three programming languages: JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

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