At this point in time, everyone is familiar with many of the traditional web design laws. Many of the rules are simply common sense, however, others are often outdated guidelines left over from the early days of web design and they tend to stifle creativity and lead to some very ordinary looking pages. As the web evolves, it's becoming apparent that these rules are being broken to provide users with a more differentiated, more meaningful, or even more content-driven experience (ie blogs). It's important to remember that the rules and limitations of any media are helpful parameters-not steadfast rules-to keep in mind when you're designing. It's equally important to keep in mind that if you decide to go rogue and break some of these design laws, you need to have a clear reason for doing so.
The Five Golden Rules
1. Navigation belongs in the familiar locations.
Otherwise, the user will get confused-and leave! Not true. At least, not anymore. Yes, years ago if a button did not sit on the top or left side of the page, it darn well better blink or pulsate or catch fire. But today it's ok to give your visitors some credit. As long as your navigation is designed with some logic, the user experience will be seamless.
2. Every page on your site should be accessible within 3 clicks of the homepage.
Ok. This is actually a pretty good one. But it just might be that you'd like to create a site where a user could do a little exploring. If your content is going to be particularly dense and (ideally) interesting, you could benefit from navigation that lets someone browse around the way you would with a thick magazine.
3. Do not place your content "Below the Fold."
The "fold" refers to the bottom edge of the viewable browser space. Anything placed below the fold will require the user to scroll down to see it. Well, guess what? Everybody scrolls down! It's second nature (and takes very little effort with that handy little scroll wheel on the top of your mouse). Think of your favorite websites-would they be able to display all that great content without the ability to scroll down?
4. Do not make your visitors scroll horizontally.
This rule is sort of the cousin of Rule # 3. And while it might seem a little awkward for first-time visitors, the novelty of a very horizontal page layout would certainly make it stand out.
5. Limit file sizes so the page can load instantly.
Waiting for a large image or graphic to load can be torture-no argument there. But there are many cases where a nice, big, beautiful photo can really make a page shine! Just keep the size within reasonable limits and do some load-time testing. Most people will not begrudge you a few extra seconds. A good example is the Bing search engine. The big splashy photo that appears on the main page is a refreshing alternative to the stark white background Google is known for.
The traditional rules still serve as still good guidelines to consider when creating your online presence since since they force you to consider the user experience. But as the web evolves, as technology changes, and as average users become more savvy, remember that you'll get to enjoy more freedom to be creative, unique, and innovative which will result in differentiation from the competition.