If you want to make a website, but have little technical expertise, it can be pretty intimidating. But don’t despair. There is plenty you can do to cut the job down to size and make it manageable.
1) Pick a Platform.
Two of the most well-known platforms are WordPress and Blogger. They are very different technical environments, but neither requires you to be able to write code or design anything from scratch. They and other platforms offer templates. In some cases, they are free. In other cases, you can purchase what you want.
No matter your level of technical savvy, you can find a solution that is comfortable for you. Blogger may well be the most user-friendly platform for people who have no coding ability. It is surprisingly flexible and customizable without having to write a single line of code.
2) Decide on Your Content Requirements.
The design requirements will be heavily impacted by the type of content you intend to produce. While simpler is generally better, a text only site will have more leeway for tolerating graphics as part of the overall design than a site that will be showcasing photos, art, a web comic or other graphic work.
WordPress has templates specifically optimized for specialized functions, such as publishing a web comic or showcasing photos with brief descriptions. Blogger has some templates that are clean lined and mostly black or mostly white. These can be easily adapted for a photo site. It is possible to use Blogger to publish a web comic, but, currently, you do need to be able to write a small amount of code in order to add proper navigation appropriate to a comic.
3) Optimize for Legibility.
Blogger has some templates with transparent layers and most templates allow you to customize the background graphic. If you aren’t careful, this can mean the words you write are difficult to read at all. No matter the platform, pictures that are too large for the blog post can bleed over into side columns, interfering with site function and navigation. Always check for legibility first and foremost.
Pay special attention to link colors. Links typically change color when hovered over or after they are clicked. A very colorful site can create problems where there are no good link colors because somewhere on the page, those colors simply do not work. Graphics that include both very light or bright areas and very dark areas are particularly challenging.
Unless you know enough CSS to customize the links in different areas, link colors are typically site-wide. Thus, they need to work on all of your backgrounds. This can be tricky. Links that cannot be seen make a website a very frustrating user experience. Thus, this one detail can be a major usability failing. Pay close attention to whether or not all of your links are legible across the entire site.
4) What Do You Want Above the Fold?
This is an old newspaper term that now gets applied to site design. In a newspaper, it means the part of the paper visible above the fold on the front page. In web design, it means the part of the page visible on the screen without scrolling down.
This area should contain critical information and navigation that you do not want your audience to miss. You may want to duplicate some of this content elsewhere. But make sure critical items, like the name of the site and essential navigation tools, are visible above the fold, without scrolling.
5) When In Doubt, Stick With Standard Design Elements.
Black text on a white or off white background works. Navigation tabs across the top and/or down the side are functional. If you do not know a lot about design, do not get too creative. Stick close to the tried and true design details that have a proven track record of success. Save your creativity for content creation.
Many people have trouble taking this advice. They feel it is boring. They want to spice things up. This easily gets inexperienced people in trouble. It can readily go bad places and become a user experience nightmare. If you aren’t confident your quirky choice really improves the experience, just skip it.
6) Do User Testing.
Even if it is just your mom or best friend trying out the site while you watch and ask questions, seeing how other people use the site can yield a wealth of good information about what works and what doesn’t. This doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Sometimes a friend will do it for the price of a beer.
7) Learn Some Basic Color Tips.
If you use color coding, it should be limited to seven colors. The human brain cannot readily follow more than that. Remember that yellow is a surprisingly strong color. It seems like a light color, but when used in large deaths, it is garish and overwhelming.
If the colors are too harsh, you can mute them by going with off-white instead of pure white, or off-black instead of pure black. Choosing muted variations of a design that is not quite working can make things suddenly fall into place. Sometimes, a small tweak is better than a major overhaul.
8) Form Follows Function.
Good design serves a purpose. Colors are chosen because they perform well, not because they are pretty per se. If it is well designed, it will often be described as beautiful. But trying to make it beautiful doesn’t necessarily lead to good design. So, make sure you are thinking of their function as you pick colors, not just whether or not you like them.
If you stick close to basic, proven designs and only add as much as is minimally necessary to achieve the desired function, you won’t go far wrong. It does not have to be perfect. It does have to be usable and that is totally doable, even for someone who is new to the art of making a website.