8 Small but Powerful Tips for a Standout Website Design

Every one of your clients wants to (or at least should want to) stand out from their competition. To be distinguished is to be memorable. Your client’s job is to provide a solid business. Your job as a web designer is to make sure that they get both noticed in the first place and remembered so that they have an audience to whom they can demonstrate their excellence.

Creating a standout website design is not exactly the easiest task. It is much easier to pick a common layout and fill in the blanks or to pick a design trend and build a website around it. Neither of these methods will help you create a website that breaks the mold, though.


With background music and scrolling, full-screen displays of each vehicle, this Volkswagon website certainly is easy to remember.

At this point, you may be interjecting, "Yeah, well, most of my clients don’t want me to break the mold with their website design." And to this I say, "But you can still add those little touches that make a website (and, therefore, a brand) extraordinary." If you can learn how to add differential elements to every design, then you will be well on your way to building a name for yourself as an amazing web designer.

One important detail to note is to always keep usability in mind. Some designers and developers make the mistake of creating a very visually stimulating website at the expense of it being easily navigated. Also as necessary is to keep in mind your client and the audience to avoid creating a website that doesn’t portray your client nor appeal to the audience appropriately.

Now that we’ve gotten some initial necessities out of the way, let’s take a look at some small but powerful tips for creating standout websites.

Create a Poster


This website design looks like a wall poster or painting to decorate a wall in a home or office.


In his famous Boagworld blog, Paul Boag presents an interesting idea that he and his colleague Mike Kus came up with: quit creating websites and start desiging posters. Paul points out that when Mike starts creating websites, they don’t look like websites at all.

"Where most of us start with a grid or wireframe, Mike starts with an image or other graphic element. He then shapes those elements into a website. It is almost as if he squeezes his design down into the constraints of a website."

Not every single one of your clients will want something extreme, but breaking out of the same old layouts may take changing the way you begin a design. Sometimes the only way to get your brain to think differently is to follow a new method.


This website design could almost be a poster ad you would see on a billboard or poster display at a shopping mall.


This website looks more like a magazine than a website, and it maintains this layout on every page.


This design reminds me of typographic posters that designers hang on their walls for inspiration.


This website beautifully organizes boxes of text and photographs in a seemingly random pattern.

Throw in a Clever Surprise

Some clients want what seems to be impossible: a traditional website that stands out from competitors. But there are ways to create a website that still has the normal layout of header, footer, side menu but that also sticks out. Another great suggestion that Paul Boag presents in the above-mentioned article is to add in unique elements that surprise or delight visitors, such as Easter Eggs or even something as simple as a humorous tidbit. The point is to add something that helps make a design or brand much more memorable.


This website remains true to its humorous name (Pound Grain) and incorporate less-than-customary language throughout.


This group of bloggers are full of wit, and their design includes lots of humorous descriptions.


Like other fashion websites, this one includes lots of images. However, theirs breaks them up into boxes that stretch across the width of the page, and colored boxes pop up when you hover your mouse over any of the images.


This website allows visitors to choose how they want to view the information.

Use Personalized Photos

Jared Chelf makes an excellent suggestion in his article on ways to make a website stand out. Instead of using "generic graphics or stale photos of grinning salesmen," he suggests using photos of the actual employees, the building, products, even the landscaping surrounding the company. If you aren’t a photographer, then you may need to hire a professional. After all, you’ll want photos that also portray the image your client wants to get across to their target market and customers. The vacation resort below includes gorgeous full-screen photos of their amenities:

For instance, your client may want to be seen as relatable, in which case photos of employees smiling warmly may work best.


This photograph certainly does the job of making these folks look honest.


As you scroll down this website, you see photos of the staff along with full page background examples of their work.


This website scrolls through videos of the team smiling and laughing at the camera.

Do the Opposite of Competitors

Find out what your client’s competitors are doing and design the opposite. Most industries tend to follow the same general colors, layout, and/or look and feel in their website designs. So studying the competition will help you better see how you create a design that stands out.

Are the competition following certain design trends? Use another trend. Do they use mostly photographs? Use illustration. Just make sure that you do the opposite of their most noticeable design style or elements.

The Clutch Group, a general counsel legal company, uses a flat, stylistic design with icons, shaped text boxes, colors, and interesting typography. The design makes usually dull and text-heavy content much more digestible and pleasant.

In contrast to the engaging design of the Clutch Group, notice how plain and boring the above competition websites are.

This construction company may have included too many bells and whistles for a slow loading site, but it certainly does the job of standing out from the local competition, which look as if they were built using templates:

Start Your Own Trend

Web design trends such as parallax scrolling and flat design are huge right now, and it seems that they can be found in almost any industry. As mentioned above, if your client’s competitors are using these big trends, then don’t use them in your client’s site. Instead, start your own trend! In his article on Usabilla, Randy Lek says that "following the latest trends won’t make you stand out. To do this, you have to either deviate from them or better yet, start a new one."


British Airways certainly stands out with pleasant background music, beautiful animated graphics, and stunning photos of the interior of their new jets.

This is where being an interactive designer/ developer comes in handy. If your skills include the ability to create unique interaction on a website, then use it! If your client needs a conservative site, you may not be able to use it to the full extent you’d like to, but you may still be able to include some small interactive elements.


The animated image moves back and forth, almost as if you are standing on the swaying rope bridge. Even more interesting are the grainy lines that interrupt the image if you move your mouse to the address bar, as if they are trying to re-capture your attention before you exit the site.

Another way to start your own trend, so to speak, is to take a common trend but give it your own spin. This gives you a building block on which to start, rather than simply starting from scratch. Looking up other creative websites is also a great way to gather some inspiration. Awwwards is one of my favorites for reviewing some of the latest website designs.


During the loading process, this website scrolls preview text to prepare you for the purpose of the site.


You only need to hover your mouse over the lines of text to see full-screen images of each of the projects.

Colors

A creative use of colors can really help a site stand out, even if this is the only truly unique feature. Colors are an extremely powerful visual that can be used to add class, create a playful look, evoke certain emotions, and much more.


Illustrations are a great way to incorporate color and a one-of-a-kind look and feel.


As you scroll down, differently colored circles and other shapes float up the page.

High contrast colors really make a design pop. But you can also use bold complementary colors. Or you can use colors in an unusual way, such as breaking them up into blocks.


The retro colors are broken up into geometric blocks througout the DoneDone website.


Images from this designer’s portfolio scrolls in a slideshow display in brilliant colors.

Typography

Using an original font or blend of fonts can be an easy way to make a website memorable without making your conservative clients uncomfortable. And they’ll be even more impressed if you find a font that works both on the web and in print so that they can keep their fonts consistent across the board, creating a much more identifiable brand.


The rest of the site displays lots of text, but the pleasant font and layout makes it easy to read.


This interesting excerpt of emails from a group of college friends displays gorgeous typography and graphs.


The typography is not the only beautiful part of this website. The full page image is actually animated waves, and more stunning photographs are found throughout the site.

Icons, Buttons, and More

Sometimes all it takes to push a website from boring to distinquished is with some unique icons or buttons. Just make sure that all of them have a similar style to prevent your design from looking like an overwhelming, messy conglomeration.


The Design Council uses unique icons throughout the site to turn what would be a normal design into a unique one.


This design team used a vintage/ retro style for their buttons, icons, typography, and other design elements. Their creative pitch is one of saving the world through design, a theme that they cleverly follow throughout the site.

Keeping Reality in Mind

If all of your clients wanted a super creative design AND had no opinion on what they preferred AND had an unlimited budget, then it would be the perfect world for web professionals. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and many of your clients will want a normal website and will have a very strong opinion and will have a limited budget. But, this is where choosing one of the small elements above to put into a web design can make it really shine. You don’t have to go overboard on creativity like many of the website examples above. You just need to find that little extra that turns a website from blah to powerfully memorable.

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