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.
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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.
Showcase of Websites with Unique Layouts
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 designing 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 design reminds me of typographic posters that designers hang on their walls for inspiration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Notice how plain and boring these law sites 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re looking for a way to break out of the box with a design, creating a unique layout is one way to accomplish this. In this post we’ll look at a handful of sites that make use of a creative and unique layout.
For more design inspiration, please see: