Essential web design tips for start-ups

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March 01, 2013
Essential web design tips for start-ups.

ThumbnailWith so many new websites and start-ups springing up every day, a high-quality, professional web site is no longer optional — if it ever was. If you want your company to be taken seriously, let alone stand out, you need to have a design that is both memorable and professional.

However, getting to that point can be difficult. With the exception of start-ups focused on design, most new companies are not founded by people who are naturals at Web design and few have much in the way of resources to throw at the problem.

This can create a major dilemma for a startup, causing some to either push a non-designer into the role of Web developer or simply ignore the problem until they have more money and time down the road. However, if you want your company to thrive online, neither option is acceptable.

So how can you get your new start up a professional web design that will get it recognized? There is no real secret to it, it is just a matter of hard work and making design a priority, but there are a few ways you can save both time and money getting to your end design goal.

The importance of KISS

KISS, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is a sound principle in many things but it is especially critical for designing websites on a budget.

Simple designs are easier to create, thus making them cheaper and faster, but they are also bolder, more memorable and more adaptable. A truly simple design will work just as well on a smartphone as it does a 24” monitor and will stand out in users' minds.

Rather than trying to cram everything you could possibly want into a design, start by focusing on one key element you want to highlight and build the rest of your site around that. Treat your design like you would a neon sign, something that has to stand out and can only carry a short, but powerful, message.

Once you’ve got a strong visual center, it’s best to also keep the rest of your layout in a clean, simple and familiar format. The traditional two-column layout is probably the most-used and most-popular format for doing just this. A two-column layout with a right hand side bar and a navigation bar at the top not only makes it clear to readers where to go, but is a design that is familiar to nearly all readers.

Once you’ve got your visual center and your layout, don’t paint your site with the equivalent of a dirty brush. Use strong, vibrant colors that stand out and try to limit yourself to just one primary and one secondary color. Using a lot of muted colors and subtle contrasts will make your design hard to see and make it appear “gray”.

If you need help choosing a good color scheme, use a site like to help you pick a vibrant and attractive scheme.

In short, keep everything you do streamlined, with one focal point, one main color, one secondary color, and a simple one or two column layout for the rest of your content.

Help is not a four-letter word

If no one at your company is a Web designer, then don’t let (or make) any of them design your site. For every coder, engineer or executive who discovers a hidden talent for site design, a hundred will struggle, wasting time and churning out poor-quality work.


Help image via Shutterstock

Good Web design will cost you money, but it’s cash well-spent if it avoids wasting the even more precious resource of time. Getting a site design right quickly and on the first try is much better than wasting weeks going back to the drawing board with an in-house design effort.

The easiest place to find a designer is on one of the many freelance sites, such as,, or however, you want to maintain a long-term relationship with your designer, so try to avoid agencies that use these sites and ensure that the person you hire is the person that does the work. It is always worth checking a freelancer's feedback, if 50 other companies are happy with their work, then chances are you will be too.

If you can’t afford to hire an outside Web designer, considering bringing in one as a co-founder. While it may be much more expensive in the long run, considering how critical good design can be to your company, it’s likely a worthwhile investment.

Keeping things future-proof

Finally, if you’re spending all of this time and money on crafting a good website design, it’s important to make sure that the design will last as long as you need it to, and that means ensuring your site is ready for the future of the Web.

Currently, this means making sure that your design is mobile-friendly and ready to meet the increasing demand for cell phone and tablet-ready browsing.


Image via Shutterstock

While simple designs do work better on such devices, it’s crucial to go the extra distance to deliver the best experience possible. It’s much easier to make those adjustments when in the middle of building a new design than it is to retrofit an existing layout.

This means thinking about such things as mobile-friendly stylesheets, interfaces that are touchscreen friendly and content that loads quickly on slower connections. While plugins and services may be able to do a “quick and dirty” optimization for mobile devices, they won’t be able to provide a truly complete and compelling experience.

While many of these standards are not set in stone yet, many browsers, including mobile browsers, already support and use them so it makes sense to take advantage of them as much as possible now.

The last thing you want to do is invest heavily into a site today and have to redo large portions of it due to a completely foreseeable shift in the web.


In the end, solid web design for a start up is about three things: focus, talent and planning. If you know what you want to put your attention on, have someone there who can make it look good and then plan for the future, it is fairly straightforward to craft a solid, professional design that will be both memorable and lasting.

The hardest part for most start ups is finding the time, energy and resources to do those things. This is why it’s so important for start ups to get organized on these issues early and think about them from the very beginning.

While it might be tempting to put off these issues until later, it’s crucial to have a professional appearance from day one for investors, reporters and others interested in your company early on. Also, it’s much easier and cheaper to get it right the first time than it is to constantly be tweaking and fixing your site while it’s live.

In the end, if there’s one thing that Apple has taught us is that design and aesthetics are important to products. Good design makes products more attractive, more usable and, if done well, more useful.

As such, if you make design one of your start-up’s priorities and work hard to make it excel, your design will serve you, your company and your customers well in the end.

Do you design regularly for start-ups? What advice would you like to add? Let us know in the comments.

Lior Levin

Lior Levin is a consultant to a shopping cart abandonment startup from Israel. Lior also works for billguard who developed a Passbook application to follow credit card charges.

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