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Don't Reinvent the Wheel

I began designing for the Web in the mid-90s, and I've seen wave after wave of design trends. Some stick around, some fizzle out, but there are some basic principles of information design that show up on every successful site. The frustrating part is that most newcomers and even some Web veterans insist on discovering these principles on their own. If you're building your site or getting serious about a redesign, don't reinvent the wheel. Look at what makes great sites work and follow their lead.

Start with site navigation. There's a reason successful sites display internal links along the top of their pages: It works. If you're not displaying your navigation up top or on the left-hand margin, you're probably forcing your customers to learn how to use your site instead of learning about you.

When was the last time you saw a text-heavy site with a background color? Even offline brands whose hallmark is a non-white background like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times now use white backgrounds online. It makes it easier for Web users to read text. Your customers will follow instructions better if they can read them.

These are basic, but they're two mistakes that seasoned site designers still make. Remember that established sites spend big bucks learning what design principles work best. Don't ignore these invaluable lessons!

Jennifer Frost is Art Director at Register.com.

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