The process of designing a full website layout comes in many stages. First is sometimes procrastination followed by sketching or writing down ideas. Then after getting frustrated and trashing all those ideas the process will repeat until a usable concept is born. At this point most designers will move on to actually designing a full webpage mockup.
It’s possible to create mockups using any graphic editor like GIMP or Sketch 3 but most designers will stick to Photoshop. PSDs are the most popular choice because they can work within various Adobe products and offer a very quick exporting process. For this post I want to share a few ideas related to general mockup design which carry over into any type of editing software. Once you begin to recognize the traits of great web design the mockup process will cruise by mindlessly.
When coding a webpage there’s typically a lot less concern about vertical positioning. Content will naturally cascade down the page and each browser window is capable of any height without restriction. But when crafting a mockup you need to be more conscious about the height of a design.
While you can make files that extend very large into 10,000+ pixels of height it’s better to use the least amount of space which still accurately conveys the idea. A mockup should be treated more like a blueprint which could be moderately adapted or changed throughout the development process. Obviously pixel perfection is needed when it comes to icons, backgrounds, logos, or similar graphics.
But when it comes to spacing you really need a general idea to work from. Once the mockup is transposed into a browser you might decide that more space is needed in the header with less space between paragraphs. These little tweaks won’t matter so much in graphical form but definitely hold a distinction when it comes to the finished product.
Simplify Layer Effects
As a designer it can be tempting to spruce up every little nook and cranny. The cranny’s are okay but those nooks are just grotesque… surely a couple flamboyant layer effects would solve the problem? Well in the graphics editor perhaps, but in the real world developers cannot always build what you’ve designed.
There are moments when layer effects are more than appropriate. Think about effects that can actually be translated into the browser using CSS – box shadows, borders, background gradients, simple stuff. Don’t completely remove all layer effects but instead try to be pragmatic with each decision.
On the other hand excessive layer effects can add quite the punch to graphics or smaller icons. But these items will be extracted as image files which can retain the effects without CSS. This is not the case for regular page elements, for example if each button uses a background full of sparkly glowing fractals you may need to remove that effect or provide a repeating background image which tiles appropriately using CSS. Otherwise just think ahead and plan the design according to realistic development standards.
Streamlined Color Scheme
I’ve started plenty of random projects in Photoshop which turned out horrible because of poor planning. Well, poor planning and my lack of inherent skills at the time. Point being if you’re still new to Photoshop there is a lot to learn. Anything that you can do to expedite the creation process will be an asset to your project in the long run.
Defining a color scheme ahead of time is one such idea. Start with the branding of a company and see which colors might best fit the design. Otherwise check out one of the many free color scheme tools online to help with the process.
Each page element should use a certain type of color to define its purpose. Buttons, links, navigation items, each has a contributive purpose to the overall interface. Colors provide the means to bring out this purpose and help certain items stand out from surrounding items. Get an idea of the color choices before designing and you’ll have a much better time.
One thing you should always keep in mind is the relation of page typography. Which items on the page should appear related to one-another? This association is created by size, placement, and typeface. Headers may use a different typeface than paragraphs but the way everything is aligned still tells the story.
Also remember to use contrasting colors for background and foreground elements. Page typography should be easy to read and you want each letter to stand out with a crisp overtone.
Depending on the project you’ll want to choose a primary typeface to use in most contexts. Online newspapers and magazines often use serif for body copy while other generalized sites use the more typical sans-serif. This isn’t a hard rule or even a soft rule – in fact it’s not really a “rule”. It’s just something I’ve noticed that does impact the readability of a page.
Make each typographic choice with clarity in mind. Focus on the end user and their exceptionally gratifying experience. As designers we sometimes think like artists who often create work for themselves. But web design, even personal web design, is about creating a finished product for somebody else to use.
To illustrate these ideas check out some of the free mockup designs below. I’ve curated these mockups from Dribbble designers who have released them for free. These can be helpful to anyone practicing mockup design who might want to study what others have created.