When Breaking Web Design Rules Might Work for You

By Ruth Hawk, Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Web Design Desktop

Web design has evolved as quickly as has the Internet as a whole. Along with that development has come certain rules, or best practices, that have proven themselves useful in guiding the development of appealing and effective websites. Rules such as simplicity, consistency, limited colors and fonts, intuitive navigation, and more have become the hallmarks of good professional web design. However, occasionally, as the saying goes, rules are meant to be broken, and occasionally, great web design comes when the rules are left behind. In fact, almost every rule of good web design has occasionally been broken with good results. Often, determining when deviation from the norm is the best way to go is more a matter of intuition than anything else. However, there are a few qualities that are true of successful forays into new web design territory.

Understand the rules of web design first.

Perhaps the most important quality of a successful boundary-pushing web design professional is a solid grasp of the fundamentals. The basic web design principles have been proven to work, and they form the foundation of a solid, effective website. Even when you try new approaches, you will need to follow most of these principles most of the time. As a result, you or your professional web designer should be thoroughly familiar with these rules before experimenting with breaking them. Knowing the rules allows you to understand why and how to break them to achieve the look you need. For example, if you want to use multiple fonts on a single web page, you must first understand why limited fonts usually work better, and why you are choosing to go a different route. Otherwise, your multi-font page will look less like a coordinated design feature and more like a confusing splash of contradicting styles.

SEE ALSO: Dress Up Your Custom Web Design: The Use of Color in Communicating Your Message

Create a balance between following and breaking the rules.

The principles underlying good professional web design are numerous, tried, and true. Website visitors, in many ways, depend upon these rules to help them know how to navigate a site or quickly determine its quality. By giving a certain degree of structure to a site, they make it easier to produce web design that converts. That is why you will never see a website that completely abandons all, or even many, of the basic web design principles at once. Instead, successfully breaking the rules of web design usually means thoughtfully leaving behind one or two of them for the purpose of effect, branding, engagement, etc. The rest are left intact in order to provide reliability and structure. This balance creates a space where you can achieve your own unique goals without confusing visitors.

Always have a specific reason for breaking web design rules.

It has been alluded to earlier, but, when breaking web design principles, always have a specific reason for doing so. For example, you may choose to create a different layout for separate sections of your website in order to highlight their different purposes. Or, you may choose to change your navigation bar in order to create a sense of intrigue for website visitors. Having a reason for these changes allows for direction and purpose in your website.

If you use a variety of colors on your homepage just to see what it looks like, you are less likely to end up with a cohesive look than if you use many different colors to communicate a certain brand quality. Likewise, putting up a flash page to advertise an upcoming sale is likely to be more effective than creating a flash page just for effect. When there is a purpose behind your changes, those changes become an integral part of your site. And, they help you to achieve specific goals you have for your site. Without a specific purpose, they simply become extraneous (or even harmful) pieces of your web design that might detract from, instead of adding to, your site’s overall appeal.

Keep changes small when possible.

Many deviations from basic web design principles are small. Consider, for instance, websites that might choose to use the same color for both the background and the font. The change, when executed effectively, does not detract from the readability of the page. You may not even notice that the color is the same. Instead, this instance of rule-breaking is subtle but effective. Similarly, small changes tend to work better when you decide to push the boundaries of web design. They allow you to change the look and feel of a site without leaving visitors feeling confused. Plus, if you are just starting to consider how a different type of design might look on your site, small changes can help you to test out rule breakage while making it easy to go back to the way things were if the changes do not work out.

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Never interfere with site usability.

Before you dive into a world free from web design rules, you should be aware of one rule that always remains: Site usability. This quality is, perhaps, the most important one for any website, no matter how edgy or different it is. By creating a space that is easy and desirable for your visitors to use, you create a space that will ultimately succeed. As a result, double-check all of your web design against this rule. Creating a successful web design does not mean settling for predictable or boring.


The services of a professional web designer can help you to achieve a look that is fresh, appealing, and successful. Sometimes, this look might include some deviations from basic web design principles. As long as these deviations come from a foundation of knowledge, are balanced with adherence to best practices, have a specific reason, are generally small, and do not interfere with usability, they can serve as an exciting way to make your website stand out. And that can mean a higher-converting and more visible website for you.

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