Less than an hour from where I live in Pennsylvania — if you point your car in the right direction — you see road signs that warn you to beware of horse and buggy carriages using the road.
The Amish people live a life very different from yours and mine.
For the most part they don’t use electricity. They avoid most machines, preferring a simple lifestyle that revolves around farming and handcrafting everyday items.
Amish furniture is coveted in some circles for its high quality and classic beauty. Their food is simple and delicious, and their household items are made with masterful craftsmanship and attention to detail.
The Amish don’t use computers, so what could they possibly teach us about web design?
The key to gorgeous site design if you’re not a professional designer is to keep it simple.
Does simple mean plain? Boring? Unadorned?
No. Simple — in this case — means effortless (as in, effortless to read and absorb), and accessible (as in, easy to find what you need).
In today’s post, we’re going to talk about how to achieve the kind of simplicity that leads to a sophisticated, ultra-functional website.
It’s easy, once you know how.
Start with a well-proportioned theme
Your design job will be much easier if you start with a theme that has “good bones.”
By this I mean plenty of white space, and an open, airy feel. You want your words and images to be surrounded by open space like you’d put a matte around a beautiful painting.
Plus, working with a solid WordPress theme gives a cohesive structure to your site, and makes each page look like it relates to the one before.
Use a reduced color palette
Amish clothing is very low key and modest.
The result is that when you come face to face with an Amish person, you really see them. You don’t see their flashy clothing or notice their hairstyle.
What you see are their faces. Their personalities shine through, unembellished by the trappings the rest of us use.
How does this translate to our web pages?
On your site, this means using a design style whose goal is to let your content shine through. Your message should be the star of the show, and your design style shouldn’t detract from the purpose of your pages.
One way to accomplish this is to use a reduced palette of colors. I recommend starting with two main colors in addition to black text and a white background.
Using a reduced color palette helps direct attention where it belongs, which is on your words.
Because — as we know, the writer runs this show.
But, the designer makes you look.
Do more with less
The Amish are masters at making the most of whatever they have on hand.
Used clothing becomes a beautiful quilt to huddle under in the cold winter months.
The sap from maple trees is tapped and boiled down to become delectable maple syrup.
Wood is reclaimed from barns and turned into furniture.
One quick and effective way to apply the “use what you have on hand” concept is pare your fonts down to two. Use one for text, one for headlines. Pick fonts that have a full family of weights: bold, semi-bold, and italic.
Then put those fonts to work all over your site. Use different weights, or try them in all caps. But don’t go beyond your two fonts.
Designing within these “restrictions” will set you free. Your pages will hang together and look cohesive because your fonts will be consistent throughout.
Lighten up your sidebar
Most of our websites have some sort of content area, as well as what I like to call the “business side of things,” which is usually a sidebar.
It’s tempting to cram your sidebar full of all sorts of ads, social media icons, opt-in forms and affiliate banners. The result is that each item competes visually with all the others, and no one wins.
Instead, approach it like the Amish.
They don’t use big, blinking neon signs to point out their businesses. They state their offerings simply, and present them in uncluttered surroundings so the customer has space to think and really see what’s there.
On your sidebar, this means paring down your offerings and making some hard decisions. If your theme allows it, it might mean running different combinations of sidebar content on different pages of your site. This allows you to spread your offerings out and feature them where they’ll make the most sense.
Look at your sidebar and decide what one action you’d most like your visitor to take. Then make a call to action that stands out visually. Make it larger and more colorful, and place it and higher up in the column.
The rest of your sidebar options should be less colorful and smaller so they don’t compete.
‘Tis a gift to be simple
Simplicity can be beautiful when your aim is to create a site that’s intelligent, effortless to navigate and easy to understand.
What can you do to apply some Amish craftsmanship to your site?
Let’s talk about it in the comments …
About the Author: Pamela Wilson teaches small businesses to grow using great design and marketing at Big Brand System. Brainstorm ideas, solve problems and achieve goals with other small business owners in Pamela’s Leap Year mastermind group.