Photo by Designecologist on Pexels
4 min Read
July 14, 2010

Ducks Pick Design

Rebecca Hume

We at Big Duck spend a lot of our professional time thinking about websites. A lot. Whether we’re creating sites for clients, leading webinars about online strategy, or just keeping up with best practices, a good chunk of our workday brainpower is devoted to the web.

But then there are the non-work hours, when we surf and search and chat and click just like everyone else.

So we thought it might be interesting to see what we could learn from the websites we like to use on our own time. (Ahem. Not those kind of websites.) All the ducks selected sites they’ve found in their personal web use that they think are particularly well designed. The results are below, along with brief explanations why each duck made the pick he or she did.

Although the sites chosen range widely in terms of purpose, content, and style, we did notice some common characteristics. Most, it turns out, reflect things we already account for in our own website designs, but it was gratifying to discover (even in this admittedly non-scientific way) how these considerations do in fact improve our online experience.
Here’s what we found:

  • We think about nonprofits, even when we don’t have to. Five out of the 14 sites we picked belong to nonprofit organizations–not a design observation, but telling nonetheless. Of the rest, three deal with music or TV, two are news or media sites, two are technology-focused, and two are design or fashion sites. (My, what a connected, stylish, and well-informed bunch we are.)
  • Simple navigation keeps sites manageable. On average, each website chosen has only 5 or 6 items in the main navigation menu. The menu headings tend to be concise as opposed to clever, with 90% measuring in at just one or two words long.
  • Uncluttered layouts let content shine. Though the designs are all quite different, each site here reflects an underlying sense of organization, visual hierarchy, and restraint. Even the graphic elements–branding, photos, subheading treatments, dividers–all generally work toward supporting the content, and design simply for the sake of decoration is kept to a minimum.
  • Strong images make a big impact. Nearly all of these sites use a single large photo, video, slideshow, or graphic on the homepage to call attention to the most important content.
  • Searchability is key for a customized experience. All but two of these sites include a keyword search, filters, tags, or other quick and easy way for visitors to find the information they feel is most interesting or relevant.
  • White space helps visitors focus. Incorporating empty space within a layout prevents visitors from being overwhelmed and helps direct them to what’s really important. Nine out of the 14 websites chosen make marked use of white space, resulting in pages that feel spacious and clean.

Found a website you think is particularly effective? Post a comment to let us know. 

Dan‘s Pick: The Guardian
“I actually rather like their use of color. It’s a cheery news site, if there is such a thing.”

Elizabeth‘s Pick: 37 Signals
“It’s clean, it’s simple, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. They use everyday language and avoid jargon.”

Farra‘s Pick: TED
“The site is organized well with lots of options to get at the content you are looking for–by topic, language, popularity, and other descriptive tags.”

Jenna‘s Pick: Hulu
“It’s very user friendly and built for you to find what you’re looking for. I’m always intrigued to watch whatever show they’re promoting.”

Kat‘s Pick: World Wildlife Fund
“I really like the Polaroid picture toggle feature on the homepage.”

Maddy‘s Pick: See the Difference
“It’s simple, it’s conversational and human-sounding, and you don’t have to go far to find the information you want.”

Rachel‘s Pick: ModCloth
“Reviews! Pictures! Easy check-out! Pretty!”

Rebecca‘s Pick: FontShop
“Visually striking without using a single photo–only type. And the different categories let you browse for fonts any way you want.”

Sarah‘s Pick: GOOD’s Roadmap to Harmony
“While I don’t think this website design approach would work for most, I love the idea of treating information online in a more map-like format, where we zoom in and out of it intuitively and visually.”

Scott‘s Pick: The Girl Effect
“Love that the site is broken down into only three sections: Learn, Give, Share. Basically clutter free, this site makes it really simple to get information and act.”

Sonny‘s Pick: MoMA
“Navigation from the bottom up. Even though there’s an obvious grid, the playing with scale helps make it feel dynamic.”

Spencer’s Pick: Pitchfork
“This website has really strong information architecture. I also think the incorporation of photography and video is pretty rad.”

Tiffany’s Pick: Leeway Foundation
“This site is modern and artistic and whoever created it understood the beauty of not filling every available space on the page with something.”

Winter’s Pick: SoundCloud
“I use this site to network with other DJs and producers around the world. I like the design and the platform they use for presenting and sharing music among members.”