Whether you are a student, consultant, or researcher, building a website is one of the best things you can do to showcase your work, regardless of what field of academia you are involved in.
Building a web presence can open up a wealth of opportunities, particularly for students, who might find job opportunities that simply wouldn’t exist without having a website. The same rings true for researchers—the people who make promotion decisions need to know who you are and how good your work is, both of which are made much easier by having an easily accessible, well-designed website.
For those who take the leap into academic consultancy, having a solid website is imperative in terms of demonstrating how their research has a wider impact on society. A good website explains why organizations would want to use the consultant’s expertise. In all three cases, building a website is another form of networking. As the report by Jennifer Streeter explains,
“Networking is somewhat like exercise in that it requires extensive time and effort without being able to see immediate results…over time, you will see signs that your efforts are paying off”.
According to this article published by Forbes, using information sourced from Workfolio, 56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool.
The value of building a website as an academic is clear, however, many people are intimidated by the prospect due to the anticipated technical complexity of it, which may eat into valuable time that they could spend doing other work. The aim of this post is to highlight some basic web design concepts and tips, demonstrating that building a functional and good-looking website doesn’t have to be too complicated.
Web design is a broad field, encompassing the use of many techniques, programming languages, and frameworks for making a website look good and function well for end users.
According to Adobe, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive, and academia is not exempt from this.
It is not necessary to have advanced web design knowledge to build a website, and there is no need to go all out and design a site that looks incredible. However, some familiarity with the basic terms can go a long way to making your website stand out.
- Responsiveness—this is a key concept in modern web design that attempts to ensure web pages look good on many different devices, reflecting the diversity of ways in which people can now access the Internet. Responsive images are a central part of responsive design principles. Users should be served image resolutions and sizes that best fit their devices. See this resource for more on responsive images.
- HTML & CSS—HTML is a markup language that defines how to structure a web page. CSS is a special language used for styling the elements that appear on multiple pages of a website, including font colors, headings, font sizes, and page layouts.
- Negative Space—sometimes referred to as white space, negative space is the empty space around web content that separates different page elements. At the micro level, negative space refers to the spacing between letters, words, and paragraphs, while at the macro level, negative space means the spaces between larger page elements, such as sidebars, headers, and footers. The main idea of negative space is to use it to your advantage because the less cluttered a web page looks, the better the user experience.
- CMS—A content management system is an important enabler of building a well-designed website without much if any knowledge of programming languages, CSS or HTML. Users can simply edit, delete and manage website content via an intuitive user interface. Popular examples include WordPress, Weebly, and Drupal.
Web Design Tips
Here are some actionable tips for designing your first website so that it looks good and encourages people to stick around and read your work.
- Don’t Try to Reinvent The Wheel. Sometimes when people start to learn a bit about web design, they try to add creativity where it is not needed. A particularly compelling example is in the contrast between font and background. Black font against a white background makes the most sense, particularly for academia, where the readability of what you publish on your site is most important.
- Simple Navigation. Simplicity is best for most websites in terms of navigation, but for academics, it takes on even greater importance. The people who visit your website should be able to quickly find what they are looking for, whether that means a resumé or a collection of research papers you have authored. A simple horizontal navigation bar with your main website categories (About page, research section, blog, consultancy services, etc) works best.
- Minimize Font Types. Some of the most cluttered websites on the Internet use lots of different types of font. For academic websites, you are best limiting it to two or three different font types: one for the headings, one for the content copy, and perhaps one more for your website’s menu.
- Use a CMS. If it’s an option for you, resort to using a CMS because it drastically simplifies everything about web design. You can still change many aspects of the design, including your website’s theme, without having to worry about any coding or other technical aspects.
The value of websites for professionals in terms of networking and job opportunities has often been cited in studies, and this value definitely extends to those in academia. It’s important when you build your first website that you understand some basic terms about web design so that you can create a site which provides the best browsing experience possible for users.
In general, good websites for academics have an uncluttered design with simple navigation and not too many font types or different font colors. Keep it simple stupid, and let your research, expertise, and knowledge stand out.