I was thinking about the balance between web design and usability today, and I realized that in the realm of interface design, there is a fine line between being unique, and well, just being weird. The web designer in you will want to build a website that stands out from the crowd. And why wouldn't you? No one wants a website that looks like an generic template, or reminds them of every other site they've been seeing lately.
At the same time, the usability expert in you will want to follow certain principles of design so that new users won't come to your site and be thoroughly confused. After navigating thousands of websites, there are certain standards that your visitors will expect to see. Having been in the Web industry for a number of years, we've seen site designs that were so unique, no one would ever be able to navigate them.
So how do you balance these two needs in your site design? One practice that we strongly recommend to our clients is wireframing. A wireframe is a black and white, linear representation of what a webpage will look like. Here's an example.
What makes wireframing so helpful is that it separates interface design from aesthetic design. First you lay out the building blocks of your site, and determine how it will be used. This process will play a big role in your site's usability. Once this process is complete, and wireframes like the one above have been completed, your graphic designers can go to work making the site look beautiful and unique. But the wireframes you have in place will establish some basic guidelines for your designs to ensure it doesn't get too unique for its own good.