Three simple ways to freshen up your nonprofit website design

Although I generally recommend that you budget time and money to maintain your web presence, many of the groups I work with are too busy saving the world (or some part of it) to go through a complete visual design review regularly. So consider this post a “harm reduction” approach to improving the look of your site.

With a content management system like WordPress or Drupal, a few thoughtful changes can be implemented sitewide without much fuss by your developer or site administrator. Here’s three simple ways to freshen up the look of your website:

1- Really simple: update your images

How many photos on your home page or sidebars (other than your logo) have been up for more than six months? A year? Two years? Consider swapping out your most prominent images for newer ones, even if the pages they link to are evergreen (like a staff page).

Also, make sure that your photos are sized small enough so that they load quickly. You can still have great quality images that are under 50K. (Photoshop’s “Save for the web” will get you the smaller file you need, and so can PicMonkey.)

Confirm that your photos pass the one-second test: if the image was flashed at a stranger for one second, could that person identify who or what’s in the picture? A good photo should not have so much going on that it takes five seconds to figure out who is in it or what they’re doing. Crop your new photo to remove distractions.

Updating photos won’t generally require your designer or your developer, and costs very little except focused time.

2- Somewhat simple: update your typography

It’s amazing how quickly a new site fills your screen and you think =yawn=. One of the things that we notice right away on any website — probably before we’ve even read a word — is typography. Typography includes the font (as in “Arial” or “Georgia”) but also the size and placement of the font. Nothing says, “this site was cool back in 2008” like a site where the main text is 12 pt Arial with single line spacing.

The advent of Google fonts means that you have plenty of visually engaging fonts available, and that these will display predictably across the many different devices people use to visit your website. Smashing Magazine has a great piece on a whole world of free font options.

You can also look at increasing the type size and possibly adding more space between lines. Bigger text is easier to scan, and users are more willing to scroll when the text is easy to take in. Don’t worry about fitting as much text into as small a space as possible. Here’s an example of two pieces of text where the only difference is in type size:

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Although I don’t recommend just updating your typography as an ongoing practice, it’s a fairly inexpensive improvement that can really perk up the look of the site. Depending on your theme, it can also be quick to implement.

… unless you picked a WordPress theme that doesn’t allow you to easily change your fonts. In that case, put that feature on your wish list for your next website theme and pay your developer for some custom CSS for the short term. It’s still a low-cost, high-impact improvement.

3 – Simpler than you might expect: change your use of color or page background

If you have ongoing support and want a little freshening up, you can ask your designer or developer to just update your color scheme, or replace your plain page background with a subtle pattern. Again, this will be easier if you picked a flexible theme when you started, but page backgrounds are a pretty common feature to be able to update in WordPress themes.

Changing things like the accent colors on subheadings, or even the use of color on the menus can really perk up a site. Or you may want to simplify your color scheme, and go with a something simpler like black and white, for that “clean look.”

None of these steps are a substitute for a thorough and thoughtful design process, but they can make your site a little more “easy on the eyes” for you and your site visitors and leave a better impression of your organization.

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