Let's say you have a product, a portfolio, or just an idea you want to share with everyone on your own website. Before you publish it on the internet, you want to make it look attractive, professional, or at least decent to look at.

What is the first thing you need to work on?

Content

The purpose of design is to enhance the presentation of the content it's applied to. It might sound obvious, but content being the primary element of a website, it should not be established as an afterthought.

Written content, like the paragraph you're currently reading, makes up for more than 90% of the Web. Styling this textual content will go a long way.

Let's assume you've already finalised the content you want to publish and just created an empty style.css file, what is the first rule you can write?

Centering

Long lines of text can be hard to parse, and thus hard to read. Setting a limit of characters per line greatly enhances the readability and appeal of a wall of text.

body {
  margin: 0 auto;
  max-width: 50em;
}

After styling the text blocks, what about styling the text itself?

Font family

The browser's font defaults to "Times", which can look unappealing (mostly because it is the "unstyled" font). Switching to a sans-serif font like "Helvetica" or "Arial" can vastly improve the look of your page.

body {
  font-family: "Helvetica", "Arial", sans-serif;
}

If you want to stick with a serif font, try "Georgia".

While this makes the text more appealing, let's also make it more readable.

Spacing

When a page looks "broken" to a user, it's usually a spacing issue. Providing space both around and within your content can increase the appeal of your page.

body {
  line-height: 1.5;
  padding: 4em 1em;
}

h2 {
  margin-top: 1em;
  padding-top: 1em;
}

While the layout has greatly improved so far, let's apply more subtle changes.

Color & contrast

Black text on a white background can be harsh on the eyes. Opting for a softer shade of black for body text makes the page more comfortable to read.

body {
  color: #555;
}

And in order to keep a decent level of contrast, let's pick a darker shade for important words

h1,
h2,
strong {
  color: #333;
}

While most of the page has been improved visually, some elements (like the code snippets) still seem out of place.

Balance

It only takes a few additional touches to correct the balance of the page:

code,
pre {
  background: #eee;
}

code {
  padding: 2px 4px;
  vertical-align: text-bottom;
}

pre {
  padding: 1em;
}

At this point, you might want to make your page stand out and give it identity.

Primary color

Most brands have a primary color that acts as a visual accent. On a website, this accent can be used to provide emphasis on interactive elements, like links.

a {
  color: #e81c4f;
}

But to keep the balance, we will need some additional colors.

Secondary colors

The accent color can be complemented with more subtle shades, to be used on borders, backgrounds, or even the body text.

body {
  color: #566b78;
}

code,
pre {
  background: #f5f7f9;
  border-bottom: 1px solid #d8dee9;
  color: #a7adba;
}

pre {
  border-left: 2px solid #69c;
}

Having changed the shades, why not change the shapes...

Custom font

Since text is the main content of a webpage, using a custom font gives the page even more noticeable identity.

While you can embed your own webfont or use an online service like Typekit, let's use "Roboto" from the free Google Fonts service:

@import 'https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto:300,400,500';

body {
  font-family: "Roboto", "Helvetica", "Arial", sans-serif;
}

After enhancing your identity through text, how about adding a thousand words...

Spongebob rainbow meme saying 'Images'

Graphics and icons can be used either as ornaments to support your content, or actively take part in the message you want to convey.

Let's enhance our header with a nice background image from Unsplash

header {
  background-color: #263d36;
  background-image: url("header.jpg");
  background-position: center top;
  background-repeat: no-repeat;
  background-size: cover;
  line-height: 1.2;
  padding: 10vw 2em;
  text-align: center;
}

Let's also add a logo

header img {
  display: inline-block;
  height: 120px;
  vertical-align: top;
  width: 120px;
}

Let's take that opportunity to enhance the text styles.

header h1 {
  color: white;
  font-size: 2.5em;
  font-weight: 300;
}

header a {
  border: 1px solid #e81c4f;
  border-radius: 290486px;
  color: white;
  font-size: 0.6em;
  letter-spacing: 0.2em;
  padding: 1em 2em;
  text-transform: uppercase;
  text-decoration: none;
  transition: none 200ms ease-out;
  transition-property: color, background;
}

header a:hover {
  background:  #e81c4f;
  color: white;
}

And voilà!

We've designed a decent page in just a few minutes, following basic principles of web design. There's only one last thing left to do...

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