Designing or redesigning a website can be a daunting task, and coming up with new and creative ideas can be a challenge (especially if you only look at other academic websites). Your new website will need a colour scheme, layout, design elements and typography that match the purpose and content of your website. We can help you find inspiration for your website so that you can give your web designer a clear brief.

Don’t rely on academia for inspiration

We love scientists, but let’s face it, they’re not the best designers. So stop looking at the websites of other consortia for inspiration on how to design your website. These are often cheap templates filled in by someone’s computer-savvy nephew. We encourage you to think outside the box and look at commercial websites that have spent time and money getting branded.

Do NOT look at other research websites for inspiration, they are usually not well designed.

Choose a style for your website

The style of your website is based on the typography, colours, design elements and layouts you choose. Do you want a light website with bright colours? A dark website with only black and white? A site with illustrations or photography? There are many choices to make.

To build a good website, we need some design direction. If you have preferences, please let your designer know so they can make sure the site meets your needs. This can spark some creative thoughts and get the process started.

Types of website design styles

We have created websites for our clients that incorporate shapes, patterns, images, photographs and illustrations. Below is an overview of the different styles you might consider for your website. We have also created similar lists for infographics and logo design.

It is important to recognise that many design decisions are made for practical reasons. If you have high quality photography, such as the MCCA website (see below), then it’s a good idea to use it. However, if your work revolves around a difficult topic, such as radicalisation, you might choose to work with more abstract patterns instead. Abstract designs are also a good choice for topics that are impossible to visualise, such as medical ethics.

We need some design elements to create a recognisable website. Without them, your website will look like a cheap template website. The different shapes, colours and visuals will create a memorable look for your project.

A central image (or infographic)

A central image that sums up the key message of your site can be a great hero image for your homepage. For Sport Data Valley we used an animated infographic to show what they do.

You can create an (animated) infographic to showcase your research.

Pattern

For some complex or sensitive topics, it’s difficult to find relevant images, or images can create unwanted associations. In this case, using patterns can be a great way to style your website. We created a pattern-based website for DRIVE, a research project on radicalisation.

If you are doing research about a sensitive topic, you can use patterns rather than images for your design.

Collage

Combining shapes, images and illustrations in a collage can be a great way to style a website with many different topics. We created a collage-style website for the Evict project.

For the Evict research project we created custom collage-style images.

Photography

It’s not often that we work with researchers who have amazing photography, but when we do, we go all out! For the MCCA consortium, we built the design and colour scheme of their website around their amazing bright microscope images, choosing a dark design to make them pop.

For this website we use their own photography to base the design and logo on.

3D design

For subjects that don’t have great stock images or other graphics, we usually create a unique visuals from scratch. And we love to use our 3D design skills. For both the L-CID and NVMETC websites, we created digital landscapes that reflect their research.

For the Leiden-CID study, we created an animated 3D playground and style that we used consistently throughout the website/
For this organisation on medical ethics, we choose a more abstract design, since such a complex topic is hard to visualise.

Illustration

Hand-drawn illustrations can add colour to any website. For the SURREAL consortium, these flat illustrations define the main style of the website.

The style of the SURREAL website is based on their primary illustration.

Typography

Letters and good typography can also create a unique style. Oooohs and aaaaahs abound in this creative website we designed for Spraakmaker Media, a podcast studio in Amsterdam.

This website is unique because of the use of letters and typography.

Where can you get inspiration for your (website) design?

These examples from our portfolio may have given you an idea of what you want. But because we want to create unique websites, we also want you to look elsewhere. So we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite places to look for design inspiration.

Places to look for website design inspiration:

  • Dribble is a community of designers who share screenshots of their work, processes and projects. You can find examples of great illustrations, logos and web design. To dive deeper, experiment with search terms like “clean website”, “colourful website” or “nature-inspired website design”.
  • Behance is a platform for designers to showcase their work. Behance is also an excellent resource for finding inspiration beyond web design, such as branding, print design and more.
  • Pinterest is one of the largest visual discovery engines on the web. Pinterest is an excellent resource for finding inspiration for your website. You can also create your own collections on boards to save your favourite designs.
  • Awwwards is an online platform that recognises and rewards the best websites in the world. You can browse through their website gallery to find inspiration for your own website. Awwwards is an excellent resource for finding inspiration for the latest design trends and techniques.
  • ffffff.website, a collection of modern websites with lots of white space. It’s great to look beyond science for good design, as it’s not known for its great websites.
  • SiteInspire is a showcase of the best in web and interactive design. You can browse their curated galleries of sites by style, type and theme.
  • SEESAW is a collection of very modern website designs if you are ready to go beyond traditional web design.

These are just a few of the many places and websites where you can find design inspiration for your website. Remember, it’s important to use inspiration as a starting point and not to copy other designs directly. Use your own creativity to make your website unique and representative of your brand.

Inspiration beyond websites

You don’t have to stick to websites for design inspiration. You can also be inspired by art, a museum exhibition, an artist, the design of your favourite shampoo, graffiti and other street art.

I was once inspired by a PowerPoint presentation template, from which I created an entire Tutor website.

A presentation template used as inspiration for the website of the Leidse Tutor project
The final look of the website

Create a mood board

Designing a website can be challenging, especially if you don’t have any web design experience. However, you can help your designer by creating a moodboard where you collect images and visuals that you love. You can do this by creating a Pinterest board or simply by collecting images in PowerPoint. This way you can visually communicate your own preferences.

About the Author: Liesbeth Smit

Liesbeth combines her knowledge of science communication, technology and design to explain difficult topics to a wide audience. You can use her practical tips immediately in your (poster) presentations to create a bigger impact. She developed dozens of websites, infographics and animated videos, and regularly gives workshops about design at The Online Scientist.

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