Dramatically Oversimplified Website Graphic Design Trends (And Why Nonprofits Should Care)

In the beginning, nonprofits were excited to have a web page. And it was really was just one page, or a couple.

Around about 2001, nonprofits began shifting to what I’ll call a “Text is King” model. The cutting edge was to have great content that actually changed on your website. But by today’s standards, these sites look text heavy and somewhat cluttered.

Around 2004, organizations began shifting to what I’ll call the “Feature Image and Sidebar” model—there’s a lead photograph or slideshow, front and center, with a right sidebar and then a set of articles beneath.

This trend lasted a really long time—about a decade. In web years, that’s an eternity. The sites above are both from 2005, but if you’d seen either one a year or two ago, you probably wouldn’t have thought they were horribly dated. In fact, a lot of nonprofits have sites in this style right now (Idealware included), and if you’re just a casual user of the internet, you probably don’t care.

But there’s an important change happening. With the emergence of mobile phones as a critically important way for people to view your website, a quite different “mobile first” graphic design is becoming the norm. Designers are creating sites that can adapt to different screen sizes and that don’t require zooming to read the text.

To accomplish this, they’re stripping down text even further, using bold images, adding white space, and creating blocks for content. Visually, this is quite different from what was common just a few years ago.

What does this mean for nonprofits? Well, for quite a while, if you had updated your site within the last 4 or 5 years, you could assume that another update wasn’t urgent. Today, if you haven’t thought through what this “mobile first” graphic design means, you probably should. Very soon—maybe in just another year or so—websites in the “Feature Image and Sidebar” model may look out of date to even a casual user.

But branding is only part of what matters. Your site’s design also has very real consequences when it comes to search optimization. In mobile searches, Google now prioritizes websites that are mobile optimized. Why is that important? Last year Google reported more searches take place on mobile devices than on computers. Your 2005 site may be getting buried in the search results and mobile users might not even know you exist.

And what if you’re still on the “Text is King” model? Well, good news and bad news. The bad news is that you really need to invest in a new website ASAP. The good news is that you can leap over the whole sidebar thing and go straight to a “Mobile First” site.

Learn More

We have a couple of webinars coming up that can help you build a better website.

One important consideration is your website’s accessibility. Can people with disabilities access all of your information and resources? If the answer is “no” or “not sure,” then check out our free webinar on April 14—Website Accessibility: Building an Online Space for Everyone.

And if mobile search is a concern, register for our course How to Drive More Visitors to Your Website. It goes beyond SEO to also show you strategies and tactics for promoting your site and using analytics to test and make adjustments. The first session is on April 21.


Have technology questions or want to learn more about how Tech Impact can help your nonprofit?