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The ‘80/20’ Rule

Use the ‘80/20’ Rule to Make Your Web Design Better

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Back in about 1906, Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the not so equal distribution of wealth in his country; he figured out that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth.

I’m sure Pareto thought that sucked pretty bad, needless to say, he had no idea how good they had it back then!

OK, so what does this have to do with web design?

The 80/20 has since evolved into a proven principle that works in just about any field - web design in no different. A classic definition of the principle states: that a small number of the causes (20%) are responsible for most (80%) of the effect.

With respect to web design, we can say that 20% of the work will take up 80% of your time. So the trick is to identify that expensive 20% and do something about it!

What is that 20% of the work (in a typical web design project) that is taking 80% of your time?

It could be different for you, but from what I’ve seen, the big time waster is in the set up. When I’m talking about the set-up, I am talking about two things:

  • Figuring out what the client wants and dealing with them.
  • Creating the basic structure for the website.

How do you minimize the set-up cost?

  • Predefined web site structures – templates
  • Don’t design by tinkering
  • You’re the web designer, you’re going to tell the client how the website should be laid out, not the other way around!

Most of us are not designing art pieces with our websites. We are designing something useful that the clients needs; whether it is an e-commerce site, or a simple branding site, your number one goal is to get your clients message out there.

Now that the web design field has matured, we now know which website structures work and which ones don’t. Keeping this in mind, there is no need to go hog-wild with your designs – you know what works already!

I have a two basic structures/templates that I can use in 99% of websites – left aligned navigation (like you see on and centered web layout like I used for

I use the HTML and CSS in these two sites over and over. I just grab a copy of the HTML and CSS pages and swap up the images, text and change some colors and voila, I got myself a professional looking, and well structured website in a fraction of the time!

Designing by Tinkering

Web design by tinkering is when you sit down in front of your computer and you start building the website with no plan. You just start ‘tinkering’, trying different layouts, changing positions of images or your navigation etc … This is a recipe to disaster and pain, don’t do it!

You should know what your site is going to basically look like, and how it will be structured before you get near your computer! If you are trying some ‘experimental’ web design for fun, that’s ok. But when you are building a website for business purposes, you can’t be tinkering!

Dealing with the Client

If a client starts requesting changes (to the website) that would ultimately break my structure, I simply tell them no. Some of you are probably thinking, you can’t tell the customer that ... the customer is always right!

Well that doesn’t apply here, because the customer is not an expert in web design, otherwise they would not be hiring you.

... Could you imagine a patient telling a surgeon how they should conduct the operation? The same goes to web design, you have to let them (the client) know that you are creating a website structure that works and changing it is a bad idea.

Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t make all your sites look the same - they just should have the same structures. If you look at and you will see that they look different, yet they both use the same structure with some minor changes that took about 5 minutes to complete.

I think a more dramatic example can be found with and, again both use the same basic structure, with some tweaks to the CSS code.


I hope that now you can see that having a couple of web site templates will save you a ton of time and frustration. You can use your own, or use commercial website templates, both work.

You might also think about ways how you can apply the ‘80/20’ rule in other areas of web design and even other aspects of your life - it’s a great little principle!

If you liked the article and you want to see more let me know!

Stefan Mischook.

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