Pretty alone offers little value and does not make for great web design, especially when applied to healthcare related websites, which should be a source of valuable information. At first glance, a beautiful website may appear to be useful, but the jig is up when the user realizes the content is missing.
The sole purpose of your website isn't to win a design contest, it's to communicate effectively with your patients. If your website doesn't have a clear, easily understood message, then its purpose is lost. This is not a time to consult everyone in your practice or even yourself about personal design preferences. Remember, you are not the audience, so appeal to those who are. You can do this by following this simple advice.
First and foremost, make sure your brand is incorporated into the design or redesign of your site. It is disconcerting to say the least to have one look for your site and another for your corporate ID and collateral. Branding should remain consistent through all modes of communication to avoid sending more than one message. If your internal/external communication efforts don't match up with your website, you are confusing your patients and your staff.
Choose a layout that guides the reader's eyes through the important information. Visuals, headlines, and text must work together to create an overall flow throughout the entire page. Patients are searching for information about your practice, its physicians, and what kinds of services are provided. Make it easy for them to sift through this information.
Don't use graphics that require a speedy Internet connection or appear tacky and contrived on the screen. Keep it simple. This may be the information age, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is plugged in at the same speed.
Don't depend on visuals or text alone to deliver the message. Support the entire message with a balance of appropriate visuals, headlines, and text. Working together, these separate elements can amplify the message so that they are seen and remembered. If one element dominates the others, the design is off balance.
Don't use images in which professional models are posing as doctors or patients. Patients want to see everyday individuals like themselves in real situations. Don't try to pull the wool over patient's eyes with a glamorized fašade. It may influence their opinions about your credibility.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should tone down the design of your website so much that it's practically a blank screen. Underwhelming your audience is equally as bad as overwhelming them. Take a minimalist approach to design, using visuals, headlines and text to accent the message.