What the Greatest Roman Architect Can Teach You About Web Design

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Architecture - Web Architecture
I recently came across a quote by one of the greatest Roman architects, which made me consider how there are many similarities to be drawn between architecture and web design. Marcus Vitruvius Polio, born circa c. 80–70 BC, commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman author, architect and civil and military engineer during the 1st century BC. He was also author of the treatise, *'De architectura’ in which he said:

“Well building hath three conditions:
1. Firmness (it is sturdy),
2. Commodity (it is useful),
3. And delight (it is beautiful).”

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Consider these points alongside how aspects of modern web design are often described. We talk about:

  • website design
  • website construction
  • information architecture

Vitruvius sought to address the ethos of architecture, and declared that its quality was dependent on the social relevance of an artist's work, not on the form or workmanship of the work itself. In other words, a building might look pretty - but did it do the job it was intended to do?

What Vitruvius can teach us today
To me the three conditions of firmness, commodity and delight, succinctly sum up what can be identified in an outstanding website.

Here's how:

Condition 1. Firmness (Is it sturdy?)

A website needs to be well constructed from its foundation up. It needs to be planned, carefully sketched out and painstakingly wire-framed.

Web designers must consider how easy it will be for a website’s users to move from page to page, just as an architect would initially need to plan a person’s movement from room to room through a building on a drawing board.

Both web designers and architects need to think about the journey their users will take. Will the journey they create be a simple one? Will it be straightforward?

Also, will it differ if that person has never visited that website - or building - before? And how might that new visitors find their way around? - And how would that process compare to that of a returning visitor?

As more and more businesses take their companies online, it is increasingly essential that their websites are built using proven, 'sturdy' web standards and that HTML is used to reinforce the meaning of any information on a page. It’s vital that sites are placed on a foundation of sound, reliable hosting, and that they’re supported with robust backup and security. Providing this level of sturdy structure in which to place a businesses’ content ensures its security, stability - and its presence online.

As human beings, we instinctively appreciate a comfortable, well-proportioned space, whether it be physical or virtual.


Consider your own website. Is space cleverly used? How does it look from different viewpoints? And with these considerations in mind, think about what changes - if any - you might make to improve its ‘firmness’?

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Condition 2. Commodity (Is it useful?)

In the modern digital world your website must be useful, just as any physical building should be fit for purpose. But this doesn't necessarily always mean ‘useful’ from the point of view of you and your business. It’s far more important that your website should be useful to your audience, that’s to say those visitors who use and consume your content.

Think about it for a moment. Is your site useful in answering any questions your visitors may have? Does it show the primary benefits you offer to your readers? Is the content well written - and well presented in an easy-to-digest layout?

Does it truly have a useful purpose, does it offer something that no one else can do?

A valuable way to reflect on this is to ask yourself if visitors would think agree with these statements?

  • It's useful and I'm likely to return.
  • It's useful and I'll stay a while.
  • It's useful and I might buy from you.
  • It's useful and I trust you.
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Condition 3. Delight (Is it beautiful?)

To a pure web developer, whether or not a website is beautiful to behold may seem less important than its functionality, but to me it can in fact be the defining factor in what makes a website truly great. It’s also perhaps also the hardest element to achieve.

Creating a website that has that special ‘something’ with an intangible essence makes it so much more than just a website. And that comes from paying an amazing amount of attention to the smallest details. Working to build a bold statement of being that then becomes something ‘different’ - in what is an increasingly crowded online space.

A beautiful website is one that your audience enjoys visiting, and that your readers absorb as an experience to be savoured. A place where your copywriting feeds the soul, engages the emotions and is a pleasure to read. Where images are considered, beautifully shot and delight the eye.  And where your words and your images work together to enhance and reiterate your message. You can reflect on the contents of your own site by asking yourself:

  • Does it have wit and imagination?
  • Does it encourage readers to explore what you offer and discover the information they seek?
  • Does it delight - and make you proud that it represents you to the world?
  • Does it offer different and original perspectives that are unique yet familiar to your readers?

It's not always possible to deliver a project that can meet all three of the above conditions, but I believe it is an aim that is well worth aspiring to.

*Some Details from Wikipedia.

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The Takeaway

To stand out in today's busy online world your website needs to be firm, useful and delightful.

Google certainly measures time on site and user experience, so make sure yours is the very best it can be and you will engage visitors, create leads and generate revenue.

You need expert web design and development

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Useful Resources

Website architecture and Search Engine Success Factors: Additional information
Responsive Web Design: RWD The Next Web
What is UX Design. A definition

About Belinda White

Belinda White, Website Consultant, Digital Strategist and award winning Designer with over 25 years’ experience of developing and creating successful brand, print and digital campaigns for her clients. Belinda knows upcoming industry trends, best practices and a talent for interpreting her client’s businesses, both on and off-line. Past creative industry experience includes working on creative projects for BP, Shell, P&G, Marks & Spencer, Nike, WH Smiths, Master Foods, Co-op, Argos and Sage to name a few. Expert in Life Science Web Design and Digital Consulting. Crafting all aspects of print design, branding development, front-end web development, user experience design, search engine optimisation, email marketing campaigns and 10x content creation.