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A plea for more simplicity in web design

A client asked me to give a quick third-party verdict on a website design the other day, which I was happy to do. At first glance the home page looked fine (and first glances are important). There seemed to be quite a lot on it, presented in different ways to break things up, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Once I looked closely, however, I saw that the different elements of the page were all giving the same options. There was a navigation bar at the top, listing different product categories. Then there was a graphic ‘splash’ panel beneath, saying “here’s what we make!” and listing the same product categories. Then there was some introductory text, mentioning those product categories and linking to them. And finally there was a ‘gallery’ of panels covering – you guessed it – the product categories again.

That might be an extreme example of redundancy, but it shows what can happen if web pages aren’t designed to take viewers on a journey. Every page should have the same format: read this, then do this, or if you don’t want to, do this instead. That is all. In an ideal world, site navigation would be across the bottom of the page, not the top – why give people an alternative before they’ve even begun? But as we’re stuck with that as a convention, it should at least be downplayed, graphically. People know it’s there.

The main content should be clear and the obvious focus of the page, leading to an action. On a navigational page (like a category listing), the actions may be the main content, of course. Whatever the case, I’d err on the side of brevity now. Long pages may still have a place for authoritative articles, but it’s not 1998 any more, and loading new pages is fast enough not to deter people from clicking. They’d rather do that than scroll endlessly, especially on mobile devices. For getting people to the point where they can perform the action you want them to perform, don’t give them nine options: give them three options, each leading to three more (and a ‘back up’ link). The keys to a successful page design are simplicity and getting as much as you can (everything, if possible) into the initial page view.