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Is your website’s styling working against you?

Survey after survey (as well as common sense) tells us that what users want from a website is to be able to find out the information that they’re after as easily and quickly as possible. In a web design discussion with a designer recently, being quite aware of this, we decided to sketch out how things could work, and then create a prototype using text only, without any styling. During the process we were both struck by the fact that to create something simple and easy to understand, we’d instinctively dropped all the layout, fonts, colours and icons. We had a black-and-white page full of text in Times New Roman, and could see exactly what was happening. There were no hidden menus, just headlines, body copy and lists of links, like an old hypertext document from 20 years ago.

But looking at that approach from the other end of the telescope, what we were saying was that normal layout, fonts, colours and icons would just be getting in the way of usability. That shouldn’t be right – they should aid usability. However, it’s where we find ourselves.

To illustrate how so many sites go wrong, here’s an exercise that I find lots of fun. Visit some random websites and allow yourself two seconds to look at each. Then avert your gaze. How much did you take in? What was the site for? Where is the business or organisation located? What is the web page trying to do?

Try the same for your own website. What’s the first thing you look at? Is that the most important thing on the page? If it isn’t, could it be that your styling and layout is working against you?