When designing a website, striking a balance between beauty and content can be difficult. As a result, many of the world’s websites currently suffer from Content Overload Disorder. On the one hand, you have SO MUCH TO SAY, but on the other hand, you want your website to be visually pleasing. Turns out, tipping the scales in favor of the latter is most likely to please your viewers.
A new study from the University of Missouri School of Journalism claims that simplicity and photographs are what please our brains most and what, ultimately, increase user engagement. The study focused specifically on online news publications, but has direct implications for all forms of web design.
Being our firm’s copywriter, I tend to be longwinded. Well, it turns out that my loquacity has been working against us. Photos and simplistic design are more likely to hold a user’s attention and drive interaction, not beautifully crafted pros. Our brains are only capable of efficiently processing so much information per second. Overloading the viewer with too much text, color, or design makes it difficult for a brain to process and categorize the information it is receiving. Some web designers realized this before the MU study was published and have been incorporating minimalist design into their portfolios for some time. However, quickly browsing the web will give you enough empirical evidence to conclude that many companies – even extremely popular Fortune 500 companies – have not grasped the concept of “less is more”. Take a look at Amazon’s website.
Amazon’s entire sales cycle takes place online. Their web presence is literally the single most important facet of their business and, to me, it always looks like a jumbled mess when I sign on. Granted, I’m willing to put up with the busyness because the convenience of free 2-day shipping is too wonderful to pass up, but I’m always struck with how frenetic everything looks.
On the flip-side, take a look at Apple’s website.
Apple might be the best example of minimalist design and they’ve been doing it well for a while now. The above screenshot is of their current homepage and it very effectively calls attention to exactly what they want users to notice right now, the iPad mini. You may not be a big Apple fan, but you can’t really argue design with them. It helped build them into the world’s most valuable company in 2012.
Now, what you can argue is that very few companies can afford to be as simplistic in their web design as Apple. Apple has the luxury of owning a household brand name and the knowledge that very few people visiting their website are unaware of what the company does. Many of us are forced to grab someone’s attention and then keep it while explaining or product or service. This can be challenging in a world where the current attention span stands at a paltry 8 seconds. But even so, the MU study and your own experiences as a consumer should tell you that effective messaging is often elegant and simple.
Many large companies are catching on. It seems that Facebook is taking a page out the minimalist’s playbook with the launch of their redesigned Newsfeed. For those of you who haven’t seen the new look, you can take a peek here. What you notice immediately is the use of negative space and the emphasis placed on photos. Facebook realized that most interactions take place around photos and videos and are, therefore, highlighting visual content to drive more engagement. Even their logo has been replaced by the simple “f” icon that often represents them on third party websites. Everything is streamlined.
This shows that even companies with lots of information to share are realizing that less is more when it comes to web design. And if major companies with lots to lose are making the change, shouldn’t small companies with lots to gain make the switch as well?
So ask yourself, “Is my website too cluttered?” When you visit your page, are your eyes drawn to the content you want your viewers to see first? Is there a sufficient use of pictures and negative space? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then a website makeover might be in order. Can you get by with only a few lines of text on your homepage? Experiment with distilling your message down to its most essential points. This exercise may prove fruitful in other areas of your business as well. Streamlining your pitch could mean the difference between piquing someone’s interest or being tuned out.
What are your thoughts on simple web design? Inherently better or just a fad? Let me know in the comments section!