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The Science Behind Great Web Design – Part II


Click, click, click. You enter an address and wait for the web site to load. As the images and text appear, your eyes dart back and forth. And you make your initial decision to stay on the site or not. As Drew shared in last week’s blog, that decision making time takes less than a second.

Your site may be full of useful information. In fact, it may be just the information the user is seeking, but a great number of people may never know this based simply on their impression of the design of the web site.

In a study on visual appeal vs usability[1], results showed that users gave high usability and interest ratings to sites with high appeal and the opposite to sites with low appeal.

So, let’s look at some strategies for making sure your site excels in visual appeal.

Watch those shifty eyes

In a study on eye tracking[2], an infra-red camera was used to track the eye movement of participants viewing screenshots of a series of websites on a similar topic. This study showed students spent nearly equal amounts of time viewing the logo, main navigation, and search box, followed closely by social networking links and the main image. All of these items were ahead of the site’s written content.

So, your site’s navigation should be easy to find and familiar to use. Images should be selected both for content and quality. A stunning photo that fails to communicate your product, service, or attitude is as bad as a photo that hits the messaging mark but is blurry or of poor resolution. And the inclusion of social networking links is increasingly becoming more relevant and important.

In this same study, participants recommended the main color and background color be pleasant and color contrast should make text easier to read.

To scroll or not to scroll?

Likely due to the high use of tablets and smart phones, users are shifting to preferring[3] to scroll for information on a site. But the area “above the fold” still needs to be eye catching and make the best first impression. What they see before they scroll, very much like what a person reading a newspaper needs to see at the top of the front page, is important.

The KISS factor

While some have a tendency to include every trick in the book, the best designs are clean and simple. And users respond favorably[4] to that. This study asserts that users strongly prefer website designs that look both simple and familiar. The study goes on to say that users found sites that were too complex to be less beautiful and sites that were too unfamiliar to be ugly. So, when working with your designer, keep it simple and straightforward.

Here are some websites that feature clear navigation, strong visual elements, and simple straightforward design.



  1. Visual Appeal vs. Usability: Which One Influences User Perceptions of a Website More? – Software Usability Research Laboratory – Usability News – October 2009, Vol. 11 Issue 2 – Christine Phillips & Barbara S. Chaparro
  2. Eye-tracking studies: first impressions form quickly on the web – Missouri University of Science and Technology – News & Events – February 14, 2012
  3. The Impact of Paging vs. Scrolling on Reading Online Text Passages – Software Usability Research Laboratory – Usability News – February 2003, Vol. 5 Issue 1 – J. Ryan Baker
  4. Users love simple and familiar designs – Why websites need to make a great first impression – Google Research Blog – August 29, 2012 – Javier Bargas-Avila

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