Do the following five essential things to help people use your web pages more productively and efficiently:
• “Create a clear visual hierarchy” – Design every web page to “clearly and accurately portray the relationships among the things on the page.” Draw attention to important aspects with visual cues, like bold, larger fonts. Link things visually as they are linked conceptually. “Nest” items to show clearly which ones are parts of others.
• “Take advantage of conventions” – Many designers don’t want to use conventions. They think their job is to create “something new and different,” and they’re afraid that something familiar – like a shopping cart icon – will be boring. But conventions endure because they work. People know how to use them. They’re accustomed to following conventional cues to cull meaning from written texts. Innovate only if you have an idea that works better than a convention. Otherwise, use recognizable icons – like an image of a shopping cart – even if you didn’t come up with the idea yourself.
• “Break up pages into clearly defined areas” – Make distinctions between different areas absolutely clear. Enable quick navigational decisions.
• “Make it obvious what’s clickable” – People click to get to the next thing. Make that click as easy as possible. For clickable links, always choose different colors than the colors you use for regular text. Make sure indicator arrows point precisely to where people should click.
• “Minimize noise” – The web is busy. You can’t get rid of all the distractions – but avoid any distractions you can. Don’t make your pages busy. Remove exclamation points, extra links and extraneous colors. Subtract anything that draws users away from your focus.
You might have read a web design rule defining a maximum number of clicks people will make. You might think users should reach any page on your site within a set number of clicks. The true limiting factor is not number of clicks, but “how hard each click is.” Every time you make people think about their choices, it costs you as much as “three mindless, unambiguous clicks.” To simplify users’ choices, focus their attention, eliminate noise and make pages shorter. Clarify the relationships among every element on a page and jettison as much content as possible.
You’ll find excess mainly in two places: “happy talk” and instructions. Happy talk can be badly written promotional copy or chitchat. Anything that makes you think “blah, blah,” is happy talk. As for your precious instructions, most people aren’t going to read them.
Home Page Challenges
Your home page is the most challenging page on your site. It has to tell new users what your site is, identify it, communicate its mission, indicate your “site hierarchy” and display a search function. You need to lure readers deeper into your site and indicate that you update your site regularly. If you’re offering deals, users should see them up front. If you require registration, tell users from the beginning. Show them what they want to establish your “credibility and trust.”
You must fulfill these requirements while juggling website demands from every department in your company, allocating areas of the site for different departments and appealing to varied aesthetic tastes. As you juggle, the home page must give an immediate sense of what your site is about and get “the big picture” across.
Communicate this using two primary tools. One is “the tagline,” a brief phrase located near your site ID. Your tagline should be obvious and should differentiate your site. Make it “personable, lively” and “clever.” The other tool is your “welcome blurb,” which briefly describes your site.
Display it prominently so users don’t have to scroll to find it. As you communicate these core ideas, “use as much space as necessary” but not more than you need. Don’t use your mission statement as your welcome blurb, since “nobody reads” mission statements. Once you have communicated your core points, provide easy-to-use, reliable navigational tools to guide visitors to the rest of your site.