We’ve all seen Web sites with flashing graphics, waving backgrounds and music. We’ve seen pictures fly across the browser window, and navigation menus that feel like a poor version of the old “Whack-A-Mole” game.
Today’s Web user is on your Web site for one main reason: content. They are looking for answers to their questions! Are they interested in all of the flashy design features? To most users (including me), this is just extra eye-candy that can sometimes get in the way of the ultimate goal: seeking information.
Now, this isn’t to say that some nice navigation menus and a few touches here and there aren’t valuable. They certainly are, and they might just enhance your Web site . That being said, let’s take a look at some areas where users are desperate for simplicity:
- Navigation: Users need to find information on your Web site. They likely aren’t in the mood for a scavenger hunt, so they will look for a well-designed navigation menu or a search box. Keep navigation menus simple yet effective. Menus that branch off and go three, four or five levels deep is just painful to the average Web user. Breadcrumbs are a must.
- Layout: Columns seem to be the most widely used, and most accepted, layout. Let’s face it: columns are a natural way to read content. Newspapers and magazines are primarily laid out in the same manner, so sites using columns fit natural user behavior. Try not to scatter content around the layout – keep it centralized and make it the focus.
- Animation: Using the right amount of animation can enhance the overall look and feel of the site. Certain Flash elements can make the Web site feel warm and welcoming, but some animation choices may turn a user away from the page completely. Too much animation can be a distraction to the user as they read through content or search through the site. Use animated features when there is a particular goal and reason for the animation.
- Intuitive Controls: Users seek ways to interact with your site and content. This could include increasing the font sizes, printing the content, or even sharing the content with a friend. Making these tools readily available and easy to use are integral to having a happy Web user – and they can even create more interest in what your site offers.
Designing for today’s Web user is not particularly hard. They aren’t looking for major multimedia displays or special effects. These may enhance the effect you want to project, but at what cost to the user with a goal in mind?
If there is one site that has proven simple works, it’s Google.com. Google probably won’t win any design awards, unless it’s for usability and simplicity with a focus on content. In general, their user experience is focused and only complex when it needs to be. To be sure, Google uses some tricks to make their user experience smooth, slick and enjoyable, but these tricks are never obtrusive or in the way.
The next time you sit down with a designer to begin a new Web project, consider the level of interactivity and effects the site should reasonably invoke. Remember that content is king on the web. Give your users what they are asking for: a simple, elegant experience. And remember, simple doesn’t have to be dull!