Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Keep your homepages clean

I feel vindicated by a recently released study by the University of Missouri-Columbia that confirms that presenting too much visual information overwhelms people. While there is a constant urge with homepages to add this and that and then more of this and a few more thats, the result is not that you’re saying more, but that you’re actually saying less as people just can’t take it in.

The human eye can only see & differentiate so much and the brain can only absorb and process so much.

The university study by Kevin Wise & Kimberlee Pepple used photographs. But Wise notes there are larger applications to the findings:
Look at any major news portal, and you may find as many as 50 hyperlinked stories on its front page. The prevalence of this extensive choice online suggests an assumption that people desire extensive options. In our study, however, we found that having more choices is not necessarily better. In fact, it can limit a person's ability to focus on the content

In a recent website redesign, I had to fight to keep the new homepage as clean as possible.

A clean homepage is one that:
  • uses whitespace effectively
  • clearly delineates content spaces
  • only has a few photos or graphics and ones that don't compete for attention
  • does not move (yes someone wanted automatic, looping, animation on our homepage)
  • uses colour sparingly and harmoniously to distinguish & promote areas
  • has concise (but meaningful) text
  • offers design variety in content types (eg. text, photos, spacers) and content shape, size, colour (after all spartan homepages aren't clean, they're boring)
  • overall just not too much!
A website's homepage is the Boardwalk and Park Place combined of a website's real estate (probably also all other real estate right up to Marvin Gardens too). So there will always be increasing & often competing demands on the very finite space (a further limitation - homepages should generally not run below the fold either).

It's crucial to make the hard decisions on what to exclude, but it is not only better for the users to have a clear focus that a clean homepage gives, but it will be more effective for the goals (bottom line or otherwise) of the website as well.

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