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The Only Two Things You Really Need To Know About Web Design



picture of a billboard advertising the lottery
Design like a billboard not a page

In his (great) book, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a chapter called “Billboard Design 101: Designing pages for scanning not reading.” The idea is that people  don’t read all the text at a website, they scan it. So you should think “billboard” when you are deciding what to put on the page, instead of “page that someone will actually read”.

What makes a terrible site? — I was thinking about this idea yesterday as I was looking at a terrible website. Website design has matured over the years, and it actually is rare to find designs that are as bad as this one. Someone asked me why I was so appalled by it (they honestly didn’t know), and I almost found myself at a loss for words. I eventually found my voice and started talking about fonts that are hard to read, too much text, no clear and persistent navigation, too many unique margins… But then I realized I was overwhelming the person I was talking to. He’s not a web designer, not a visual designer, not a programmer, and not a user experience professional.

The bigger picture — I decided I needed to go up a level and give him just one or two concepts that would encapsulate the “big picture”. I realized that it boiled down to these two things:

1) On every page, does the visitor know what he or she is supposed to do on that page? Is it clear why the page is there and what his or her next action should be?

2) On every page, has the website owner/business owner made it really clear how the visitor can take the one action that the owner really wants and hopes the visitor to take?

I think this might be a useful high level checklist. Can’t decide whether to include that photo? Does the photo help with #1 or #2 above? Can’t decide what needs to go above the fold? If it answers #1 or #2 above then put it above the fold. Can’t decide if you need more text explanation of a certain action? Will providing more text help with #1 or #2 above?

What do you think? Are these 2 questions the critical ones or do I simplify too much? What do you think are the one or two critical questions? Can we summarize at that high a level or is that not useful?


7 responses to “The Only Two Things You Really Need To Know About Web Design”

  1. sapir Avatar

    i agree with you that the photos in the website are very importent and the design is very valuble. people want the site clear and clean, colorful and airy (easy for the eyes). great article!

  2. Marco Avatar

    After clicking on a link, the next 8-12 seconds are crucial to form our first impression. And your two questions answer the first visitor’s questions: “Is it the right place?” and “What is my the next action?”. But I think that depending on the business, the trust factor could be important too. The question “Will the site owner/business owner keep her/his word?” should also be answered. So also a professional design is important expecially if the website sells expensive services/goods.

  3. Leon Avatar

    What is this ‘fold’? :-)

    I agree with the basic idea, but the thing is that, on a basic, physical level, web pages aren’t billboards.

    Also, it depends on the web page. You wouldn’t apply the same rules to a blog post, for example. The main aim is there is to make the text easy to read, not shove a call to action in front of everything else (see Political Scrapbook for an example of how annoying this approach can be).

  4. Jay Avatar

    I love this post. The beauty of it is that you are talking to people that want this top level communication too. Love it. I also totally agree with Marco’s comment about the trust issue. I think it goes beyond trust too and also is about expectation. I have a certain expectation of a “cheap printing” website as opposed to the expectation of printing company that has premium service – that kind of thing. Thoughts?

  5. Susan Weinschenk Avatar
    Susan Weinschenk

    Leon — the “fold” is the point on the screen below which you have to scroll.

    Jay — yes, trust and expectations are both critical, so maybe my 2 point idea is too restrictive…

  6. web design Avatar

    Nice post i agree with you. A web designer must be concentrate on the user’s need.A site that is easy-to-use always encourages visitors to stay and read your content.A web design that uses a lot of white space enhances a site’s look and readability.

  7. Yuri Avatar

    Hi there,I been to San Francisco UX Book Club couple of time and once at Silicon Valley Book Club, here are the books that I read for those mgeitnes:1) Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design (SV Book Club)2) Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski (SF Book Club)3) Thoughts on Interaction Design (SF Book Club)Take Care,@mmudassir

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