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 apalled 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?