So your website has got it all. It’s flashy, findable, and you even have great pay-per-click ads bringing in a ton of traffic. However, if your visitors are having trouble navigating your site and can’t find what they’re looking for, you could be throwing huge opportunities out the window.
Although simple elements and usability principles may seem like common sense, they’re often overlooked during the initial stages of web design. It only takes one missing link or a misguided message to drive users away—or even worse, drive them to seek out your competitors’ sites. The following layout and design principles play a key role in the overall usability of your site. For optimal user experience, keep these guidelines in mind as you create the content that’s featured on your website.
Research has shown users can make a judgment upon a website within the first four seconds of the loading page, which means it’s crucial to satisfy the users’ needs quickly. If information is not presented in a clear and concise manner on your site’s homepage, users will abandon it immediately. Although the 4 Second Rule applies to every page of a website, it is especially important to consider on the homepage, as this is the most common entry point for users.
Chunking information into smaller sections helps facilitate scanning of the page. By breaking down information into meaningful groups, users can easily skim the content without having to read each individual paragraph.
One way humans group objects together is by color. When designing for the web, grouping like items together by color is a subtle but effective visual cue for users. For example, using different background colors can help distinguish various parts of the page. In addition to creating visual unity, color also:
- Helps define tone and mood
- Adds personality to your site
- Creates emotional impact
As a general rule, try to limit each page to three or four main colors. Adding too many colors can be hard on the user’s eye.
Another attribute to how humans perceive and group information together is by proximity. Objects that lie close to one another are usually grouped together in the same category. This is something to consider when listing items on a page or laying out graphics. For example, images that are placed near text are automatically grouped together, so it is important they’re relevant to one another. In contrast, when proximity grouping is not taken into consideration, the user often receives confusing, mixed messages.
Negative space, also referred to as white space, is the space created around an object. Every object has a positive space (the object itself) and a negative space (the space around the object). The effective use of negative space can help group objects on a web page.
It’s important to keep active white space in your content as much as possible, so that human visitors see more than large blocks of plain text when navigating through your site. Here are a few creative ways you can generate active white space for your viewers:
- Use bullet points as much as possible
- Avoid the “Great Wall of Text”
- Use lists to tell users about several items, instead of just explaining each one
- Add images and illustrations to your site
- Include clear and distinct headings to help users easily scan the text on a page and grab the most important information
- Use specialized font such as italics, bold and underlining
- Create comparison charts and decision tables that help users visually digest and comprehend key points
Make sure your font size is large enough to read easily. The most readable font size for the web is 12px. This should be the minimum for all text on your site.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t center text on your web pages. Human readers prefer clean, obvious alignment that isn’t hard on the eyes. It should be clear to users where different types of text start.
These layout and design principles will play a key role in the overall usability of your site. By enabling your users to find the information they seek, they’ll be more inclined to stay awhile and maybe even take action or make a purchase—rather than getting frustrated and clicking over to your competitor’s site.