Don't Sacrifice Usability for Beauty in your Website Design
The widely accepted rule of 'form follows function' has a minor adjustment when it comes to web design where 'function' is the usability of a website design – that is, the ease of use and comfortable navigation applied to a site in order to achieve the user's goals. Don't forget who the user is: your audience, the visitors to the site, not you.
The problem with so many website designs these days is the fact that they ignore ease-of-use for looks. Sure, it's a tough balance, but it's still not impossible and it's definitely a goal to strive toward. What doesn't work are these web design problems:
Loading issues – which prompt this response from your site visitors: “Is this site ever going to load, why am I waiting for this?”
Visual clutter – which prompts this response from your site visitors: “Where do I look, what am I supposed to click, how do I get out of here?”
Navigation issues – which prompt this response from your site visitors: “What am I looking at, where do I click, what are all these floating images?”
Navigation issues are common with highly artistic and beautiful website designs, and that's fine if you are trying to play a game with your users, but if they can never guess what to click to access other objects on your site – the content, information, contact info, etc. – they'll tire quickly and wander away.
It's crucial that web design teams understand bounce rates are rising as rapidly as time-on-sites decrease around the globe. The human brain is amazingly adaptable and as our bandwidth gets faster, our attention spans get shorter. It's increasingly important to grab people's attention – immediately if you are to keep them even a few seconds. Skip intro buttons are a must with websites using fancy flash introductions because the worst thing you can do is 'force' an introduction on your audience. Any long intro missing a skip button is likely to be abandoned before users even get into the site.
Forcing your users to look at blurred photographs as a 'hint' of what's to come is beyond annoying. A better idea is to use loading bars on the image to indicate it's loading. If they're on a broadband connection, they may wait a bit, but if not they'll just leave the site and find something that's faster.
With the rise in tools and the ability for everyone to create highly attractive images, it's hard to resist the temptation to show the world everything you've got. Resist. When your site is cluttered with all kinds of visuals – no matter how beautiful – your visitor gets lost. When your site's navigation is hidden in the chaotic visual clutter on the page – making it hard for users to know what to click – that's a problem. Forcing your user to guess through erratic, incomplete, or confusing navigation when they do find it is even worse.
Many highly artistic designers are very successful at creating beautiful designs and website development that lack function. It's a tricky balance, but one that can and must be done if you are to reduce the bounce rate and increase the time visitors spend with your website.