Design Layout

Last month I addressed one of the main questions I am asked by prospective clients, namely 'Why do professionally designed web sites all look similar?'

In the previous article I approached the psychology of color in a page design, now comes an equally important element. Page layout..

In the web design business, if a site is to be sucessful, it must appeal to the site's visitor, and keep them around long enough to buy a product, or make contact.

On screen, there are no apparent limits to page layout, so why would page elements in professional sites all seem the same? One phrase I have heard used is 'cookie-cutter looking'.

As with the use of color to make a point, layout is just as important for very basic psychological reasons; humans have thousands of years of visual experience, and so have come to expect things to be in certain places within their field of view.

This history has also dictated that, with any visual medium, people expect to see things with a certain flow, naturally left to right and top to bottom.

This has to be carefully planned for.

When the design is created, the flow is of utmost importance, as it will lead the viewers eye toward the information they need to see, without making them over-analyze or search through the page. This is where creativity has to be mixed with conformity, if the end result is to grab the viewers attention successfully.

The major layout rule is to keep things easily scannable. Rather than having 20 paragraphs on a page, merge that down to 2 paragraphs, written concisely, giving the main elements pertaining to that pages subject.

White space is good! Some sites feel the need to cram every available screen millimeter with text, color and images. Most web users are in a hurry, trying to find the information that fills their needs. This in mind, things need to be spaced out, so that the content can be scanned over quickly.

Sites using colored backgrounds with colored text are far less scannable by the human eye than those using black text on a white background, or white text on a black background.

Scannability is essential if visitors come from search engines. If they cannot find the content relating to their search query within a few seconds, they will move on to the next result.

Positioning of elements is equally important, as people expect to see certain things in certain places. One very big problem, mostly with smaller sites, is where the designer tries to show more 'artistic' flair, to be different and make the site stand out.

For example, navigation on the right side, under the word 'NAV', which when clicked, dramatically springs forth a menu, only works if all the viewers have an artistic mentality like the designer. This is useless if the site is for something mainstream, like a financial advisor.

Finally, to our old friends the search engines.

Search engines that use 'robots' to scan sites expect certain things in certain places. If something is not where is it expected to be, or is in the wrong format, the robot will simply not see it.

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