With Web Design, Less is Often More

Image courtesy of picjumbo.com

Image courtesy of picjumbo.com

People love bells and whistles. It’s why so many of us wind up with more expensive mortgages, car payments and cell phone bills than we initially intended. Sizzle sells. But in this age of intense interactivity and relentless hyperactivity, one design truth remains: Simple is beautiful, especially when it comes to web design.

The fight for simplicity is one many designers find themselves waging with employers and clients who want “more.” More pictures. More colors. More effects. More flash. More… stuff.

When designing a website, “more stuff” is typically unnecessary stuff that threatens to make your site look busy and disorganized. “More stuff” quickly becomes clutter that muddles your message, complicates navigation and detracts from where you really want the focus of your visitors. “More stuff” is rarely, if ever, better stuff.

But what exactly is “more stuff”? How do you identify the essential and nonessential elements on your site? Every website is different, with unique purposes, circumstances, limitations and target audiences, so there is no one-size-fits-all rulebook to follow when making these types of design decisions. However, it’s advisable to keep this rule of thumb in mind throughout the process: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

When we recently worked through the redesign of Proforma.com, it was tempting to throw in all of the HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript tricks we could think of to make the site as fun and interactive as possible, but we ultimately boiled most of those components down to our core design principles and objectives in pursuit of a simpler layout that effectively balanced form and function. The result is a clean, modern design with a clearly defined message, a site that’s easy to navigate while still featuring a few of those bells and whistles we all love.

When you’re debating the merits of a particular element in your design, ask yourself if it enhances the user experience or distracts visitors from your website’s primary purpose. As an example, I love parallax scrolling and the use of full-width images, but too often I see sites that splash massive photos all the way down the page rather than strategically using them to complement the content and design. This also routinely happens with hover animations, scrolling effects and other HTML5 techniques that look cool in a vacuum but detract from a site’s focus when they’re implemented wherever and whenever possible.

Striking that form vs. function balance can be challenging. Outside opinions are critical when designing (or redesigning) a website to help compensate for whatever blind spots you may have developed throughout the process, and I also try to put myself behind the monitor of one of my hypothetical site visitors to see how I would respond to the website as an outside user. While that can be easier said than done, it’s a great exercise that has often reminded me of the wisdom in these words:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

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