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Usability and Aesthetics: A Balanced Web Design Diet
Last updated Oct 17, 2003.
In recent years, the world of Web design has become so focused on ensuring a Web site is usable that it has neglected the site's look and feel. Aesthetics is an important part of a Web site because it contributes to the site's branding. In other words, you recognize it without seeing the site's name. Look at the following examples and guess what they are—I've hidden names that give things away. No peaking at the answers! Answers are at the end of the article.
Try an experiment and look at various Web sites. Ignoring the logo, can you tell how the site is different and what is its branding? In looking for sites for this article, I realized there is little difference as many use tabs and boxes. The biggest differences came in through the name or logo and colors.
No matter how fast users are connected to the Internet, a site still needs to quickly appear as we've become more impatient and overwhelmed with resources.
The best kind of diet is one that's balanced with items from the various food groups. The Food Guide Pyramid states limiting fats and oils, get plenty of carbs from the bread, pasta, and cereal group with equal amounts of dairy and protein (meats, eggs, and nuts) plus a good dose of fruits and veggies.
I'm sure some of you argue against the pyramid and don't believe carbs should be the biggest group. The health experts continue to modify the food guide, but the basics are still there, just in different amounts. Many people have lost weight by cutting our carbs, but also many have regained it when they got sick of the no carb diet because it was boring and didn't teach them how to eat or balance their diet.
Somehow, designers have to find a balance between design and usability while ensuring pages load fast, are accessible, and meet Web standards. It's like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. For some, they can do it right away, for others it takes time get in sync or they can't do it at all.
The final word is that usability must come first. Why? Because if users can't figure out how to use a site, they leave. They're not going to stick around because the branding/design is well done.