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Does Our Website Look Fat in this Dress?

The award for Most Egregious Disregard of Natural Reading Sequence goes to...that’s right, the World Wide Web. Arguably the most promising medium of our time, the web took off like a rocket, but failed to escape the dense atmosphere of it sown hype. That’s because the web, while a technical achievement, has been a usability nightmare. It began as the brainchild of a colony of feature-loving geeks, who fed it capability after capability until it became a hydra-head of non-information.

Most of today’s home pages ignore the basic rules of visual aesthetics, including contrast, legibility, pacing, and reading sequence. Uncultivated websites shove a tangle of unruly data in your face, then expect YOU to sort it out: a typical home page tries to squeeze an average of 25 pieces of information, some of it animated, into an area the size of a handkerchief. The closest relative of today’s web page is a newspaper page, yet most home pages make newspaper pages seem easy to navigate. The concept of a natural reading sequence has yet to reach the bastion of bad taste we fondly call the web.

Okay, let’s be fair. The designers of newspapers, books, movies, and television have had more time to refine their aesthetic “best practices.” Television shows were pretty hokey until the networks became big business and competition forced the issue. But what exactly are the invisible chains keeping web design from achieving its full potential? It boils down to three: technophobia, turfismo, and featuritis.

TECHNOPHOBIA, the fear of new technology, keeps a lot of skilled designers out of web design. They’re mostly afraid the technical demands of the medium will engulf their projects, leaving little time to work on the aesthetics. The result is that most web design, thus deprived of disciplined designers, still falls below the aesthetic level considered standard for catalogs, annual reports, and books.

TURFISMO, the second problem, is the behind-the-screen politicking that transforms the home page into a patchwork of tiny fiefdoms. You can see exactly which departments have the power and which don’t, as turfy managers fight for space on the company marquee. Simplify the home page? Sure, but not at my expense!

Finally, FEATURITIS, an infectious desire for MORE, afflicts everyone from the CEO to the programmer. The tendency to add features, articles, graphics, animations, links, buttons, bells, and whistles comes naturally to most people. The ability to subtract features is the rare gift of the true communicator. An oft-heard excuse for cluttered pages is that most people hate clicking, and prefer to see all their choices on one page. The truth is, most people LIKE clicking—they just hate waiting.

Eternal waiting, along with confusion and clutter, are the real enemies of communication. Put your website on a diet. You’ll find that subtraction, not addition, is the formula for clear communication.

All brand innovation, whether for a website, a package, a product, an event, or an ad campaign, should be aimed at creating a positive experience for the user. The trick is in knowing which experience will be the MOST positive—even before you commit to it.

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