Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, has a provocative thesis. Contrary to commonsense, which warns against “snap judgments,” Gladwell argues that, often, our automatic, largely unconscious way of making decisions throughout the day is a fairly reliable way to navigate life in the modern world. “There can be as much value in the blink of eye,” writes Gladwell, “as in months of rational analysis.”
You better believe that visitors to your website are judging your brand’s competency within seconds. Actually, some studies suggest it takes as little as 50 milliseconds (1/20th of a second) for a visitor to decide whether to stay on your site or click away.
Well-designed websites, constructed with the user experience (UX) in mind, have the ability not only to keep visitors on your site, but to build the kind of rapport that leads to long-term loyalty. Poorly designed websites, on the other hand, are the digital equivalent of a brick-and-mortar store with stuck doors, broken windows and leaky pipes dripping puddles on the floor. Cue the horrified customers running to your nearest competitor, which, on the Internet, is only a few clicks away.
Here are some of the most important principles for improving your own site’s UX design and, ultimately, winning over audiences to your cause.
Design for an overarching objective.
What’s the number-one thing you want visitors to your website to do? Design for that. If you can’t answer that question, you’re likely not ready to make a website. Truly useful websites make it abundantly clear what they’re about. Consider the most-visited website in the world, not to mention the history of the internet, Google’s homepage.
It doesn’t matter that Google offers dozens of goods and services at this point in 2020. Google’s original and still-core product reigns supreme on their site: a lone search-entry blank and the buttons to activate it surrounded by plenty of white space; all other options are minimized and pushed to the margins.
Good UX design funnels visitors toward a clear action, whether that be buying a product, signing up for a service or reading a breaking news story. Websites without an overarching objective often suffer an identity crisis and end up putting their visitors through the “paradox of choice”—the feelings of frustration and fatigue that come from having too many options at your disposal.
Write for how the Internet reads.
The Internet has fundamentally altered how we read. “Reading a book from cover to cover” may have once been a popular proverb about thoroughness, but, given the vast wealth of info on the world wide web, no one’s got time for that. The speed of information-retrieval has replaced the virtue of thoroughness.
Nowadays, instead of reading, we scan. Eye-tracking studies have revealed that Internet-users “read” in an F-shaped pattern, mostly scanning headlines, subheaders and the opening sentences of paragraphs as a means to compensate for the overwhelming amount of information available online.
Smart UX design will accommodate such behaviors by frontloading the most important, topical, “load-bearing” information words toward the beginning of headlines and lead sentences, along the left-margin, where users are hoping to find them. Additionally, user-friendly websites will avoid long blocks of text in favor of shorter, easier-to-digest paragraphs with frequent breaks.
Chunking your content, making use of bullet-point or numbered lists and using white space to visually separate content allow visitors more “jumping-in” points as they furiously scan for what the information they’re after.
Invest in compelling visuals.
Remember earlier when you learned that visitors will judge your website in less than a second? A lot of that has to do with the visuals. For many visitors, if the visuals disappoint, then the site as a whole disappoints.
As humans, we’re wired to be visual creatures, favoring our eyes over all other senses, with more than 50 percent of the cortex—the surface of the brain—dedicated to processing visual information. Given our cognitive biases, then, it’s no wonder that we prefer beautiful, image-driven websites to less aesthetic ones.