There are many important things to consider when designer a website and many rules you should know before you start. This does not mean you shouldn’t break these rules once in a while but you should know them and understand why they are there.
To start we must look at the purpose of a website, to promote and sell your business, product or service. Then who the website is designed for, you can get really specific on the who but always remember it is for the user / potential customer not the employees of the business.
You may like having 600 things on your home page or 100 links in your menu but your user does not.
When designing a website we need to make sure we are not making it hard for our website visitors. To avoid this we need to make your website obvious and self-explanatory.
By making it easier for your visitor you can better communicate the website’s message.
So how do we stop our websites becoming hard to use and overwhelming the visitor.
We stick to some simple rules and rely on our magic numbers 3 and 7.
1) Layout – When we look around the web we see lots of elements in groups of 3, columns, rows and sections. You may think this is because it has been taught in design for many years that 3 is a magic number. And you are partially right but there is a reason for the magic.
We see the elements of three in so many elements of life, earth is the 3rd plant from the sun, three primary colours, number of bones in the human ear, DNA is encoded using a 3 Condon system, and the rule of thirds in photography and art. The list goes on and on.
You are right you can do this with any other number but 3 has become the number associated with the human perception of beauty and significance.
The number three helps us in web design as it helps us make layouts that are symmetrical and interesting.
I mentioned symmetrical as people have preference to symmetrical appearances, this has its roots in the primitive part of our brain, which would look for a mate with symmetrical features. The reason behind this preferences are debated, but it is suggested it would of shown how healthy someone was.
1) Menu / navigation – As I mentioned before users do not want to see a hundreds of options. So how many is the right amount, I wonder what it could be?
Yes it is number 7. You should have 7 items or less in your menu, even 8 is too many.
You may be wondering why would this make a difference. It is restricted because our brains are restricted; we can only hold 7 items in our short-term memory at a time.
So when we scan a menu with 7 items to decide where to click we use all 7 spaces. When there are more then 7 we increase the risk of missing an item and our users not being able to find the information they need.
We see this principle work time and time again, in order to make something more noticeable you need to limit the amount used therefore making the surrounding quieter. Sometimes less is more.
3) The choice of options – We quite often on our websites give people choices to make, a choice of subscription, or product for example.
There are a number psychological principles we can use to back up the suggestion that giving lots of choice is a bad thing. Two of these are Hick’s law that says “that every additional choice increases the required time to make a decision” and The Paradox of choice “The more choice you give people, the easier it is they will choose nothing”.
Studies in psychological have shown us the optimum number of choices is three. Also know as the centre stage effect.
Three options helps us make a decision, no more or less. More then 3 overwhelms us and less than 3 appears limited.
There is another reason to use 3 options it increases the middle option’s sales. Yes we will always choose the middle option.
Generally we associate low cost products with poor quality and high cost with luxury, leaving the middle priced product as everyday good value.
One study that was conducted used beer as the example.
When only 2 options for beer were shown 20% of sales were for the low price beer and 80% for the middle priced.
They then introduced a 3rd beer at a premium price. The sales for the low priced beer dropped to 5% and the middle priced increased to 85%, the new premium beer took 10% of the sales.
So for a quick bit of maths if we take 100 customers and beer prices, the low beer £1, middle £2, premium £3, the first example with 2 options would have sales worth £180 and the second example with 3 options would have been £210, a difference of £30.
I have now given you 3 rules, so I will end there.
The numbers 3 and 7 are very powerful numbers when it comes to design. So when designing your website remember these numbers and you will have the first steps to getting your website right.