I attended a workshop in Ikebana,  the Japanese art of flower arranging. The Ikebana concept that impressed me the most was that of visual motion.  Ikebana strives to keep the eye engaged by eliminating any element that would stop the continuous scanning motion of the eye.   Some examples of such eye stopping elements are:

  • Straight lines
  • 90 degree angles
  • Absence of  negative space (space between objects)

The photo to the left shows an Ikebana arrangement.

Example of Ikebana

Example of Ikebana

Notice the following:

  • Simplicity, only 3 elements: white calla lilies, pink azaleas and black tray
  • Curved lines, no straight lines
  • Only 5 upright flowers grouped as 3 + 2, creating negative space between the vertical elements, the stems
  • Negative space between the horizontal elements: calla lilies at the top,  azaleas and tray at the bottom

Despite the sparse, simple aesthetic, its visual interest  pulls you in and keeps you there.  Isn’t that what we want for our own web sites?

I gave some thought to how I could  apply this to web design.  I believe when you drill down and understand your goals and core values and how to realize them, you arrive at a truth that can be expressed simply and effectively.

If you don’t really understand who you are and what you’re doing, what better way to cover it up than to keep piling on more and more until you get a web site that looks like this:

hutchins for congress

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for businesses who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.

02. February 2010 · Comments Off on The Persuasive Power of Repetition, Clarity, & Simplicity · Categories: Design Tips · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

easyAnother argument emerges for simple web design (see my previous post  Creating Your Web-Scape)  in Drake Bennett’s article on cognitive fluency, Easy=True. Cognitive fluency is  the psychological precept that “people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard…In any situation where we weigh information, fluency is implicated in our decisions about everything.”

In a nutshell, when information is easier to mentally process, people feel attraction and belief.  The opposite,  disfluency – making things difficult to grasp,  creates a cognitive roadblock that makes people wary and uncomfortable.

While this might seem intuitively obvious, evidence abounds that plenty of businesses (and web designers) don’t get it.

Bennett’s article is a terrific resource for more information on fluency and disfluency and the supporting research.

For the purpose of this blog let’s take a look at the practical implications of fluency and  disfluency in terms of web design.  Keep in mind this is all based on research, not my own preferences.

Disfluency:the art of making things difficult –

Web Design that Loses Business

Here are some characteristics of a disfluent web site that will leave web site visitors with a negative impression.


  • Unfamiliar words (for example, technical jargon and acronyms)
  • Names and words that are difficult to pronounce
  • Complex syntax
  • Illegible text (see my previous post The Dog and the Lotus)
  • Missing information or convoluted instructions
  • Functions that don’t quite work

Sensory Overload

  • Overcrowding the page
  • Visual distractions
  • Multiple columns of disparate text
  • Little or no white space
  • Flickering animation


  • Confusing navigation
  • Poor organization

Fluency:the art of making things easy to understand –
Web Design that Encourages Business

Here are some characteristics of a fluent web site that subliminally suggest to visitors that your business is reputable and trustworthy.


  • Consistent navigation and page layout across the web site
  • Artful repetition of key ideas(note: repetition is good, redundancy is bad – know the difference)


  • Legible fonts and color coordination
  • Plenty of white space
  • Language and syntax that everyone can understand


  • Message boiled down to its essence
  • Graphic design and content that are easy to assimilate (accessible) both visually and conceptually

Web Site Analysis: The Glass House

glass house web siteLet’s take a look at the web site for The Glass House and see how well it does fluency wise.

Repetition: The grey box is repeated throughout as the background to the title (I like the opacity that reminds us of the see through quality of glass), the background in the drop down menus, and the background for other important pieces of information.

Clarity: The site contains a lot of information,  notice how it’s been logically organized and categorized.

Simplicity: One column layout, plenty of white space.

Verdict: Fluency.  I’m convinced this is a reputable organization dedicated to professionalism on all levels.

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for businesses who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.

One of my favorite photographers Bruce Percy says the following about creating a landscape photograph:

“The strength of an image lies many times in what we exclude from it.  Putting more things into a scene can often dilute the strength of the message. Keeping it simple is key.”

Web designers would do well to follow this advice.  Similar to creating a landscape, creating a web site should isolate and focus on what’s important by carefully selecting and streamlining graphic components.  We create something ugly and unfriendly when we clutter a page with multiple ideas, extraneous information, or unnecessary functionality.  Choose one idea and execute it well.  Don’t add stuff just because you can.

Redundant menus


For an example of what I’m talking about, let’s visit the Harvard Parks & Recreation web site.  The left column provides links to the rest of the site.  When I mouse over the Main Page tab, the same content links appear (see screen shot on the left).  Why do I need to see the same links twice?

Ugly Graphics – and lots of them

There are three different graphics on the home page.

Landscape photo – used as background for title. Note the gray, out of focus, pixelated photo.  If you can’t find a great photo locally (hard to believe), why not spend $3 for a decent image from iStockPhoto?  The landscape theme is relevant, though.  The message it conveys is “lake/recreation/swimming/boating/fishing.”


Tree logo in the left corner. Suggests a conservation theme.  Relevant?  Not really.


Lawn – close up photo used as background. Suggests lawn care.     Note the text next to the check box is barely legible.  Text that is too tiny to read drives people crazy.  Do we care about the number of visitors? Just because it’s easy to count and display visitor numbers, doesn’t mean it should be included.


Three different graphics with three different meanings create visual and mental confusion.  Extraneous functions and poor design contribute to usability issues.

A Simple But Effective Layout

An example of a simple yet effective web site is that of screenwriter Zen Freese.  The coffee stain graphic, the horizontal lines, and the tape are things that remind us of the writing process. We write at our desk, cup of coffee on top of the last draft, taping the latest revision to a page in progress.  Our tools, represented by the two fonts, are a typewriter and a pen.  The message is clear.  Nothing extraneous distracts us from the message. Unfortunately this well designed site no longer exists.


Web design is about common sense way before it is about how much functionality or other junk you can stuff onto a page.  Keeping it simple for both impact and usability is key.

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for people who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.
Copyright 2009, Alice Gebura, All Rights Reserved.