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.
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.