Website Development: Why Simplicity is Key

By: Gittan Alicia | Contributing AOJ Journalist

All websites that generate large amounts of traffic, retain visitors, and invoke trust from their visitors have one thing in common, their organizational simplicity. By creating a simple site, visitors can easily navigate the site, and what the site has to offer is clear to the visitors. If a site is not simple, human beings online have a short attention span and likely will not stay to work out navigating a website. Furthermore, humans commonly distrust disorganization, so a packed and chaotic website is sure to be dismissed as untrustworthy by visitors. That being said, what exactly constitutes a simple website?

Defining a Simple Website

A simple website is one that appeals to the site visitor and sends a clear message on what it is about. When a visitor lands on a website, they should be able to clearly see where to go to find the information they are looking for and should be able to understand exactly what the purpose of the website is. All simple websites are organized with little clutter onscreen. The organization is what grants the user easy access to the features of your site, while little clutter provides the user only with the most important information about your site.

Take a look at these two sites, what looks good and what looks bad on each? Which would you be more inclined to spend time looking at?

It is not hard to see by just an initial glance at these websites that the one on the top is more simplistic than the one on the bottom. A giant picture of a snake in the background and a big title that says “Animals & Plants” that contrasts with the photo instantly tells the viewer that the website has something to do with plants and animals. The top navigation bar also does a good job providing brief detail on what exactly the site covers about plants and animals.  Menus on the navigation bar like animals, plants, habitats, and regions tell the reader that the site provides information about different animals and plants and where they are located. However, this site is not flawless. The search tool at the top covers part of the navigation bar and the “zoonooz” heading is a little unclear to visitors. While the “zoonooz” heading was a cute idea, it may leave some users perplexed about what it is supposed to be, which is “zoo news.”

The site displayed on the bottom is a mess. It is very cluttered with several lines of HTML crunched together at the bottom, an overzealous title, a bright header bar, and all the text and images stuffed on the header bar. The clutter makes an apparent disorganization that most readers will not even try to decode. Furthermore, most readers will not read through the cramped and nonuniform text on the page. The site itself is also unclear and very difficult to navigate. The first thing a user will see on this page is MedNat, and then under that “health guide with NATURE”. That is a very broad description, especially in the world of medicine. Is it a health guide to curing sickness, preventing sickness, healing parts of the body? The website leaves that unclear even when you look at the navigation bar, which consists of seemingly unrelated stuff like spiritual wellness and utility. Most people would not associate those things with a natural health guide.

It is clear to see from these two examples which website is more appealing and professional, the zoo website. Not only that, but the zoo website seemed more reliable just by the look of it. Whereas, the MedNat site was so disorganized and chaotic that most would deem it untrustworthy. It is important that a website incorporates elements similar to those on the zoo site, otherwise, it will not retain site visitors.

Elements of a Simplistic Website

To create a good website, certain simplistic elements must be incorporated. These elements will provide clarity for not only your site viewers but your website goals as a whole. By inserting these simple elements into your website, one will be forced to develop a coherent and focused foundation for their site. For instance, a health business creating a site properly will be required to set a focus, whether it be insurance, ailments, home remedies, diets, or injuries. This makes it clear not only to the visitors about what the site is meant for, but also to the business on what it is working towards and the areas on which it should focus. In other words, building a simplistic website helps create a very specific niche for the site.

Simplistic Layout

A simplistic layout is one of the most important aspects of a site. Everything on the site should be easy for a visitor to find and the most important information should stand out the way fire and ice contrast. That being said, a website should not be filled with tons of bright colors. Only the most important information should stand out, and in a professional, subtle fashion.

  1. First, every site should have a clear descriptive title located at the top of every page. Every web user expects to find the name of a website at the top of the page, and because of this, that is exactly where your site’s title should go. The more a user expects something to be somewhere and it is, the easier it will be for the user to navigate the site. In terms of the title being clear and descriptive, the title can be fun and cute, but it must make sense to the user. The user must be able to look at a website and instantly have a general idea of what the website contains. If there is a website about the best coffee, no one would expect the title to be something like fluff. The title could be something like Fluff’s Coffee. However, there are some exceptions to this. Several companies go by someone’s last name and some tech companies go by the names of fruit, for instance. This only works because of the site branding in combination with the title, which will be explained later.
  • Another very important aspect of a site’s layout is the navigation bar. A user’s guide to an entire website is the navigation bar. If a user cannot easily find the navigation bar of a site, they probably will not stay to figure it out. In most cases, users will expect to find a site’s navigation bar at the top of a website, and if not, on some sort of sidebar. It is because of this expectation that a site’s navigation bar should go in one of those two places. The next thing to look at is the name of the menus on the navigation bar. Each menu should clearly describe the page it sends the user to in only one to two words. Furthermore, the menu bar should not be cramped, and if categorical menus are used, they should not be overloaded with a million sub-menus. Once a user sees a million of almost the same exact thing, they will associate that with disorganization and unprofessionalism. Not only that, but people want to find what they are looking for in the quickest and most direct way possible.
  • A few other important aspects to a simple layout are open space, a consistent design theme, and a search feature. Open space creates a professional look and guides the reader to only the important information on the page. However, too much open space can look totally unprofessional if there is almost nothing on the page to give the reader information on what it is about and there are little to no visual clues for the user. A consistent design theme is important because it defines a site. User’s often associate a certain theme with a particular site and if every page of a site looks totally different, there is no familiarity for the user to associate with. Not only that, but an inconsistent theme looks unprofessional and such a site will not be deemed trustworthy by a user. The search feature of a site is very important because users may visit a site with a particular piece of content in mind. Instead of searching through every page and category, it is much easier for a user to search for what they want.

Simplistic Color Scheme

The colors on a website have a greater impact than many may think; the colors on a website are what distinguish it and are part of the development of a website’s branding. A page that is filled with tons of bright colors does draw a lot of attention, but it will overwhelm the reader and look chaotic and childish. The last thing a professional website should look like is as though it has been created by a child. Take a look at this site:

When users see a site like this with all the bright colors, the first thing that comes to mind is how unprofessional it is, and with that comes distrust. Cheesy, childish, and low-quality designs are commonly associated with disorganization, scams and inept businesses. Thus, it is very important for a site to look professional, which means choosing a professional color scheme

A professional color scheme is one that only involves a few colors, invokes a certain feeling from viewers, and contrasts to reveal important information. Only a small number of colors should be included in a color scheme, in most cases no more than two. The reason for this is because, first of all, lots of colors on a site will be chaotic, and secondly, it becomes difficult to invoke any other feeling than chaos in a reader when too many colors are used in a site. When creating a website, a web designer wants to send a clear message to their viewer, which includes invoking a particular feeling in their reader. It is part of what distinguishes a site to the reader. Take a look at this website, note the color scheme, the feeling the site invokes and why:

Coca-Cola does an excellent job exhibiting its red and white color scheme. The red and white contrast eloquently to reveal important information to the reader. On this specific page, the reader is first alerted to Coca-Cola’s valentine deal with the heading “Build Your Own Gift and Save.” Deals on products are definitely one of the first things customers would want to know. Furthermore, the bright red and white intertwined together invoke a feeling of love and happiness in the user. This is exactly what Coca-Cola intends, the business wants customers to associate positive feelings with their product. On top of that, Coca-Cola has included little hearts and teddy bears to accentuate and boost the customer’s feelings towards the product. Also notice how the site leaves plenty of empty space and does not try to jam everything together, as discussed previously.

Simple Message

People have short attention spans, so unless their attention is caught quickly by the website, they will probably leave. This means a website must quickly catch the user’s attention with a clear and concise message. The user must gain a clear understanding of the website’s purpose with only a quick look at the webpage and its elements. If there are too much information and clutter, the user will likely not be willing to sift through it just to uncover the website’s purpose. Whereas, if there is too little information, the user will not be engaged because they cannot see how the website may benefit them.

Someone creating a website should have the message they wish the site to convey planned out before beginning to design it. The message should be a short phrase with some personality that grabs the user’s attention, and it should effectively convey the purpose of the site. This is sort of like a business tagline, except instead of involving only a phrase, a site’s message is contained in its entire design. The design of a site should enhance its message, promoting emotion that the website wants users to associate with its message. Elements of web design that could be used to do this are photos, colors, fonts, font-size, icons, and even taglines. Whatever elements a site uses should make an impact on the reader, so they leave with something to associate the message with, in most cases, this is emotion. Take a look at the Adidas website:

Adidas takes a futuristic approach in its web design. The business wants its customers to know that it is the brand of the future and wants them to associate its brand with societal advancement, as shown by the tagline, “Out of This World.” Not only that, but the phrase “Goodbye Gravity” creates an image in the customer’s mind of “overcoming.” Adidas is presenting itself as a means to overcome challenges and a means for improvement. By purchasing Adidas shoes, Adidas wants the customer to know that they are taking a step towards improvement in their life. The image of someone in Adidas shoes walking up a flight of stair enhances this idea even more. Take a look at the colors as well, and notice the extensive use of white, gray, and black. These colors are commonly associated with the modern age and technology. In almost every tech movie, one will find the extensive use of black and white in the technology. This is likely because white signifies purity and goodness, which we would all like to view the future as, and black contrasts well with white.

Originality

When a user visits a website, they are not looking for a website that is identical to every other. There must be something that distinguishes a website from its competition, or there is no reason for the user to pick that website over any other. Part of distinguishing a website is creating a unique design. If there is a flower website that only promotes pictures of roses and daisies with a lavender color scheme, and only has a purchasing page and gallery page, do not duplicate that site. If a customer wanted to see roses and daisy’s and only wanted to purchase flowers, there is no reason for them to visit a lesser-known site that offers the same thing. Instead, the site should offer something different to the user. Perhaps it could showcase a wider variety of plants, create a blog with tips on growing one’s own flowers, or add a personal touch by showcasing the business’s volunteers and staff. Even with originality in mind, one must remember to maintain a simple design.

Another aspect of creating an original site is posting only your business’s own content. This means finding your own images for your website instead of stock photos. No visitor wants to visit sites to see the same stock photo over and over again, not only does this fail to engage the reader, but it creates distrust. Now the reader is questioning the validity of the site and whether or not they will be getting quality content or a reiteration of something from someone else. This same idea applies to videos, blog posts, and articles. That being said, it is okay to search on the web for information to write an article, but it should not all come from one source and should offer a unique perspective on the topic.

Conclusion

The quality of a website all comes down to its simplicity. The user must be able to quickly identify a website’s purpose and message and must also trust a website. If a website fails to do this, a user will be less inclined to stick around. Furthermore, a site must be original. If a site fails to distinguish itself from its competition, there will be no reason for users to care about it, and if a website is just a repeat of another, users will not trust it. Creating a simple site will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, these problems that commonly arise in web design.

It is also important to note that the website builder you choose will have an impact on your site’s simplicity. For more information on choosing a website builder that is right for you, check out this article.

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