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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Web design is not print design

A very old adage as true today as it ever was. Here are a couple of considerations for the discerning print designer looking into becoming a good web designer.

“Web users have always been ruthless and now are even more so,” said Dr Nielsen.
“People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience,” he said.

“I do not think sites [commissioners and designers of sites?] appreciate that yet,” he added. “They still feel that their site is interesting and special and people will be happy about what they are throwing at them.”

Web users were also getting very frustrated with all the extras, such as widgets and applications, being added to sites to make them more friendly.

Jakob Neilsen, Web users ‘getting more ruthless’, for the BBC.

Everyone wants to get what they are looking for as fast as possible, no matter what medium we’re talking about; print, web, email, radio, tv, whatever - if you’ve gone to an information resource in order to look for something, you want to find it immediately. You don’t want to wait for any reason, you don’t want to be distracted. In print design that just means making sure the information is visually easy to locate, so you can pretty the hell out of the page and it won’t slow access to the information. On the web however, things are different. If you want a pretty site it’s going to be graphic heavy. If it’s graphic heavy it’ll be slow to load. If it’s slow to load you’ve already lost your audience. On the web people have to wait for the design to load. It’s not about the visual design itself, it’s about how long that design takes to load. You can have a functional, beautiful design that works perfectly once it’s loaded, but loading times on paper are nil - loading times on the web are seconds. Imagine turning the page in a magazine and then having to wait six or seven seconds for the page to appear. And while it was doing that it was also re-arranging itself. You would not skim the magazine, and you would get annoyed fast.

So, part of the consideration of designing for the web is not just the visual design itself, but how long it’ll take to load that design. People will not wait for it, no matter how pretty it might be in the end.

In 2004, about 40% of people visited a homepage and then drilled down to where they wanted to go and 60% use a deep link that took them directly to a page or destination inside a site. In 2008, said Dr Nielsen, only 25% of people travel via a homepage. The rest search and get straight there.

Jakob Neilsen, Web users ‘getting more ruthless’, for the BBC.

There’s a strong temptation when doing design on the web to start with the homepage. A lot of people spend a disproportionate amount of time designing the homepage. Sometimes it’s the only page that actually gets designed, and the content pages just get a cursory re-jig to shuffle content inside the design framework of the homepage. This is catastrophically misguided, as should be obvious from the above quote - 75% of people visiting the site will not have seen the homepage at all. It makes far more sense to start designing the content pages, fine-tune them, and then get to the homepage. The web is not print: a homepage is not like a book or magazine cover. Readers don’t have to look at the cover first like they would a book, the majority of readers get the first glance of the ‘book’ by seeing one of the interior pages. So make those pretty, and make those functional; if need be, at the expense of the homepage. Just don’t neglect the homepage completely, because it has other importance.

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