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On using statistics to inform your design choices

Statistics are dangerous, if you don’t know how to handle them. They can damage your designs. Take the following example from a recent article on BoagWorld:

That said, Jakob Neilsen’s research shows that although users do scroll, their attention is focused on content higher within the page.

“Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold.”

We therefore need to ensure that important content is kept as high on the page as possible and that this content encourages scrolling.

Are Media Queries the answer to the Fold?

The conclusion that we must keep the most important information “above the fold” is a poor one given the facts it’s derived from. I’m not saying it’s wrong advice, I’m saying you can’t conclude that based on those facts alone - that is not what the facts tell us.

Without more data, you can’t tell whether 80% of the users time is spent looking at the top and therefor we should put important information at the top, or that the design(s) this study was based on already had the important info at the top and that’s why 80% of the time was spent there. One fact, two very different reasons it might be true.

Paul’s article is based on one interpretation of limited facts, and the conclusion is effectively worthless (though the use of CSS Media Queries to determine page height is neat, the justification for it is flimsy).

Don’t use facts derived from other designs to inform your own design. Don’t take bare facts as gospel, because unless you know the environment the fact was derived from, and whether that’s similar to your own case, it’s an easy way to shoot yourself in the foot. You need to know what lessons to take from the data, and it’s easy to take the wrong ones if you just skip to the statistics.


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  1. matthijs posted 11hrs, 46min, 13sec after the entry and said:

    Totally agree. You have to be very careful with findings like these. It's the same with the 'heatmap' research that popped up in which F-shaped viewing patterns were found. Obvious, because people read from left to right and top to bottom and scan the headlines and titles. But many people concluded that -because- of the F-shaped pattern, you had to put your content in such a pattern. Not realizing that the pattern was the consequence of certain design decisions, instead of being some inherent fixed thing.

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