I was reading through seed’s magazine web site the other day. The design is simple and certainly not revolutionary or anything, but somehow it invites you (at least me) to read. Besides having a certain interest on the subject the simple way things are arranged and the colouring, somehow, make reading on that page a more pleasurable. Interestingly enough this is something most newspapers I know fail to do.

I’ll try to “decode” what I think they (and others) are doing right.

1. Just enough white space.
Too much whitespace can be distracting. The eye tends get too distracted. On the other hand too much word and text clutter can be very hard to focus on, you’ll get frustrated and quit reading in just a blink. Its a difficult balance  that has to take into account font type, the “frame” in which the text is sitting (which I’ll analyze further bellow), colouring and overall proportions.

2. No annoying (ahem! Distracting) Animations
Most newspapers make a living out of the ads they have on their pages. But theres nothing more distracting than a Flash (or gif) animation banging into your eyes as you read. Besides there’s usually not just one but many cluttered into a column, each at its pace, each at its own “rythm” and colouring. Newspapers can afford having such distractions since people are alegedly interested in reading what they publish. Ad’s are OK as long as they are inside a certain palette and don’t cause too much of a fuzz in terms of distraction. Once again “balance” is the key word, since if an add blends too much with it’s sorroundings it wont generate any clicks, on the other hand if it is just too distracting it will not only distract readers, but cause page abandonment (to a certain extent).

3. Good use of fonts
This is simple, a legible font in a good contrasting background is a must. Make it hard on the viewers sight and they are out of there. Pretty straight forward ain’t it?  

4. Clear and understandable presentation.
It also seems basic, but knowing what you are about to read is a must. This includes: what section (and subsection) you’re at, a good descriptive or inviting title, a clear and short description and even a post date help the visitor to know if they want to keep reading (it is impossible to make anyone read something they are not interested in, even with the best of designs).  

5. Pages not too long.
Its a fact: People don’t like scrolling. They have less of a fuzz if they have to click to keep on reading than if they have to scroll a long page. Besides, let’s face it: we are lazy, if the text looks too long, most users will flee in panic. If the text looks short they’ll start, and if they are hooked they’ll keep on reading.
It is a good practice to split a long article into multiple pages to hook users. Everything you want people to click into should be on the top portion (first scroll) of ANY page.

Till now everything looks good, but what about the commerce part?
Same principles apply. From my personal job experience I’m used to configurators. Selling add-ons is good for everyone, for the user who can “customize” it’s thing and for the company who makes a few more bucks.

Once again lazyness kicks in. A few translations of the same principles:

  • Buy, next, configure and prices should be near the top.
  • Clutter is confusing. Too many options, too much text altogether too many decitions to make. You have to really want something or know exactly what you’re after to go through it all. Images and icons as an aid to text help finding things faster. Highlighting “best options” is a must. You don’t need to see everything you can add you only need to know it is there.
  • Long configurator pages tend to draw traffic away. If people have to scroll down too much to get to the “premium leather case” they simply wont; they either will skip it or abandon the page.
  • Long checkout processes are frustrating, ggather the least possible ammount of data. Buyers know they’ll have to input a few fields (Name, adress, credit card) but usually will avoid too much questioning. Having pages reload upon any changes is possibly the worst practice as well. It does not only make customers suspicous, but it wastes people’s time. Aleways remember your customers time is as precious as yours, and you really don’t like wasting it (even less if you’re aping for it!!).

As a wrap.

Keep things simple, clean and clear. Avoid “too much” of anything and help people focus where you want them to focus.

Did I miss anything? (I know I have)
Do you have any other examples of good and bad design in this regard?