Science of simplicity

jigsaw_150A great article about psychology and web design popped up via Twitter this week, digesting some sciencey stuff for a more general readership. I particularly like it because it supports things I always say!

I’m going to mention a few key points below. Do read the whole thing if you can (don’t be put off by the occasional long words).

Users judge the visual appeal of a website in a fraction of a second. Visually complex sites are rated less beautiful than simpler ones. If they are “prototypical” – that is, their layout follows what’s common in that kind of site – they score better still.

“Prototypicality” – the worldview in your head has an idea of how things are “supposed to” look and feel, and your brain uses that as a shortcut rather than processing everything from scratch. Websites are well enough established now that we have these mental templates for different types of site. Sites that are prototypical (fit the template) are easier to process.

“Cognitive fluency” – is how easy or difficult it feels to complete a mental task. We prefer things that feel easy to think about. Things and experiences we’ve encountered before become familiar, and we like those because they require less mental work to process. So if you visit a website where you can immediately understand the structure and know how to interact with it, based on past experience of other sites, you’ll feel more positive toward it.

“Working memory” – the brain only has the capacity to hold a few chunks of information at a time while it works on processing incoming stuff. If the format of the input can slot comfortably into existing templates in long-term memory, the working memory can focus on the details of the message. If there are speed-bumps – like poor page layout or weird pricing or slow page loads – those turn into chunks in working memory, using resources to “solve” and leaving less for hearing what you actually want to tell them.

Overall, this is support for simple, clear presentation with the needs of users in mind. If your site is in an identifiable category like ecommerce stores, it’s worth looking at others and working out what’s standard in their designs. You want to follow the basic structure and then use detailed choices of fonts, colours, etc to put your individual spin on it.


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