The Complexity of Everday Websites

According to Don Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things the inefficiency of product design can be traced back to how the user is unable to visually understand how to control all the functions in a overwhelming and complex design. The most common problems of multi-functional design can be attributed to incomplete capabilities of a function, the arbitrary nature of functions, and the uncertainty of the presence of feedback in a function.

Norman argues that the best product designs possess fewer controls that are specifically assigned to single functions.  This results in a memorable systematic process attributed by visually understanding how the design works by simple navigation and reassuring feedback.

Simple navigation, recognizable functions, and reassuring feedback is crucial for even website design. Similar to Norman, Vincent Flanders argues that complex elements can be less taunting if thought has been put into the overall structure of the website. When there is no thought in a well-structured site, any form of CSS or intriguing content won’t save the site.Flanders provides an example on his site Websites that Suck where good design is abandoned in

We see here that there is no clear hierarchies and organization of the content on the homepage.

The most common annoyance that Flanders often notices is in misleading links or mystery meat navigation that cause a visual disconnect to the user’s memorable process.  In the menu bar of Stephan Potgieter’s website the user discovers that options do not appear visible from the drop down menu until he or she randomly clicks on the menu. Even if you figure that out, you’ll probably feel irritated not remembering what you last time clicked on.

On the other hand websites that apply minimalism in presentation may not always be necessarily the best option. Kayla Knight suggests that not all users appreciate the look of minimalism since the certain audiences want to see constant updates (image or type based such as the Self magazine website shown below) on a homepage or don’t want to be put off by the generic appearance of a website such as

Knight states the best sites that benefit the most from minimalism is designers. Personally I believe that as long as the design of the site has good contrast, hierarchy, and organization the user will likely visit the site.

However, Norman does point out that added complexity usually can’t be ignored as designers are faced with consumer demands and client expectations to build today’s product with more content than last week’s product. The same holds true when designing or redesigning a website. Dean Schuster, a web designer and founder for Truematter believes that designers need to stop making preconceived notions of how a user is suppose to behave. The thought process that Schuster suggests is to empathize with clients and the client audience in a friendly relationship. This results in a better understanding on how the website should be navigated. Steven Krug who is author of such web usability books as Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Science Made Easy tests the effectiveness of a website by using a person who is not a designer. On video tutorial, Krug uses a part-time school teacher as a tester to examine the navigation of the website Zipcar.


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