When you were a kid, your parents almost certainly, at some point, lost their tempers and yelled at you to clean your room. Even if it was tucked into a corner of their house they seldom needed to inhabit, and even if your door was closed, the mess drove them nuts. This happened to me too, and I never understood why they cared so much about my personal space. Why did it need to be neat? Why did my stuff need to be organized? What was the point?
Now I am a parent myself, and suddenly, I get it. I will admit that the photo here is of my children's basement playroom several years ago. Inevitably, one of my daughters would ask me for their doll's blue dress -- not that blue dress! The other blue dress. The one they couldn't find. Where IS it? That was when I would send them down to the basement and make them admit that it was pretty likely that the dress was in there somewhere, but the mess was keeping them from finding it.
The same thing happens on a cluttered, messy web site. Somewhere on the site is the accounting firm's list of the most important historical tax documents you need to retain for a minimum of ten years, but where is it? Arriving at a site's home page, it's sometimes hard to decide where to click -- and even if you have no destination in mind, being offered too many choices can be so overwhelming that interesting information gets lost in the mess.
Too! Many! Words!
The average human attention span in 2013 was eight seconds. EIGHT. In 2000, they measured the attention span of a goldfish, and it was twelve seconds. We're getting more and more distracted, and having a web page that offers too many choices only makes it harder for you to get the sustained attention you need to turn your site visitors into customers or donors. For example, take a look at the fictional home page snippet here:
Distracting things in this example include:
- Dark backgrounds with light text are not easy for the eye to process, and when the font is small, has serifs, or is set on a translucent background, it gets tougher and tougher.
- In this top 1/3 of the page, with just one drop-down menu selected, there are sixteen choices for places to click. SIXTEEN. Remember that eight-second attention span? You have one-half of one second for each item here. How quickly can you decide?
- The names of the items in this menu are too similar. Someone new to the site would never be able to guess by looking which one has the magic piece of information that she is seeking. Does she want something listed under Things, Stuff, Extras, or Lots and Lots?
- Calls to action are important to have on a site, but this site is calling for special attention in four places -- Look Here; No, Here; Attention!; and Be Sure to Look Here!
- The Buy Some Thing button on the right is too different from the rest of the page, despite its matching colors. Sure, it gets our attention, but the trippy background and alternate font make it look like it doesn't belong. It's also not produced as well as the other images on the page, so it looks cheap.
But MOOOOOM, I NEED All This Stuff!
I hear you, kids. I am attached to my stuff too -- but I try to keep it organized so that I can find it and so that I can tell someone else how to find it when they need it. I took the same web site and re-created it as an uncluttered site:
This is the same amount of space -- exactly the same snippet of the page -- as the version above. Here's what I did:
- I made the logo run horizontally instead of diagonally -- why make my readers turn their heads?
- I made all the fonts similar-- and the text I want people to read carefully is rendered in Arial, one of the easiest fonts on the eyes -- and I stuck to two main colors, plus black and white.
- I used a light background and dark text for almost everything. When I reversed that, I tried to do other things to make it readable, and I never used white-on-black.
- I eliminated all the drop-down menus. I plan to put submenus on a left side column once the user clicks on one of those top items.
- I made the names of the top navigation items as distinct as possible from each other, and the number of options are much smaller.
- I made the main image on the page a cleaner, simpler one, and I plan to use an image gallery in that spot so that as a user sits on my home page, the image and some associated text will change slowly. I'm still offering some options, but fewer simultaneous ones.
- I made my sale button on the right smaller and simpler, and more in line with the style of the rest of the site.
I am confident that I can organize all of this web sit's stuff into a smaller number of categories and still make it possible for everything to be available to the end user. If the site has a really huge number of pages, I can also create an in-site search engine for it. There are solutions beyond cramming everything you have onto the home page somewhere. I promise!