Website Usability, Part IV: Arranging Page Elements

One aspect of designing an effective webpage is to make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for. Overly cluttered pages, for example, tend to confuse users.

Users anticipate where things will be; don’t surprise them! Users expect that important items (such as the navigation bar, as we discussed in part 2) will be in the same place on every page, near the top. Never put important items “below the fold”! Users should never need to scroll to find navigational items, such as search boxes.

 

Eye-tracking studies have shown that users first look at the top of a page, then at the left side, then the right side; this is why those have been popular locations for banner ads. Important information should be placed in these areas so that users are sure to see it, while less important information should be placed lower down on the page; this helps users to process it more easily.

One thing that makes scanning a webpage for information difficult is when it is too densely packed; not only do users have an easier time searching spare areas of the page, they tend to visit those areas quickly. Lesson: don’t cram important information into too small a space! On the other hand, too much whitespace wastes time by causing users to scroll unnecessarily; effectively using whitespace allows you to place plenty of information on the page without it feeling cramped.

When possible, it’s best to use a fluid page layout so as to utilize the user’s entire screen; designing for a particular screen size inevitably means the page will display improperly for most users. However, be sure that items are aligned consistently, as this makes them easier to scan.

The proper length of both the webpage and the lines displayed on that page depends on what type of content is being displayed. Longer pages are appropriate for uninterrupted reading, while homepages, navigation pages, and those that need to be browsed quickly should be shorter. Users prefer shorter line lengths, but read faster when longer line lengths are used, so the choice is a trade-off between user preference and usability.