Compromise. Sometimes I really hate that word. Usually it means that there will be a lose-lose situation. But really, it all depends on how you look at it, especially when talking about the relationship between design and usability.
When I’m browsing the Web, I analyze how sites look. This is just the designer in me. Actually, I must confess, I analyze everything I see everywhere I go. My wife thinks I’m insane when we go to a restaurant because I am analyzing the design of the menu. No, I have never left a place because the menu was poorly designed, but I have come close.
Anyway, back to websites. When looking at some of the truly unique sites, I am often amazed at some people’s creativity. I have seen horizontal-scrolling sites, random menus, sideways body copy, and lots of flash. Some of these sites are truly eye-catching, but how user-friendly are they? I remember what the site looks like and I got a great feel for the company, but do I really know anything else? Did I read the content or just look at the site?
It has been proven that people do not like big changes. No, I’m not talking about visual changes. I’m talking about changes that will make something more difficult for someone; changes that make people do work. We live in a very lazy society, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Today, life is all about getting what we want now with as little effort as possible.
With websites, the situation is the same, especially concerning the layout of a site. You know what I’m talking about. Header. Footer. Sidebars. Main content. Sure, every site will look different with styling, but most sites all have the same structure. That is because it has been proven to be effective. When a site’s layout goes against the grain, it stands out, but it is really effective? Eventually, the answer may be yes, but for now, that may not be the case.
If a site has an amazing home page, but I can’t quickly tell where the navigation is, there is always the chance that I will just leave the site. Additionally, if a site looks like the greatest, most eye-catching site ever, but I have to wait 30 seconds for it to load, most likely I left the site 25 seconds ago. Then again, if I find a site that loads in less than half a second, and it looks like something that was created in 1998, rainbow gradients (Please don’t click the link) and all, well, there’s no business for me to care to read the content there either.
Everything is about balance. The design needs to be visually stimulating enough to entice the viewer to read your content, but it also needs to provide usability. You may have to force a compromise between design and usability, but the final result will be win-win for your website.