So this post should be taken in with the understanding that I am 41 years old. I’m part of the generation that witnessed the beginning of the web, and that remembers a time without it. I am, as they say, an Xennial. Trapped between worlds.
I was there in the BBS days. I was there for Hamster Dance. I witnessed the rampant overuse of the gif. I have seen it all, some through the green monochrome monitor of an Apple IIE.
So I’m not new here. But also, I’m not quite a digital native, either.
There are too many bad websites out there. Even some really professional corporate websites are bad. And I’m here to tell you what I, a middle-aged grad student (clearly everyone’s target market), am looking for in a website.
Don’t Fear White Space.
It’s not just okay that every inch of your website isn’t taken up by widgets and feeds, it’s a good thing.
Personally, I’m an inveterate consumer of content. I have a wicked news habit I just can’t kick and I’m subscribed to more than a hundred podcasts. The stack of books I’m reading dominates the top of my bookshelf (and my personal reading log). So I’ve got a lot rattling around in my head at any given moment.
Extras, like a feed letting me know that someone just bought one of your products popping up in the corner, distract me from your content.
Your use of white space directs the eye to what you want consumers to see. What you want them to interact with. I get that a feed like this functions as social proof, but I think there’s a way to do it that’s less distracting.
You want the design of the site to direct me to what you want me to see, and using white space (and plenty of it) does that. It forces the eye toward your content (or your CTA, or your buy button, or what have you). That doesn’t mean that it has to be all white space; you want a sidebar with other content? Great! I love content, I want to see what else you have to offer me. If it’s intriguing I might stay a while. But keep it simple, and use negative space to direct me around your site.
White space between paragraphs is necessary too. Break up any walls of text. Reading on a screen is already difficult, don’t make it harder than it already is, or you’ll lose me.
Use Animation Sparingly.
I know this stuff can look really slick, right? Finally, a website that moves! Dynamic elements, pieces of text that scroll over the background, reactive menus and other navigation elements! You have ultimate freedom to make the website you want!
Too much animation distracts me from the elements of the website that really matter to you or your business (your content, your CTA, what-have-you). It can make pages frustrating to navigate and impair website performance.
And there are people who suffer from motion sensitivity that may not be able to use your website at all with too much animation. Remember, accessibility is important on the web, too.
Use Clear Fonts.
I was looking at copywriting portfolios online today, and I stumbled across one (that I won’t link to, I’m not here to start problems) that used a script type font for headings.
Folks, I know you think the script is pretty. I know you think it’s on-brand for you, especially if you’re a writer. But it’s difficult to read, and I’m probably going to pass on it and move to a website that’s easier to read. There is a wide, wide world of online content out there, and I’m not working for yours particularly unless you give me a damn good reason.
There is no excuse for making your website harder to read.
Using script fonts sparingly, such as in a logo or a header can look really classy and great, but don’t use them in the headings or body of the website content, or if you do, make sure they’re bold and clear enough to be read easily.
Pop-Ups – It’s Complicated.
Look, I’ve read a dozen articles about how well pop-ups work. I really honestly have. I have read most of them in a state of consternation.
I’m prepared to admit that in some circumstances, and in some contexts, they work on me too. I would be either a fool or a liar if I didn’t. But they’re also one of the fastest ways to get me to leave your website.
If I’m reading an article or blog post and your pop-up comes in the middle of my enjoyment of said content, I might close it and keep reading, but I’m less likely to visit your website in the future. It’s analogous to sitting in a park reading a book and then having some guy come up to you and try to sell you something. It’s distracting and disruptive and unpleasant.
It’s important to understand that as an unemployed grad student with no money, I am of course everyone’s target market.
Seriously, though, the least disruptive pop-ups are the ones that appear after I’ve reached the bottom of the page, and honestly to me that makes the most sense in terms of a customer’s sales journey.
And for God’s sake, keep it to one pop-up, please.
Use Contrast for Readability.
Maybe it’s my age, but I often struggle with readability on websites. I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago it was really in to have medium grey text on a white background and it was nearly unreadable. It became so prevalent that I would close a browser tab out of spite whenever I encountered it.
Believe it or not, people are still doing it.
Look, it doesn’t matter how slick and well-designed your website looks if I can’t read it.
This is an accessibility issue too, there are people who are vision impaired who simply cannot wade through paragraphs of low-contrast text. And it’s both impolite and unwise to ask them to try.
There you go, my gripe post about websites. I feel like a lot of this ties into readability and site performance, which are two things that every blogger or web designer should concern themselves with. I don’t think they’re too much to ask.