Every time I start a new project I get super-exited. My mind starts thinking about what fresh new web design feature I might be able to try out upon. I ask myself could this be the one? Could this be the project that puts me on the map? Makes my business soar to new nights? Garners the attention of the industry and wins a room full of awards?
Then I remember, that most often the most wildly creative solutions are not necessarily the most effective solutions. As a matter of fact my most successful web designs are the ones that fit with the clients needs and their target audience. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they are award worthy.
Oh bother. So just as I was entering despair mode, I found an article by Jakob Nielsen which had some very interesting statistics. Statistics which qualify comprehensive design decisions over touchy-feely ones.
Jakob did a usability study and found that in terms of vertical dimensions of web pages, that “people look at information above the fold far more than they do at information further down the page.”
Then he did what you could call a 90-degree turn and did a study of pushers viewing patterns along the horizontal dimension. Using the exact same same data set as the previous analysis, he found “the following distribution of user attention from the left edge of the screen to the right.”
What each bar in this chart represents is the amount of time users spent on fixations within a 100-pixel-wide stripe running down the screen, starting from the very left.
Apparently, people spent more than twice as much time looking at the left side of the page as they did the right:
• Left half of screen: 69% of viewing time
• Right half of screen: 30% of viewing time
So what does all this mean? Well in terms of web design, the most important information should obviously be towards the top of the page, “above the fold”. Now what constitutes “the fold”? Depends on the screen. But you can almost guarantee that at least 100px are going to be visible on any screen that an end-user might be accessing your site through. But this is telling us something more that that. It really shows us how important it can be to also rank information from left to right whenever possible. That makes one stop and think a bit more about how wildly different a design should be when it comes to say designing a blog. This information actually suggests keeping things fairly ordered and not trying to break the mold. Especially when you consider that, according to this study, a stagering 1% of viewing time was spent to the right of the initially-visible 1,024 pixels.
Such information is visible only after invoking some horizontal scrolling, and the minute amount of attention this area of the page attracts confirms the age-old guideline to avoid horizontal scrolling. But wait. what if the end user was swiping thru the content not scrolling per say? Maybe I could create some fresh new web-design feature. Sounds like another post.