In the world of web design you may find yourself justifying a decision you’ve made, and struggling to find the right words. Below I’ve listed 4 web design guidelines to help you with these decisions and the why behind them, some you may even use already and not even realise.
Hick’s Law (or Hick-Hyman Law) describes the time taken for a user to make a choice from a selection of options. The law assesses cognitive information capacity using choice reaction experiments. The time taken to process a certain amount of information in Hick’s Law is known as the rate of gain of information.
Hick’s Law can be used to support you with decisions you make while designing a web site. Hick’s Law is perfect to support the use of minimalistic design and if taken into consideration, can result in higher conversions. By limiting the amount of choices we give a user, we can draw their attention to the decision we want them to make on any given page.
Looking at the examples above, the one on the left uses Hick’s Law to it’s advantage by limiting the users options and resulting in focus on the key areas. The example on the right shows an overly complex page that will only confuse the user.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a guideline which can be applied to a huge range of things relating to composing of visual images, such as paintings and photographs. The guideline suggests that you take an image and divide it into nine equal parts. This will give you two vertical and two horizontal lines.
The rule of thirds isn’t a replacement for a grid system, but should be used to complement it. Visual elements should be placed on the lines, or the intersections between the lines as these are the areas that the user’s eyes naturally focus on.
Fitts’ law is a model of human movement used to predict the time required to move to a target area. In web design this relates to the time taken for a user to click a button, depending on the distance and size of the target
To the right, I’ve made an example of Fitts’ Law applied to web design. The first nav has a clickable area (highlighted in pink) that is only on the text itself.
The second version uses the full area of the button as the link and allows more area for clicking, therefore minimising the effort needed to click by increasing the clickable area.
Consideration for Fitts’ Law throughout your designs will result in a much better user experience.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principal, states that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. Named after Vilfredo Pareto who in 1906 observed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. It has become a guideline for businesses and can easily be applied to web design.
Using this as a guide you can make assumptions towards your design, mainly in regards to content. If you consider that you have a bulky, bloated, web site with 50 pages. You’ve taken care and spent all this time crafting the pages to present the stacks of content as nicely as possible to the user. But of those 50 pages, 10 of them are doing 80% of the work and the other 40 pages are only doing 20%. This could lead to removing the pages, features or content that isn’t being accessed. The 80/20 rule ties into Hick’s Law.
Even though some of the ideas I have listed above take the name of law or rule, they’re more guidelines. Whether you choose to think about them or not, they can be applied to every design, on every page. You can work with or against the rules, but you can’t eliminate them.