Web Design Psychology Part Two: Creating Balance
February 9, 2015 Updated : November 6, 2017
In part one, we discussed the importance of leading the viewer’s eye in web design. We looked at where viewers would typically look first when arriving on a website (the top left) and at how you could encourage their reading to flow in the right direction by using contrast, arrows and other tricks.
But this is really only the tip of the ice berg. Our brains are in fact highly complex data processing machines and whenever you land on a website for the first time, you will be taking into account a huge number of different cues and indicators to guide you around the page. In part two then we will be looking at some of the slightly more subtle ways you might unconsciously be leading your viewers around the page and at how these elements might be helping your readers to feel more – or less – comfortable while they’re on your page.
The Role of Images
Using the advice in part one of this article, you can create a web design that’s perfectly laid out to guide the visitor through your content as you see fit. But for this to work, you need to be careful about the contrary and conflicting visual cues you might be sending accidentally.
Take images for instance. If you add an image of a person to your webpage, then believe it or not this is actually going to influence the way your readers consume the information on your page. Most important of all here for instance, is the orientation of that person – the way they are facing.
Ideally then, you need to ensure that when you upload an image of a person, that they are looking in towards the content on the page rather than away from it. We are psychologically programmed to follow the gaze of other people we see, and so if there’s an image of someone looking ‘off-page’ this is only going to confuse and distract your visitors.
Think too about the shape of other images you use on your site: if an image has any kind of arrow ‘built in’ to it, then this will again unintentionally guide the eye of your visitor. Make sure that everything on your page is sending the same message so that there’s no conflict.
Something else to consider is how you may or may not be creating ‘balance’ in your web design. This effectively means thinking about the relationships between individual elements on your pages – how far away are your different images and text? How much blank space do you have and where is it?
Balance is important because it helps our eyes to settle on the center of the page. On the other hand, if one side of the page seems to be more ‘cluttered’, if it seems to be somehow ‘heavier’, then you will find that readers tend to read that side first.
This is one reason that symmetry is very popular in design – it prevents one side of the page from appearing more important than the other and it ensures that the other cues instead guide the eye. Other websites will have less balance, in as much as they will use more imagery and text on the left side of the page, but this is okay seeing as it’s where you will want your visitors to look anyway.
That said, you still need to ensure you have balance in other ways by keeping the distances between elements consistent and by having a few elements on the other side of the page as counterpoints. This sort of symmetry simply makes your page more comfortable to look at and if your viewers are more comfortable then they’ll stay on the page longer reducing your bounce rate. Make sure all of your elements are harmonious.
Tools and Testing
While there is a lot of theory with regards to how to create balance and flow in your design and content, it’s nevertheless still difficult to take into account all of the different factors. This is why it can be useful to test your designs and to see what’s working better.
One way to do this is simply to ask a friend or colleague to look at your site and then to watch carefully where their mouse points. Normally the position of the pointer correlates with where visitors are looking and so by paying attention to this metric you can ascertain the movement of their eyes over your page.
Of course a sample of one is not enough for a significant experiment. That’s why you might also consider using ‘heat maps’ which collect data on where visitors are clicking and so probably where they are looking. Here is a great one.
Ultimately it’s important to go with your gut and to do what you think is best for the site. There is no such thing as a rule that can’t be broken and that’s especially true in design. With that said though, just remember that every element on your website is communicating something and that this will dictate the way your visitors consume your content. Make sure that everything is harmonious and that everything agrees so that your viewers comfortably know where to look and you remain in tight control of their attention.
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