Successful web design

Posted by Jon on 2 April 2014 | Comments

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In this week’s post we’re going to take a look at what ScreenLab can tell us about the design and layout of successful websites.

Using data from Quantcast we’ve analysed the most popular US websites (excluding certain adult websites. We don’t want to know where you’re looking on those). We can generate a simple heatmap of the most popular websites. Main content towards the top left, with perhaps a sidebar on the right and more detailed content further down the page represents a fairly classic web design. Of more interest are comparisons within the top websites looking at different types of site.

Take marketplaces and news websites for example. Both have hotspots towards the classic top left position. However, whilst the news sites have a high impact headline space the marketplaces tend to spread a number of high impact points across the page. The very top left space, usually reserved for the website logo and branding, is very strong on the news websites. This may reflect a greater desire of the designers to impart the brand of these sites compared to marketplaces which are more keen to highlight products for sale.

News website hotspots
Aggregate grayscale heatmap of news websites

Marketplace website hotspots
Aggregate grayscale heatmap of market websites

We can take this analysis further by quantifying the heatmap data. At ScreenLab we summarise this data into three pairs: flow versus balance, simplicity versus information and impact versus subtlety.

As you might expect, the most popular websites include very diverse design styles and cover a large part of the image metric space. Once again the more interesting analysis comes from looking at the purpose of the sites.

News website metrics (larger bubble is higher impact)

Market website metrics (larger bubble is higher impact)

Billboard website metrics (larger bubble is higher impact)

If we break out news sites for example, we can see they are generally fairly high impact, balanced sites. Online marketplaces follow a similar pattern, despite the difference in the arrangement if hotspots. In contrast, corporate websites which tell you about the company but don't directly act as much of a sales space (“billboards”) tend to be more subtle with fewer high impact features. Social websites also take a lower impact approach with fairly balanced designs. These design choices are almost certainly linked to the journey users experience as they visit the sites.

Does this clustering represent a convergence on the optimum design for different sites or simply a fear of alienating users by being too radical? We'll leave that to you.

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