insight

Sticky or GUI? The human (inter)face of the web

The Web is a medium that is used by people. There are way too many sites—and site designers—out there that seem to forget (or even worse, ignore) this deceptively simple fact.

There are sites out there, too numerous to list, with content so arcane and specialised, wrapped in navigation so clumsy and so convoluted, that they might as well be written in a foreign language. They're fine, for the limited audience for which they're intended. A kind of insider's club. Then there are the sites whose interfaces are so clunky and downright confusing, they seem to be designed for extra-terrestrial visitors.

And there are non-human visitors. Your site will reach California, after all. Just kidding... Good sites are built for efficient access by search engine spiders and robots, although they process, and interpret, the information in a site in a very different way to people. Then there are the less welcome visitors, like the software robots that trawl the Web stripping e.mail addresses from sites and building databases for spam—the digital equivalent of, say, slime mould.

But there are way too many sites, apparently built for the general populace, which simply fail to deliver their message. The lowest common denominator? Bad interface design. Good web site design is simple without being simplistic, obvious without being condescending. Good interface design should be transparent to your visitors. They should be able to access the content of your site, the reason for its existence, from the very first point of entry.

There's a rule of thumb on the web: when your site loads in a visitor's browser, you have about ten seconds for the content of your front page to appear and invite your visitor to stick around. If they don't quickly get the answers to the two key questions they constantly ask (even if they don't do it consciously) when surfing—What's here? Where do I go next?—they're outta there. If there's one thing Web users have in spades, it's choice. There's always somewhere else to go.

"Sticky" was a term coined during the explosion of the Web to label site content which caused visitors to remain longer on a given site. But if your site's core content is interesting enough, if it engages your visitors, if it informs or entertains them, there is no need for special offers, freebie giveaways, and other bells and whistles. But that content must be immediately apparent and easily accessible.

Whether your site's content is sufficiently interesting to lead your visitors to make that purchase, or to contact you for further information about your products or services, is ultimately up to you. If your business can benefit from a presence on the web, it will benefit more from a Graphic Good User Interface. And your visitors will thank you for it, too.

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