Every time I wander the web I seem to find it more complicated than the last time I left it. Considering this happens on a daily basis, the complexity appears to be growing monotonically. It has been shown again and again that the attention span of people on the web is extremely short. A good example of this is a post on Reputation Defender about the click-through rate on their search results.
I was discussing these two aspects of the web with the graphic designer at my work and we seemed to agree that all evidence points to the growing trends of complexity and short attention spans. Then we had something of a revelation. Perhaps there is a correlation. Is it possible that the ever increasing complexity of the web and the numerous sites which live there are encouraging the limited attention of users? Perhaps it’s the other way around and short attention spans affect choice to add extra elements to an already architecture-overburdened site.
Without any solid evidence or support, I have a tendency to lean toward the complexity of web sites as a contributing factor to ever shorter attention spans. It has also been shown that people who are multitasking perform each task less efficiently than if they had focused on a single task through completion.
It seems, with such a claim. that complexity in web design and architecture would, inherently. Lead to poor focus and retention. Understandably, there are multiple factors that play into a site with an overburdened architecture. Not only is there the desire to encourage users to remain on the site, which drives a desire to present more compelling content, but there can be executive pressure to maintain certain elements on a page which may not serve the user’s purpose.
One thing that seems to make for better selling products, time and time again, is taking something that already exists and making it easier to use. Apple is a great example of this. They didn’t invent the computer, the MP3 player, the cellular phone or any other technology they sell. What they did was create something that was more appealing to the user.
This may be the key to getting ahead on the web as well. Suppose we packed more features into a site, but did it in a smarter way. The web site will never be as intuitive as the cheeseburger or the nipple, but if we could eliminate some of the clutter in lieu of a more progressive experience user retention and attention might take to the rise again.
From a user-experience and developer perspective (as opposed to a graphic design perspective) I argue that the first thing we could benefit from is stripping away the nonsense. Suppose we assumed that a blog would actually do what it was intended to do and present information in an easy-to-digest fashion.
Think of it as eating a fresh apple rather than apple pie. When you eat the apple straight as it came from the tree, you can predict roughly what you will get. It will be crunchy, sweet and apple flavored. Now, suppose you are eating a piece of apple pie. It is much more challenging to anticipate precisely what you will get. There are spices and sugar and a crust that all get in the way of the same tasty apple you wanted to eat. Now sometimes apple pie is just right, but just as often, a single apple would offer a more consistently good experience.
Once you nail down the basic site, you have moved back to the more nutritious and significantly less complicated apple. From there, we can think of enhancements as a genetically modified apple, destined for better flavor and crunch than you could ever find in nature. It’s the hyper-apple.
Different sites will require different focusing and careful pruning, but I have seen very few sites that could do with more clutter and complexity. Conversely, I’ve seen plenty of sites that could stand for an architecture trim and shape.
I took this very approach to heart when preparing the presentation of this site. At first blush, there appear to be elements distinctly missing, for instance, a sidebar. Perhaps this was a poor choice, but I don’t think anyone will miss it. A simple majority of the web-using populace is search centric anyway. I have made sure to leave the search bar easily accessible, but I have eliminated the archives links which are so ubiquitous on most blogs today.
I could discuss all of the various features and plugins I used to create the experience you now see, but the details are beside the point. In the end, either the user experience is a good one or a bad one. So far, the stats for this site seem to reflect an experience that has kept users on the site for about five minutes at a time and they have visited 3 or 4 pages per visit. Perhaps these stats aren’t the best, but I’m not going to complain about a bounce rate of less than 50% at the moment.
The next time you are looking at your own site, perhaps you will think about what could use a little trimming and, together, we can make a simpler, more exciting and engaging experience for our users. In the end, all I ask is that you do your part and help make the web a better place.