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‘WOW Factor’ Versus Usability in Web Design

by | Nov 8, 2013

How High Visual Impact Affects Usability in Web Design

As web design specialists, clients frequently ask us to create a site that is ‘cool’, ‘different’ or come up with something that ‘stands out from the crowd’. They mention that many other websites are boring, cookie cutter stuff without originality.

What they usually have in mind is something with high visual impact – a ‘wow factor‘… fancy moving graphics, large format photography, lots of bells and whistles and an unconventional layout structure.

We completely understand the need for differentiation from the competition in business. Especially in crowded markets it is essential to offer something unique to give potential customers a reason to choose you over the rest.


Focus on Your Customers Needs

However there is an underlying problem with this design approach to differentiation; namely that the business owner is viewing the finished website from his own perspective and not focusing on the end user - his or her potential customer.

It is crucial to realise that when building a site that there is often a large disparity between your perception of your website as the business owner and the perception of a visiting customer.

Business owners understandably want something that they can be proud to show their friends, family and something that will have the competition quaking in their boots! Bottom line is that there is a certain amount of egotism inherit in this approach.


Your Customers Want to Find Information QUICKLY & EASILY

By contrast, customers want the information they are seeking, and they want it FAST!

They want your website to load quickly – whether they are using a desktop computer a tablet or smart phone, they need to see immediately that you can help solve their problem, they want to quickly find further information and easily find the best way to contact you.

So by focusing you this perspective, you can begin to see how an over-designed site begins to present many major roadblocks to users, and is is largely irrelevant to your customers.


The Problems with WOW Factor Design

Elements such as animated Flash intro sequences take too long to load and customers do not want to sit through it every time they visit your site. They also will not work on smart phone devices.

Large format graphics again increase load time and may not scale down gracefully to small mobile device screens.

And most crucially, unconventional layouts only serve to make information more difficult for your customers to find.

  • They are used to scanning your logo on the top left of the page, and easily finding your phone number on the top right
  • They EXPECT to find your navigation bar horizontally along the top of the screen just underneath the logo banner
  • They will look to the left column to see the page headline and information rich content below that
  • They will scan the right sidebar column to look for special offers, mailing list sign up forms and links to enquiry forms etc.


Web Layouts Have Standards for a Reason!

This general format is what people are used to on the web and this structure has been developed over many years, based on highly detailed usability studies.


Standard Layout


Follow the Standards & Increase Conversions

So going against this convention will only serve to frustrate your visitors and result in much fewer conversions on your site. In this case, there is no benefit in walking down the street on your hands, just because everyone else is using their feet!

Think about it… did you ever buy a product or order a service from a website just because the design was particularly funky or because you were impressed by some technical bells and whistles?

No you probably chose to do business with them based on the CONTENT & SUBSTANCE OF THEIR OFFER… the price point, the features and benefits of their services, how trustworthy and professional they seemed etc. etc.

(Having said this however, there is plenty of scope to design a very attractive website within this framework and reach a harmonious balance between form and function.)


This brings us to the subject of our next blog post… how to properly differentiate yourself from your competition online…


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