Content density is how many pictures and words are crammed onto a web page. People want low-density, simple messages for faster comprehension. These desirables are often the opposite of what website production is today. This is because business owners and designers aren’t listening to the audience. The solution is leaner, smaller websites – economy of scale and less bandwidth consumption.
As wideband highspeed connections became the Internet norm, most web designers started building websites as if bandwidth didn’t matter. Why load a new page when you could load a lightbox instead? Instead of medium-quality JPEGs with their unimportant details painstakingly blurred to shave file size, high-quality, slow-loading PNG images started to appear on websites. As these useless bandwidth-luxuriant practices became commonplace, many web designers were also experimenting with web fonts, CSS3 multiple backgrounds, full-page background images, and other edgy devices to create sites that were as rich (and heavy) as Flash sites. As designers continue to seduce viewers via large, multiple background images, image replacement, icon fonts, sliders, and so on, they now find their beautiful sites losing page rank and viewers. Google now uses website speed as a criterion in their ranking algorithm. It may not be as important as content relevance – but it’s an important signal about a new trend: You will be punished by viewers and search engines alike for slowing down the Internet.
Function beats eye candy.
Functionality usually wins over visual eye candy with website users. Business users routinely tolerate desktop applications that do what they need without swooping curves, glass buttons, and subtle gradients. There is however, an expectation of a minimum level of visual design on the web.
Simple solutions to heavy pages.
Sites can have extreme optimization of code and images. You must assume your website home page will receive the same attention span as a billboard at 55mph near a highway—or a small booth at a tradeshow. Just a few seconds of decision making time. Here are the few details that can make a big difference in attraction without killing speed: 1) color, 2) organic or textural elements, 3) light source effect, and 4) legibility. A landing page benefits from these basic graphic elements. There is a visitor expectation of some design and organization. “Image quality” isn’t even in the top 10 most important functions or features of a website. We see web design, and stage set design as having a lot in common. It’s the view from the back-row theater seats that count – not the up- close details. High resolution serves no purpose except to satisfy “better than best.” This thinking is self defeating.
How good is good enough?
The person who cares the most about image quality is the owner or designer of the website – not the viewers. Viewers put this characteristic at the bottom of the list. Still, the image needs to be recognizable and readable! Everyone has to decide their guidelines – but here are ours: make the image file sizes as small as possible in weight and size. Images are the main hogs of bandwidth. Settings should not be arbitrary or rigid.
Image compression requires good judgment.
We squeeze too hard for some designers tastes. That’s because we realize the visitor doesn’t care much. But, visitors care intensely about page load speed. Beautiful doesn’t really count as much. With that said, it cannot be ignored that visitors make decisions on first impressions. Graphics are still important. But, they don’t need to be bloated.
Does simple make a difference?
It depends upon what your goals are. What kind of resources do you have: time, budget, energy, space, speed, etc. Nothing is faster than optimizing. Nothing is simpler.
Branding calls for originality.
Since most web designers are throwing the kitchen sink into their sites, many sites tend to look alike. When designers start grappling with how to simplify their sites, they’ll come face to face with brand. Once you simplify a web design, everything that’s left has to work harder.
Bad economy: the low-tech friend.
With WordPress websites the cost of failure is cheap. It’s so low, you can swing the bat many more times. In a bad economy, no one really notices or cares about more failure. That creates a better environment for risk-taking, which is the only way innovation happens. However, launching in a bad economy imposes a kind of discipline, forcing entrepreneurs to keep costs low and be smart about marketing communications. Optimized site building is a self-imposed discipline.
Complex technology can be an enslaving force.
Timelessness in a constantly changing modern technical culture is a response to modern plastic-blob consumer technology. Web production calls for learning low-tech and no-tech techniques to deliver project’s faster with little budget. They’re built with small or zero investment. There is nothing dogmatic or Utopian about them. Master architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, argued that form and function are one. He called this organic design. He designed according to function and let the style emerge. So it is with optimized websites, they don’t imitate “paper and ink.” Web design has mindlessly imitated print. Organic design rises from the technology or lack thereof. So much energy and time is wasted to get websites to conform to “print” standards of typography, grid, and other minutia.
Reduction is organic essentialism.
This means using creative restraint so nothing more and nothing less than what is needed is included in a website. It’s the struggle to restyle to the past (print – and TV) that slows down websites. Trying to build to idealistic future standards or speeds that are presently nonexistent is also futile. We need to build for what limits exists today.
This reductionist philosophy can calm down a design, introduce elegance, minimize project turnaround time, includes appropriate technology, and exact functions.