We've all visited websites that made us wince. You know what I mean: full of distracting animation, flashing text, and enough other clutter that it reminds you of a Victorian home filled to bursting with knick knacks. Are you guilty of filling your website with useless junk? Christian Heilmann takes you down his checklist of website clutter. You just might find yourself considering a redesign.
The GIF (and the PNG) graphics format allows us to animate pictures, which might make sense from time to time. It does not mean, however, that we should clutter our websites with animations. Animation is a very strong stimulant on the visual nerves of the visitor and can become very tiring and distracting when you spend some time on the page. Good browsers allow the user to turn them off, which is a real grace when all you want to do is read an article. GIF animations are the equivalent of the leaflets you find in your daily mail--fancy, shiny advertisements. When you use them without advertising anything, they are simply a nuisance, no matter how cool they are.
When Flash came out, they appeared-–the tunnels of eternal stimulation. It seemed as if any website needed a five minute intro with music and animation, or else it would not be “cool” and “up to date.” If you were lucky, there was a tiny “skip intro” link somewhere; if not, you were along for the whole ride every time you went to the site.
Flash is a great tool for rich Internet application development and presentations, but it is tempting to use it badly. Tunnel pages only make sense when you want to advertise your flash skills or a certain special product, and even then those should be on a showreel page rather than forced upon the visitor every time he visits your page.
Home pages with static content are another problem. What good is a “Welcome to our page” blurb every time you go to the site? The same space could be occupied by a short introduction to the site and a list of the latest changes and enhancements. The success of websites lies not only in their visual appearance; it also lies in how easy they are to handle and how much maintenance they get. A site that gives the visitor new content all the time and makes it easy to see these changes is a lot more likely to be a success than one that greets the visitor with the same welcome text it had 3 years ago.
Ice cream truck websites
In the days of hit-and-miss Web design, someone came up with the idea of using a MIDI music file playing in the background on a website, seeing this as a great opportunity to share musical likes with anyone visiting the site. Despite having the quality of ice cream truck music, it is pretty presumptuous to think every visitor wants to have music on the page. Later on Flash components (and even talking banners) came into fashion, with the same effect.
If you are a musician, or your website is a trailer for a movie, by all means, add music, but give the user a chance to get rid of it. Even better, allow the user to choose to play it. If you are not, why would you want to distract from your content that much? Boring text does not get better by adding music; that’s like a government official singing your tax bill to you while playing on the guitar.
These are just some examples of the knick-knack Web designers clutter their pages with. Maybe you considered using some of them, or maybe you already do. Take a look again and think about the visitors to your site. Do they really benefit from them.
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