Monday, July 21, 2008

Is a busy website really that bad?

A theme I often hear in Australian web design circles is "make the website less crowded".

It's accepted wisdom that a website should have plenty of white space, clearly separated parts - and as little text as possible - particularly on the homepage.

Similar to Google's 28 word limit, Australian communicators seem to consider the best homepage design as the one with the least on it.

Certainly in the user testing I've done over the years with Australians I've heard the terms 'too busy' and 'too crowded' come up frequently.

Those are, however, perceptual measures. What about actual usage?

I have never specifically tested for the 'busyness limit' (the theoretical limit when text, link or graphical density begins to negatively impact on user task completion) - nor am I aware of any testing that has ever been done on this basis.

I am aware, however, of cultural differences in website design and use.

Look at the difference between US or Australian and Chinese or Japanese websites for example. In China and Japan, as well other Asian countries, the density of graphics, links and text is up to five times as high as in the US or Australia.

These high-density website countries also have high populations for their geographic size - which may form part of the difference in approach. Perhaps the amount of personal space people expect is related to the amount of whitespace they want to see in a website - although some high density European nations do not exhibit quite the same trend.

With the changing demographics in Australia it's important to keep an eye on what our citizens are looking for - our communicators and graphic designers may not always represent thecultural spread of the public.

So is anyone aware of research undertaken to look at the differences in expected information and graphical density of websites across different countries or cultural groups?

It could be an interesting (and useful) thesis project for someone.

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