The past 15 years of the world wide web has transformed and moulded the way people use the internet. We have subconsciously developed rules for how we use websites, which have been embedded in our visual culture. Designers (and businesses) need to embrace these rules in order to capitalize on all the problems that have already been solved. Maximize time and most importantly maximize usability. If you own a profit-oriented site, following these standards could not be more important.
What Are Design Conventions?
Design conventions are visual shortcuts allowing users to skim quickly through content, putting little thought into what users are actually seeing or reading. The list is enormous… colours, shapes, patterns, positioning, font styles. In our minds they already say something before we take a closer look.
For example, the colour red gives viewer’s thoughts of stop, delete, urgency, or sale. How about when you visit a site and want to login – do you look in the top right corner? Do you scroll to the bottom of the page to find a contact number? Or click a logo in the top left to take you to the home page? Nobody told you to do this, you’ve learned it from all your experience on websites.
Web Surfing Habits
Let’s face it, web surfers are impatient skimmers. As much as we would love to think that visitors read all our content, the reality is that they don’t. As internet surfers, we flip page to page hoping to find exactly what we are looking for as quickly as possible. Are you going to stop and read a paragraph in order to find a link to a product you want to buy? Absolutely not, you are going to click on that little underlined word that your mind is telling you is a link before you even read what it says. These habits force designers to keep it simple and stick to what we know works in order to give users a clear path to their destination. Frustrated users are rarely repeat visitors.
But I Want to be “Different”?
I hear this from clients on a daily basis and of course, I understand where they are coming from. When starting a business in a saturated industry, being unique is possibly your only chance at success.
You have to find the right balance and keep in mind that doing things differently has high potential to affect usability and conversion. If you do want to break the rules it’s important to ensure that the new path is clear and concise… or is so incredibly awesome that it’s worth a small learning curve. I believe there are ways to create unique designs without sacrificing web conventions and therefore basic usability.
Here are some bare-minimum conventions I believe all websites should follow:
The logo should be at the top of the page (ideally left) and link back to the home page
The navigation should be consistent throughout the site (design and placement).
Things that look like buttons… should act like buttons (underlined words, lists with vertical lines in between, etc.).
Consider web conventions your pals, good buddies, and amigos when it comes to designing for eCommerce. They put your user in their comfort zone which gives them confidence in your credibility. After all, if a user can’t find your product, they aren’t going to purchase it.