For centuries, artists and writers have struggled to marry form and function. Click around online for a while and it becomes clear that web designers still grapple with the challenge. Achieving the optimum blend of text, graphics and white space eludes most companies. Too much text is likely to overwhelm, while too little leaves users guessing what the graphics represent. Too much white space wastes valuable real estate, while too little makes users feel cramped and confused.
The optimum blend for any given industry or application varies. According to a June 2010 study published by Oneupweb, a digital marketing agency in Traverse City, Mich., it may require more of one ingredient and less of another to accommodate differences in user behavior (how people tend to interact with a certain genre of sites), online constraints (including two-dimensional screens and browser compatibility) and the nature and depth of the content. E-commerce and higher-education sites, for example, must incorporate more textual content, whereas B2B sites tend to make greater use of graphics and white space.
Oneupweb developed the "Zen Triangle of Design" as a model to measure and evaluate how effectively a design balances these three elements. With calculator and grid paper in hand, you can quickly determine whether a particular page's design offers a good user experience or if you may need to make adjustments. Perfect balance is not necessarily the goal. As Oneupweb makes clear, "there is no magic wand or golden rule for designing a good website." But the method does provide a benchmark--a quantitative measure--to consult for guidance.
Remember, website usability is not all about aesthetics. Functionality also plays a key role; users need to be able to go from point A to point B as quickly as possible. They demand quick access to prices, rates and other decision-making details and even quicker access to the point of sale.
A Zen Triangle moment could help you find the balance of aesthetics and functionality your site's visitors crave.
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. For more information, visit MikalBelicove.com.