What is Web Usability? And Why You Should Care . . .
The Written Word

Web Usability: The Importance of Balancing Content and Graphic Design

In the web development world, supremacy battles are waged between visual designers and those who create content.  Visual design is the work of a graphic designer.  When I talk about "content," I am specifically referring to text or the written word.  Unfortunately, when a good balance isn't maintained, it is the user of the web site who ultimately loses out.

It is said that content is king in the online world.  Relevant high quality content is the one universal that every user seeks.  In today's video blogging and picture sharing world, it is more difficult to find high quality content.  Content becomes the first thing compromised on a web site. This is because of the need to post anything online regardless of quality.

In Robert Bly's book, The Copywriter's Handbook, an excellent point is made about content and graphics.  Mr. Bly points out a web site should be able to stand on its own without any graphics or pictures. 

You can't do much online without the following text: click here, buy now, login, search, etc.

Does it Make Sense without Graphics?
To illustrate the point, do this short exercise:
Go to Google.com and search on your favorite web site.  I'll use "Yahoo" as my example.  When the results page appears, don't click on the link.  Look at the description of the page you are searching.  Under the link to the page and description, you should see a line like this:

www.yahoo.com/ - 74k - Cached - Similar Pages

Click on the Cached link for your results.  Doing so will bring you to a page showing when the site was last viewed by Google's spiders.  Within the block of text that comes up there should be a link for, "Click here for the cached text only."

Finally click on the cached text link.  This will display the page without any graphics. 
Can you understand  your favorite web site without any graphics? 

Graphic Design
"Don't I want my web site to look good?" My answer to this is a resounding yes!  But, you need to be careful and not go overboard with graphics. Users enjoy visiting visually appealing web sites.  Visual appeal goes beyond just pictures on a web site, it encompasses all aspects of graphic design.  This includes, but not limited to the following elements: navigation, pictures, typography, etc.

Does your web site portray a consistent look and feel?  A uniform design and layout complements and reinforces user comfort and appeal.  Yet, many graphic designers confuse visually useful design with the opportunity to showcase their artistic skills.  The need to be artistic has little benefit or value for the client or users.   

A few years ago Flash driven web sites (all Flash and no HTML) were all the rave.  It was a time when multimedia and graphics were in overdrive.  Today there are far fewer Flash driven web sites.  Users have shown that they won't tolerate web sites with irrelevant visual design. The same thing applies for irrelevant content.  An appropriate use of pictures, animations, and graphic elements should complement and support the transfer of information.  The best graphic designers are those that strike a good balance between visuals and information.

Strike a Balance
Your web site should balance visual appeal with information. Effective web sites achieve a balance between useful information and a rapidly loaded aesthetically pleasing design.

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