When we design websites, we do so to get a message across to our audience. However, one of the biggest hurdles that we often have to overcome in order to get that message to our visitors is clutter.
When visitors come across a website that they perceive to be cluttered, some of them just up and leave; a survey from Burst Media shows that 30% of all respondents will immediately abandon a website if they feel it is too cluttered.
A website that’s cluttered makes you customers feel anxious. They have a goal to achieve but you’re making it harder for them to trust you. If your website is a mess, will working with you be the same? — Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Design
But how do you know if your web site is cluttered? After all, no one designs a site with the intent of confusing or irritating their audience.
Checking for website clutter
There are several ways to tell if you built a cluttered website. User testing is always a preferred method because you get real feedback from actual people. However, they won’t always use the term “cluttered” to describe your website. They may tell you: that the site is too busy, that it is too hard to find information, that they don’t know what to click on or that there is just too much stuff.
Basically, if the user is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to look, then your site is cluttered. The drawback to this is that setting up user testing can be expensive and time consuming. There are premium testing options available, but you will need very deep pockets.
Other tools that help you tell if your site is cluttered are the Five Second Test that presents a web page to a tester for a total of five seconds. After that, the tester can no longer see the page but they are asked questions about what they recall from the page they just saw. The goal is to present information in a way that people can remember; if your site is cluttered odds are they won’t recall the most important information you are trying to get across to them. There are free options as well as the ability to create a pro account.
For a completely free test there is the Clutter Test; using an algorithm, the test measures the amount of clutter. According to their research, anything below 50 percent clutter is good. For an idea of how sites are measured, Google earned a 16 percent while Yahoo! earned an 86 percent.
A cluttered website is usually the result of trying to give the visitor too much information on one page. As professionals either we, or the client, feel that certain things need to be highlighted. When there are too many things that fall into this category, it is easy for things to get cluttered.
Joe Ardeeser’s method of preventing a site from becoming cluttered requires proper planning and a good review. Some tips he offers are:
- prioritize features, you can style items differently to create priority;
- remove unneeded items;
- create wireframes and designs that are intentional;
- hide deeper, less important items, but have strong, clear navigation so that these items are “discover-able”.
When you have too much “important” information on a single page, everything is fighting for the attention of the visitor and they are often distracted from the real purpose. Art Webb said it best when he pointed out the obvious:
If you make everything bold, nothing is bold.
Reduce the clutter
Whether you have determined that a site you built suffers from too much clutter, or you are redesigning someone else’s cluttered site you have to take a strategic approach to cleaning things up.
The first step to take is to prioritize what is important. There are some who believe that every page should be accessible from every other page—this can be achieved with well organized menus and site maps; everything doesn’t have to be crammed on to one page. Set a goal for each page and only include information that helps achieve that goal.
Once each page has it priority, start to minimize. Cut out everything that isn’t necessary to help achieve the goal of that page. Understand the less is more concept of minimalist design and really put that into practice.
After you have pruned everything that you feel is unnecessary, run your tests again. If things are still coming up as cluttered, you need to go back to square one. This time take an honest look at what you can remove without hurting the purpose of the website. If you are happy with the feedback you receive then great, but make sure that you don’t let things get cluttered as time goes on.
Clutter happens, and we know that clutter hurts. It hurts a website’s traffic, it hurts its reputation and it hurts important metrics like conversion rates. When we are designing websites we have to keep in mind that they are not a collage of content but rather a tool to communicate. They need to make their message clear to any visitor the moment they land on the site. Users are only willing to spend so much of their attention on a website, make sure that you are doing what you can to capture that attention and point them in the right direction.