Web designers naturally have a distorted view of web pages, which is different to how real users interact with web pages.

The way we look at pages as we design them is quite different from how they’re used in the real world.

To create designs that work in the real world, we must appreciate the way they’ll really be used.

How designers look at web pages

  • We appreciate balance, depth, richness, and surprises
  • We enjoy looking at designs
  • We stare long and hard at the complete screen

How real people use web pages

  • They move quickly because they don’t like looking at the screen
  • They’re impatient – they tend to click the first promising link, and often don’t wait for pages to finish loading
  • They don’t like to read, scanning text quickly for clues
  • They’re looking for things to help them do what they want to do

These are fundamental and massive differences!

The way that we, as designers, even approach web pages is almost alien, compared to what goes on in the real world. That’s probably the main reason why so many web sites are badly designed.

Whenever you or I look at a design (or anything), our perception changes. Most importantly, we really look, as though we’re looking at a work of art.

We start to notice subtle differences that we wouldn’t have seen at first. We start to appreciate the play between different colours, textures and layers. If we look long enough, we’ll stop seeing. As the cliché goes, we “Can’t see the wood for the trees”.

Implications for Usability

In order to create effective web designs, we have to be sympathetic to web users. That involves getting smart in three key areas:

  1. The environment of real-world web use
  2. The habits users adopt in order to cope
  3. The things we can do to help users browse successfully, smoothly, and cheerfully

These three things pretty well sum up ‘Web design from Scratch’. The rest of the Basics section deals with the first two areas: the web browsing environment, and the habits of web users.

How to design for the web

We must design for the way people actually use the web (not how we think they should)

Once we fully acknowledge the way people really browse the web, we can get smart and positively design our sites to help real-life users, and avoid all the common mistakes that make life difficult for them.

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