The #1 most important feature to
appreciate about browsing behaviour is scanning.
Web sites designed to be looked at
are likely to fail.
Web sites designed to be scanned are
more likely to succeed.
To design successfully, it helps to
know why people scan instead of reading, and how to help them.
What is scanning?
Scanning is what you almost certainly
do when you look at a web page.
Instead of starting at the top and
reading downwards, most people have learnt that they get better results
by scanning over the page, looking for certain clues.
What are we scanning for?
Once we accept that people are going
to scan instead of reading, we have to ask what they're scanning for.
The answer is 'Clues'. The specific
'clues to what' will depend on the context, and very much on the user's
goals. Very often the clue might be to answer the ever-present
question, "Am I in the right place?", or its brother, "How can I find
what I'm looking for?".
When navigating around, we don't read
the whole page and then make an educated, fully informed guess. What
most people do is click on the first thing that appears to offer a
fairly good chance of being the right thing.
More on why people scan (from Useit.com)
What are the implications on web page
You can't make people read. If
visitors are going to scan, designers need to know how to help them to
How to aid scanning
When your eye scans a page, it only
settles on a few elements: the ones that seem most likely to be useful.
There are ways of 'promoting' elements to help them stand out to the
scanning eye, and there are ways of making content 'recede' - stand out
less. These techniques make use of the classic tools of design:
hierarchy & containment, contrast, proximity, rhythm, motion
and flow. Of these tools, contrast is the most important (it has its own tutorial later on).
To aid scanning, we can:
- have insight into what features
will be most relevant and important to the user.
- know how to apply visual styles and
techniques to help point the eye towards those elements, and skip over
the unimportant elements (see the graphic
design section for specific articles & tutorials).