- Source: EyeTrack ’07 study findings
- Source: 23 Actionable Lessons from Eye Tracking Studies
- Rebuttal: Poynter’s Eye Track Follies
Articles like Poynter’s EyeTrack studies and Virtual Hosting’s 23 Actionable Lessons from Eye Tracking Studies have been on the Net for a while now and gotten a lot of play on Web design forums and inter-office email loops. These reports contain a handful of “best practices” for the layout of Web pages, and gives the impression that “scientific” Web design is a cookie cutter sort of thing, largely a matter of checking basic ingredients off a list. In truth, as Andy Rutledge’s scathing rebuttal makes clear, their entire methodology is so defective as to make their own recommendations “farcical and myopic”.
As can be seen from Poynter’s own home page, they are not themselves in the league of extraordinary designers. In fact, they don’t seem to understand the role of a professional designer. The problem is that what applies to badly-designed Web sites does not apply to well-designed Web sites. This is why people hire professional Web designers in the first place.
Any Web designer worth his or her salt will design a clean site template and home page based on specific business objectives and, equally importantly, a short list of preferred next actions—the things you want people to actually do when they visit your site: start an account, buy into a specific special offer, visit a particular page, subscribe to your list, whatever. Aesthetic concerns matter too, naturally, but they have to be weighed equally with practical business needs. Examining Web sites “designed” by “web designers” who don’t understand these fundamental design values is like trying to find the best way to design a 747 by watching how children make jet planes out of Lego.
None of which is to say that typical user habits don’t exist. A good Web designer is aware of common user patterns and expectations. But nothing creative or new ever comes of being a slave to current trends. For example, it’s true that, in general, people expect company logos to be top left and site search boxes top right. That doesn’t mean they must always be placed there, only that a Web site designer should have a strong, brief-related reason for placing them elsewhere.
As Rutledge concludes: “Any competent designer can design a page to compel readers to concentrate on one specific area or to systematically cover the entirety of the page’s content. But again, context matters and impacts reader behavior. Good designers take context into account.”