The psychological power of simple sites

The psychological power of simple sites

If you’re reading this, and you’re not a time traveler or a hardcore hipster, you probably haven’t used a phone book for a long time. In fact, if you even keep one, it’s probably buried somewhere in a cabinet beneath the kitchen sink, gathering dust.

What video did to the radio star, the Internet did to the Yellow Pages.

We’re beyond invested in the web. It’s not just what we use to order a pizza or call a cab. It’s no longer just a convenient thing – we depend on it for our collective sanity.

Unplugging the Internet is the quickest way to give someone anxiety. A smartphone screen is usually the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing we see at night.

Given this dependency, and the tremendous amount of information Americans take in every day, it’s more important than ever to focus on clean, simple UX. The design and layout of your website can have a profound effect on your visitors, reaching far beyond their conscious experience.

Staying alive

According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, there are more than a billion websites in cyberspace. However, most people only visit 100 domains a month. The sheer size of the Internet is staggering, but most of us are barely dipping our toes into this ocean of content.

Even more remarkable is the fact that most websites have a life-expectancy of about 100 days. They go from birth to death in about three months.

I can almost hear David Attenborough narrate: “The life of a website is hard and fast. The weak don’t last long in the rapidly changing, mercilessly evolving landscape of the Internet.”

You get the point.

The success of your site will be measured in large part by how long it survives.

It’s a universal truth that the simplest things tend to last the longest. They have fewer components to break – there’s just less that can go wrong. The same is true of websites.

With the benefit of hindsight, and a truckload of social science and neurological research, here are a few things you can keep in mind when creating your own sites in order to help you avoid the fate of the phone book.

Visually, less is more

I think it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

It sounds cliché, but it’s true.

In the frantic search to be eye-catching and fresh, too many designers clutter their pages with bright, flashy elements that mirror the visual sensations of a drug-addled cruise down the Las Vegas strip.

Yes, clutter can grab attention, but like Vegas, it’s only fun for a little while. After a few seconds on a busy homepage, visitors bounce like rubber balls. It’s a defensive reaction – the eyes and heart can only take so much.

Remember: the objective is to get people to stay and pay, not see and flee.

Good websites use simple colors, simple text and simple layouts to create something much more than the sum of their parts. This website for ZipStart is a good example.

So put down the glitter gun.

Put. It. Down.

Be clear and concise

The only thing, I repeat, the ONLY THING, you should sacrifice brevity for is clarity. Or emphasis. See what I did there?

Anyway, your web copy should always be brief, clear and to-the-point.

Don’t make visitors read instructive essays. Especially when your content involves something like completing your taxes or selling a house, make it easy.

Please—do it for the children.

There’s nothing worse than reaching the end of a dense block of web copy and realizing that it was completely irrelevant. This will always lead to terrible bounce rates.

Cue your website’s eventual death, natural-selection style.

Web design conventions, when followed, mean that visitors should be able to navigate your site without instructions at all. Use all the tools at your disposal to keep your page free from unnecessary text.

I’ve always thought that Apple’s website did a good job with this.

Remember, familiar is good

Due to what scientists call the Mere Exposure Effect, humans prefer the familiar over the exotic. At the end of the day, we’re all subconscious homebodies.

By keeping your site design familiar, you’ll be delighting the primal nature of your visitors.

Before you accuse me of asking you to be boring, I’m really just asking you to be brave.

It’s easy to clutter up the negative space in a site with ads and hoopla, but it takes effort and skill to present a beautiful, minimalist layout.

Good ideas can be fragile things, and the Internet is not a particularly forgiving place.

For your site to thrive, it must first survive.

It’s not that you need to think small, it’s that you need to think strong. Strip your idea down to its bones and give it the venue it deserves: an ascetically simple site.

I know you’re creative, and it’s fun to flex your brainstorming muscles for the crowd every now and then. Just remember, you’re looking for more than fifteen minutes of fame when you set up your site.

Keep things simple, and the applause of not just a transient crowd, but loyal fans, (and potentially ringing cash registers) will echo in your dreams.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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