Design & UX

Web Design: Why Less Is More

“Less is more” is a phrase that gets thrown around frequently in all areas of design, including web design. But do we really understand it? Do you know why less is more? We take a closer look at the theory behind this statement and analyse how you should reflect it in the design of your website.

The human attention span is about 12 seconds. Even though several sources cited that from 2000 to 2015 it decreased from 12 seconds to just 8.5, there’s no evidence to back up this claim.

The human brain doesn’t change in such a short amount of time and the attention span studies have longevity much longer than these 15 years.

With that in mind, even the 12-second attention span has serious implications for website designers.

Good design doesn’t require thinking

“Don’t make me think” is another classic design principle. Less is more, so we’ll keep it short – if you need to explain your design, it’s not good.

One of the best examples is the asterisk in contact forms. It’s engraved in our minds that red asterisks mark an input field as required.

But why do we need them? Isn’t it obvious that contacting someone requires an email address and a message? Do we really need to mark the credit card number as required during checkout?

Two-field contact forms with "email" and "message" fields, side by side, one with fields marked as required with red asterisks, one without them.

The design is self-explanatory. And that’s our goal all along.

Your website has to take the visitor from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible.

Even if you know what the asterisks mean it will still catch your attention. Its red colour stands out, you will notice every single instance of them and think about it. Regardless of whether it happens subconsciously, your visitors will spend time thinking about it.

In our article about intrusive contact forms asking for too much personal data we have stated that it’s optimal to ditch the asterisks and mark fields that aren’t required as “optional”. The difference in the usability of the two approaches is purely psychological.

The “cleaner” design without asterisks and with “optional” fields doesn’t make it seem like the visitor is told what to do.

We’d go a step further from that suggestion. Ditch the optional fields where possible. Stick to what’s absolutely necessary and make it simple. Your visitors (and conversion rate) will thank you.

“Less is more” – how does it influence web design?

Content dictates the design

At Nerd Cow, we design websites with a content-first approach. We have explained the content-first approach in our recent article. Content dictates the design. The “less is more” principle is crucial even before the web design phase starts.

Content-heavy assets (like a blog or a news hub) aside, less is more for content as well. Keeping your story concise and stressing the most important bits in compelling headlines or by making them stand out is crucial.

Content-first is also mobile-first

Mobile-first design is important considering the shift in web usage. The share of mobile views varies by industry, but overall mobile visits exceed desktop visits and mobile users consume more content than desktop visitors.

The incredible rise of popularity of these two methods is the best example of the importance of “less is more” approach. Designing for mobile devices first proves to be beneficial for the desktop version of your site.

Creative design for Ingrid Petersen’s art website

Discover how we’ve applied the best web design practices to create an engaging website for Ingrid Petersen.

Make your visual hierarchy efficient

Most people only scan websites. It’s clear when browsing anonymous session recordings and that’s the case for every type of site, even the content-heavy ones.

So how do you optimise your site to appeal to the 12-second attention span without leaving anything out? How do you make sure visitors don’t miss the important part when scanning your website?

A clear, logical visual hierarchy is the key. Elements that help structure your content properly are:

Here’s how we utilise most of these methods on one our WordPress design landing page:

A screenshot of Nerd Cow's WordPress design landing page

Why less is more?

It’s no coincidence that the most effective landing pages have little to no external links. The more choice, the less clear the customer journey becomes. Focusing on fewer tasks increases their completion rate.

Eye-catching animations and designs are good (and even necessary) for some industries but most business websites are best left with a minimalist design.

The current generation is in a hurry. We don’t have the time for subtlety. If people search for something and your website takes more than a couple of seconds to comprehend, they’re going back to the Google search results page and visit your competition.

Less is more – less distractions, more conversions.

Originally published May 23, 2019 8:43:34 AM, updated October 23 2020.

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