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Visual Noise Reduction



7:36 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I think we all know I am from the Nielsen old school (now new school again), minimalist method of design. I work under the premise that most new vistors will enter a site through side pages. According to my own log and cookie studies, a staggering 85% of all first time visitors come to sites I've developed through the side pages. They come in via search engines or direct deep links from other sites. If it were not for other sites "links" pages and directories such as Yahoo, I think the figure would be near 95%.

I want to get those side door visitors to the whole point of the site as fast as possible. In order to do that, reducing the visitors choices to a minimum is critical. If you'll pardon the analogy, it's a lot like herding cattle. You need to bird dog them to show them the way.

If it were possible, I would reduce every page down to the content, 1-3 direct links to related content, and one link back to root for a maximum of 5 links on a page. Unfortunatly, pages like that rarely work in the real world.

Going that minimalist will make a site seem thin and incomplete. A raw page of text is as counter productive as an overblown gratuitous page.

Additionally, site types are so different from one another, that making too broad of generalizations can be misleading. Certain types of sites almost demand a bit of flare through bells and whistles. Who would visit a site for a graphics design shop that was a basic doc file dumped on the web?

So while it is tempting to say "this is what they want", we still need to inject appropriate qualifiers for the class and type of site we are discussing. I deal mostly with content sites, and ecomm sites that are deep in content, products, and product litature. I design sites to stear people to the hotest sections of the site or sections that have the highest ROI for the client. Everything is geared to getting clients to whatever is going to be the highest ROI for the client.

Once the user is onto the money pages, I tend to relax the design standards and do whatever it takes to put the clients pitch in the best light. Those are the pages they take back to corporate and show off.

In the last few years, it has been a difficult to resist feature, function, and noise creep on those cash cow pages. Pages have tended to fill up with various little bits. By themselves an affiliate link, a special-of-the-day, or a featured product, doesn't have much of an impact. However, when you add up all those little bits of links, buttons, graphics, or whatever suddenly, that pristene clean functional site looks noisy.

What do you guys do to keep yourself and clients from wanting more noise on the page?


7:56 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

This may sound funny but I use reverse pychology (or is that ygolohcyp esrever). I show them a design and tell them, reasonably indepth, why a minimalist site works. They ALWAYS end up in a argument and showing me cluttered sites. Once I point out that they have missed out half the content of the cluttered site I start praising it. (Another argument later). They wont here a bad thing said about my minimalist design.


In other words MANIPULATION ;)


8:15 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You should use design to present content in an attractive and easily-digested form. I wish I could insert a link here, because I have a site that I think perfectly illustrates this (not that I'm boasting or anything, of course): I managed to keep the design to an absolute minimum, and it is clean, simple and uncluttered, but still made the client go, "Wow!" I rarely manage to achieve that.

My profile has a link to my personal homepage which has a great deal more design to it -- I class it as an entertainment site. I tried to make it look fun, while using the design to frame the content. There are some flaws in the design (I'm going to have to alter the blog template) and the server is sometimes a tad slow... but it demonstrates my basic philosophy: Use design to present your content. If you're using content to fill out your design, you're doing it wrong -- unless it's an experimental site.


9:06 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Brett, it all depends on visitors.. Some people like PICTURES! THEY LOVE THEM! Site should be nice and good looking for them! Some love simplicity..
The True story is 50/50, as always!
We offer design to our clients.. Different clients- different designs. Some are simple, some are not. It all depends on the site's purpose.
If that is a promo site, that is not wise to have a simple layout. It was designed to make visual effect. IT'S PURPOSE IS To make visual effect.

If you read the last Nielson article, the biggest problem is not in visiual side but in usability. Look at Windows XP. I hardly know several people that would not say "WOW". Of course, not Unix users, but those that use Windows for a long time.. Many, many people bought Windows XP just because of it's look!
Same, if you want to purchase Ferrari, the simple site with text only looks cheap.. I would not buy there. I want the site to radiate power of Ferrari.

Yes, simplicity is the way.. One of many. All depends on purposes .

Sorry for offtopic :)


12:15 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

What do you guys do to keep yourself and clients from wanting more noise on the page?

I explain to my customers that they are a bad judge of what is noisy on their site due to the fact that they see their site all the time, and they know what's where. We all have software applications that we use on a regular basis that have a couple zillion buttons and/or menu items. But we know where the important buttons are and the other unused ones simply disappear to us. But to someone new to the software, the array of options is daunting. The same is true for their websites. They've got to continually keep in mind that all of this extra noise is brand new to many people visiting the site for the first time, and it could detract from the primary purpose of the site.

Occasionally, I'll point them to a busy site and say "Quickly - find the address of one of their Kansas dealers." They get the point.


2:06 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Navigation is still a necessary evil to average web pages (which should be Documents focused on a specific topic). Both as a designer and a surfer I thank google for abstracting navigation away from the content so I don't have to trudge through the (generally) crappy navigation on any site.

Case in point: I use google to search useit.com because Nielsen's own search is so bad.


2:58 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


That's what I mainly use the toolbar for.



3:08 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

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>Case in point: I use google to search useit.com because Nielsen's own search is so bad.

COOL! So, Nielsen should hire Google team to do "search usability" testing? :)


3:42 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I live by this saying: "Keep it stupid simple."

I use tables and CSS to bring nice color and form to the page I create and other than a single clear pixel I use to create misc. spacing with (for an odd amount of space not found when using <DIV>, <BR>, or <P>) I use no more than 3 graphics (5k or less) to help enhance the UI (unless we're talking about a product pages - then all products get uniform listings in a "category" page with links to individual product pages - with a bigger picture since you don't have all of the other product thumbnails being displayed on the same page).

I have never created a graphical mouseover() nav-bar. No need for it with CSS and a duped <TD> background.

I explain the following "2 Rules" to my clients:

1. SPEED: Graphics must be small, unintrusive and complimentary to the copy the page instead of taking center stage. You want them to go from point A to point D a quickly as possible.

2. READ: Give users something of substance to chew on but make it short, sweet and to the point - always leading them to pre-defined "gooooaaaal!". Give them choices, but have all of those choices lead them to where we want them to go. The eyes read left to right (in most countries) so your content shouldn't stop that flow.

Any additions to a page/site that counters these two rules should always be re-evaluated, and sensibly re-designed.

[edited by: HyperGeek at 3:45 pm (utc) on June 26, 2002]


3:44 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Oh my gosh... One of my clients is demanding clutter, too! He wanted one of those sidebars so that he could cram it with redundant links (to things that are contained WITHIN the 7 main navigational tabs). I told him I would make TWO home pages, one clean and uncluttered, and another with the sidebar. When the need arose, he could swap out the homepages and fill it with the links that "HAVE" to be there.

As for "Pictures" and excessive graphics, I explained to another client ("Please make my picture bigger") that all those files take up bandwidth, and that ultimately, that bandwidth is coming out of his pocket, i.e. lots of visits = humongous bandwidth = less money for client.

What does everyone else do?


4:05 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I also explain that my suggestions are to maximize their ROI and that anything added that I might not agree with will probably hurt them in the SE rankings as well as in the pocket.

Most give in, others don't. The ones that don't recieve back whatever money they gave me minus a non-refundable deposit.

I also freelance for animation, comics, and magazines and run into this problem with designs of other sorts as well.

I've gotten better at "feeling out" a client before I take on a project - but sometimes you get thrown a curve.

It may seem arrogant to those who don't really know me, but I'll dump a client if they're difficult.

I mean, I'm not coming up to you and saying "Well, this seems like a good idea for a business/web site BUT you really should be selling/doing this..." I trust a client's judgement (working mostly on low to mid-yield e-commerce sites) and feel that they should trust mine when they hire me to make that online transition or re-design for them.

I look at a client ignoring my suggestions against clutter and crap the same way as I would telling a magician how to do a trick as he's doing it.

You do your job and I'll do mine - and if you have no faith in my abilities, then why did you hire me? Some client's like to treat their employed as "whipping boys" and you cannot allow this to happen. There are better jobs out there waiting to be given by clients with appreciation for your talent(s) and knowledge.

If the client's a good one and won't budge: I love throwing in the old, "...it's looking too much like a adult site." They hate that comparison, but usually bend when it's made. ;P

[edited by: encyclo at 1:21 pm (utc) on Mar. 29, 2006]

brotherhood of LAN

6:04 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brotherhood_of_lan is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Great thread....a very practical problem.

A site I have in mind is the same as hypergeek desribes above....simple, small, fast....before taking into consideration the complications of thee page...

Site is informational like WMW, where the "stupidly simple" layout intends to present information while AT THE SAME TIME present related information......in the right places of course.

As much as I believe "keep it simple stupid"...I also believe you "cant fool all of the people all of the time" and even if your site is "ideal" for your target market, there will always be members in that target market who do not fit the bill.

example....99% of people like the WMW is set out...but some people create threads suggesting changes.......sigh.

I also like the minimalism approach...partly because I believe many "average surfers" have came across so many crappy affiliate pages full of ads and their search keywords that when they see a minimalistic page.....the know whats already there is meant to do at least SOMETHING! :)

I guess its not all about physical layout..but each persons perception and finding the "norm" somewhere in the middle.

To address "visual noise" directly....

Consider a site with tutorials and a dictionary. On the tutorial pages, we want to link to terminology used and in the dictionary....links to elaboration in the tutorials.

So when the site gets comprehensive....what will it be....a tutorial document hyperlinked from top to bottom with technical terms or simply none at all.....

I'm sure this "visual noise" would be less of a factor if the web was 3D, the surfer was more aware of their surroundings or essentially.....I stick to my minimalistic roots :)


9:16 am on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yesterday, a friend of mine decided he wanted to find out when Brazil, Germany and Italy had won the World Cup in the past. In particular, he wondered why, if a country who wins the cup three times gets to keep it, we are still using only the second trophy, despite the fact that Germany has won the championship enough times already. So he went to the FIFA World Cup site.

What he was looking for was a simple table: Year, location, winner, runner-up for each championship. He couldn't find it.

It's a beautifully designed site. Heavy on bandwidth, but a beautiful design. But when he went to the archive, the only option he could see available to him was to click on a poster representing each tournament in turn, read the extensive report peppered with historical anecdotes and then use the Back button to go on to the next. He eventually discovered that he could go from one to the other simply by changing a number represented the year in the URL, although he forgot they didn't hold the championships during WWII, so he got a couple of unhelpful (but pretty) 404's.

It took at least half an hour to find the answer (you have to win the same trophy three times). Thing is, it's not as if he was a novice -- he and I design websites together.

Just one simple link -- "Previous championships at a glance" or something -- would have been such an obvious and helpful addition.


1:14 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Three of the last sites i have done have been quadrupled in size by my over zealous boss. He is a magazine editor so everything has to be massive and clear! jpeg city. "No plain backrounds please", repeating images are the way to go son!

I've reached the point where I have to say, fine its your business but its killing me professionaly. I don't want to spend all night every night doing work on the side but I'll have to if I want a portfolio worth speaking about.

Any ideas? Its a pain that its my boss and not a client. You can't exactly fire your boss!


1:54 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


I look at a site as providing a framework for the user to run any number of potential narratives with...everything on every page must serve the needs of one or another narrative...if it doesn't then it won't be used anyhow


3:10 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

It's always worth showing people grapphic heavy sites with a bad interenet connection and comparing the speed to that of a more minimalistic site. The best time to do this is when the person (boss/client) is busy and needs to rush off somewhere ;)

I agree 100% though that it depends on the visitors you are trying to attract. I think a lot of sites can be all about the information whereas others are almost like entertainment sites..


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