"You can't put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound sack" as they say (only the way I learned it, it wasn't sugar in the sack). Yet, over and over we see organizations fruitlessly trying to get every single message from every conceivable internal stakeholder crammed into their homepages. Once they're all smushed in like an electronic clown car and the site launches, the client is right back in the same boat of wondering why they have an ineffective website with lousy bounce and conversion rates.
In feedback meetings you'll hear things like: "If people have to scroll, they'll never see this," "I don't want people to miss this," "These business units ALL need to be very prominent," "make everything stand out more," and so on, and so on. This logic is inherently flawed. Just because something is "above the fold" and on the homepage doesn't mean it will be seen or understood by the user. And if everything is bold, nothing is bold.
That's called the "Signal to Noise Ratio". Consider this statement from Web Syle Guide, which pretty well sums up my point:
"...The restricted space of the screen. Even with today’s larger monitors, the web page is a small space, especially when you have a lot to pack in, as on home pages. Crowding inevitably increases visual noise because it increases accidental associations among page elements and reduces the white space so crucial to visual organization."
To demonstrate this, humor me by answering a few rhetorical questions.
First Question: What's easier to hear and comprehend; a single voice talking, or a noisy crowd all talking & shouting at once?
A single voice:
Many voices at once:
Ding! Ding! Ding! That's right, the single voice!
Next Question: Take a look at these two rooms. Which room would you prefer to spend time in? Which room can be more easily walked through (navigated)?
Easy choice right? The one that is clean, spacious, and uncluttered. You see where I'm going with this, but let's keep at it.
Question #3, just to drive my point home.
Here is our own home page with lots of content that has been laid out "properly").
Now here is that same page with all that same content packed in to fit "above the fold".
Ugly isn't it? You can't read anything, you're not sure what's important and really, it just looks like a hot mess. There is no reason to do this to a website, especially when there is considerable data that proves users are very comfortable with scrolling.
So what's the solution? It's easy. Trust your designer's recommendations.
Your designer will help you, and together you will decide what is absolutely most important and what things the user can discover second, third, and fourth. Let that list of priorities guide the layout of your content. Give the content (and your user's eyes) room to breathe.
Design is not as subjective as you may think. There are rules and principles that contribute to a sucessful design solution. Contrast, visual hierarchy, white space, and legibility (to name a few) are all principles your designer is responsible for applying to your website design. You should no more tell your designer how to design then you should tell your mechanic how to fix your car. Unless you don't trust your designer, in which case, you might have a different problem to address on your project.
So here's the last question on our quiz:
Are you still telling your web designer to pack everything in above the fold? Tell us in the comments.
Images used under Creative Commons License:
Liquid Cat: Metro UK
Interior Design: Modern Homes Interior
Compulsive Hoarder: Wikipedia