Web design myths

When it comes to the web, computers and technology, everyone has their own opinions and beliefs. When designing sites, we often hear remarks and requirements that simply aren't true, so today we'll dispel a few.

1. Important stuff should be 'above the fold'

The 'fold' is a concept used by newspapers, because they are folded in half when put on display, it's important for them to put eye-catching headlines on the top half. This is not the case with websites. People are already engaged with your website, they've done the equivalent of picking up a newspaper, and opening it out. Everyone's computer mouse has a scroll-wheel these days, and people are comfortable with using them.

What's important is that information and call-to-actions are provided in a logical manner and the user is guided down the page as required.

See also: There is No Page Fold, Life Below 600px

Stack of newspapers

2. People read everything

When writing content for the web, it's important to understand a user's environment and situation; their context. If they are booking train tickets or checking the location of a venue, it's unlikely they are going to enjoy reading through pages and pages of text to find what they want.

Most users will skim read, darting around pages to cherry pick the snippets of information that interest them. Only when they are truly 100% enthusiastic about the content will they read it properly, and even then skimming is usually employed to judge whether the user wishes to dedicate time to further reading.

See also: How Users Read on the Web

Glasses

3. All pages should be accessible in 3 clicks

This statistic is useless; smaller sites are likely to adhere purely because they have less content and on larger sites it would be ridiculous as the amount of options would prevent users from ever finding what they want - and that's the key thing here.

Users will keep clicking contently provided they believe they are getting closer to their target.

See also: UXMyths: All pages should be accessible in 3 clicks

Computer Mouse

4. The homepage is the most important page

Websites aren't like books; there is no standardised beginning, middle and end. Search engines, which most sites rely on for the majority of traffic, want to send their users to the most relevant pages, which are unlikely to be your homepage.

Every site will have different important pages, for e-commerce sites it's going to be their product listings and checkout process, for a company website it's likely to be products and services.

You might be starting to see a pattern here; the most important pages are derived from what visitors are trying to achieve on your website.

Open book

5. Anyone with a digital camera can take good photos

Okay, so this isn't strictly web design related, but a large portion of websites have photography on them, even if it's just a few mugshots on the 'about us' page. Taking a peak at Apple's website illustrates how professional photography can really have an incredible impact on the overall experience.

Professional photography does not need to be expensive, you may not need every photo to be taken by a pro, you can reduce the time by preparing before they arrive or you could hire a student cheaply as a semi-pro. You could also look at stock photography on sites like iStockPhoto.

If you are convinced you want to take your own photos, then we have a photography few tips.

SLR Camera

6. Forcing opening links in new windows will retain users

By disregarding user's own navigational choices you not only appear hostile (due to the unexpected activity) but also prevents use of the back button, a concept that web users have been comfortable using for a long time now. Opening new windows also can cause issues for disabled users using screen readers.

This behaviour is so disliked by users that many browsers have actually overridden the action, causing tabs to be opened instead. The key takeaway is: if users want to, they will return to your site, if they are interested they will remember your name should they need to look your site up again, there's no need to be like a ball-and-chain.

See also: The Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 1999 (yes it dates that far back!), Beware of Opening Links in a New Window

Ball and chain

7. Accessibility is purely about helping a few disabled users

The principles surrounding accessibility overlap with other goals of building good websites, they can help users on mobile devices by taking into account they don't have a mouse and improve the experience for users on slow/patchy internet connections.

A monetary benefit is that search engines are essentially the most disabled users ever, so if they can read your site more easily, you're more likely to rank higher.

See also: SEO through Accessibility - How designing accessible websites leads to automatic SEO

Wheelchair