In the next few days, the Fordham Community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed designs for the new website via an online survey, so I thought it might be fun to talk about what’s hot in web design for the .edu crowd in 2014. Redesigns don’t come along every day, so we want to make sure that the look of the site is modern and has a healthy shelf-life, but don’t worry, the site won’t be radiant orchid.
Here’s what you can look forward to:
Simply, because we can. In the past, photography on the web was limited by bandwidth and internet connections because photographs contain an enormous amount of data that must be transferred. High-speed internet connections and greater bandwidth mean bigger, more beautiful photographs.
Check out these pretty pictures:
There was a now-famous psychology experiment in the late 90s in which shoppers were presented with jam at a grocery store. On one day they were invited to sample from 24 varieties of jams, on another, just 6. While they had similar foot traffic, 30% of the shoppers that visited the 6-variety display actually purchased jam, while only 3% of shoppers that visited the 24-variety display did. The researchers concluded that having too many choices makes it harder to settle on a single selection.
Thus I will admit that one of the greatest sins committed by myself and other web professionals over the past few years was allowing link proliferation on homepages, headers, and left-hand navigations. It isn’t uncommon to see over 20 links in a header alone. We have overwhelmed people with choice. Tsk tsk.
Visit Oberlin if you want to see some real navigational minimalism.
Focus on Font
Web fonts are also having a moment, and it’s thrilling for those of us who have been in this business for a while. It used to be that we were restricted to the very small set of web-safe fonts that were available to most users on their personal computers. Now, a user doesn’t have to own a particular font or have it installed on their computer. Instead, fonts are delivered on demand much like the images and copy on the page, and so our font choices have become infinite.
In addition, there is finally consensus that 10 and 12 point font is just too darn small to read comfortably on the web, and not just for those of us over 40. Wonderful research has been done on optimal font size, spacing, leading, and line character length which is also leading to a glorious resurgence of white space.
The Return of the Scroll
This post is beginning to sound like very much like the ramblings of a cranky old web designer — “back in my day, we didn’t have no high-speed internet and we had to make do with Arial” — but in the not-so-distant past, we also had the additional pressure of trying to fit all of the important content of a page “above the fold.”
“Above the fold” is a phrase held over from the print newspaper industry when the most attention getting content was plastered at the top of the page above the fold. It was that content that enticed readers to buy the paper.
Research proved again and again that users didn’t scroll so unless they saw whatever it is you wanted them to see above the fold chances are they were never going to see it. Anybody working customer service understands the phenomenon. “I can’t find x on your website.” “Did you scroll down?”
However, tablets and smart phones are teaching us how to scroll again. On mobile devices, you have to scroll to see anything, so designers have begun to embrace the idea of a deeper homepage, since for many of us, we’re going to be scrolling anyway. There’s one caveat, however. The content above the fold had better entice readers to want to scroll.
Here are a couple of sites that have some real payoff if you get past the top of the page: