This article is an excerpt from "Save the Pixel" (1st edition), available as a PDF ebook.
At this point in the book, you (the reader) know your purpose in creating a web site. You have insight into your target visitors and what drives them, and the importance of creating a clear scent path to lead them to their goals, (which is the way to achieve your project's goals).
Before going into specific techniques, I want to focus again on the core practice of simplicity.
Simple solutions are better – by definition. Occam's Razor teaches us that given any 2 solutions (in design terms, two visual designs that communicate the same content), the one that achieves it more simply will be more successful.
The logical argument is:
Simple is best. It's always a good idea to look for the simple core within a complex situation. The dedication to simplicity is core to the “Save the Pixel” approach.
Unnecessary complexity brings risk and cost disproportionate to its benefits. You should aim to have only as much of anything as is necessary to get the job done. How much “X” should you
have in your web site? “Enough, and no more!”
Put another way, your web pages should be no more complex than they need to be to fulfil their various objectives.
Simplicity benefits the web professional in numerous ways:
Simplicity is good for business. Successful web sites are consciously playing a percentage game. You want to retain visitors from their entry page right through to the goal being reached. If this is selling shoes, the more people you retain at each step in the process, the more shoes you sell.
Simple messages often come across more successfully (because of the way we consume web pages, scanning for clues rather than reading).
Most design problems have been faced and solved before. The better solutions have been used again and again, and have become conventions, which persist until a better solution still comes along to displace it.
Sure, there are always new contexts and new issues, which require original solutions, but in any project the majority of the challenges are not original.
There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us.Ecclesiastes
When faced with any problem, the designer has two ways they can go.
There are thousands of common design patterns that have become conventions, for good reason. Familiar, conventional solutions make life easier for you, the designer, and also for the people who visit your sites, because it takes less thought to implement and understand something that looks and feels familiar and behaves just how you expect.
A minority of web designers seem to believe that it's their job to make everything different and unconventional. While this is very occasionally true, it's more commonly the designer following their own agenda (perhaps based on the belief that feedback from other designers is the most important success criterion). Perhaps sometimes that's also valid, but not in the case of most commercial design projects. It's rarely in a site's best interests to be unconventional.
To approach every challenge from naivety, trying to come up with a novel design solution is frankly a crazy waste of energy. Brand new design solutions not only take more work, time, and creative energy, but they also have less chance of success. (It's a natural law that a significant proportion of new things fail: new products, new life forms, new design widgets etc.)
Sure, we often need to create new things as designers. But how do you decide where to direct your precious creative energy, and when is it best to pull out an existing convention?
My answer would be: use a convention wherever it clearly works satisfactorily.
Always look for an existing convention first, especially when the problem itself is conventional. If you can't find a conventional solution that works in the context of this project, only then invest in full-on original creative thinking.
Conventional problems include things like:
Always consider whether there's an obvious way to achieve what you need. If you find yourself doubting the obvious convention, try looking at the alternatives from the site visitor's point of view. What's more likely to help them get what they want out of the site?
It’s tempting to try and make your website stand out by showing how smart you or your audience are. This is invariably a mistake.
Think of the most successful advertisements you can recall. Are they simple or clever? They might be fun and entertaining, or they might not be.
They might be very obvious, or they might be abstract, word-based or image-based. But the ones that stick in my mind have a simple concept or message at their core.
Lots of people enjoy intellectual stimulation, but there are better places to go for that kind of thing, like picking up a sudoku. Why are people visiting your site? Unless you’re running a technical or political publication, where your goals may depend on intellectual stimulation, don’t try to make your visitors think, they won’t stick around to thank you.
Cleverness introduces risk. Don't use in-jokes that rely on specific prior knowledge. Question marks over your visitors’ heads are a sign of mental friction, which is a sign that you’ll be leaking eyeballs.
One of the risks of challenging your visitor’s intellect is that you’ll make them feel stupid, and you don’t want to do that! Even if you don’t make them feel stupid, your page will still take more work to get through, and you don’t want that either! Because attention is limited and the clock is ticking. The easier you make it to pick up the scent, the more people you'll keep.
Being “clever” doesn't make you look smarter. In the case of service providers, it can actually make you seem less accessible and less useful.
If you have a message/values/benefits to communicate, just do it! State it, make it plain, bold and unambiguous. When someone gets to your site, they want to know if it's worth persevering with the site. Are they likely to get the information or service they want? So make your site transparent. “This is who we are, this is what we do, who we do it for, and how.”
Keeping it simple is hard. One reason it’s hard is because we so often feel compelled to be doing something “more”, to be different in order to keep the visitor interested. That’s how cleverness creeps in. When you’re creating your web site this little voice can start telling you that it’s too boring, too much like the next site. You feel a desperate need to come up with something with a bit more jazz.
Always keep in mind that the people who'll be coming to this web site to find what they want aren't web designers. They don't get a kick out of looking at new and interesting web designs. They're looking through the design, scanning for meaningful clues in the content. The purpose of your design is not to draw attention to itself. It's to facilitate communication.
When that little voice starts, cover your ears and concentrate hard on your visitors’ goals. What do they need from you?
Consider your choices using a pure “Save the Pixel” framework. Any pixels you use to make your visitors think you're clever are pixels you're not using to guide them directly to what they want. Apply Occam's Razor. Is there a simpler way to achieve the same thing? If so, use it. The simpler solution is better.
A rhetorical question is a linguistic device in which you make a point using the form of a question that doesn't actually require an answer, often proceeding to answer it yourself. This is clearly not the simplest way to communicate a point.
Questions like, “Why use Cleverdick Consulting?” often make me think, “I don't know, and I don't care! Seeya!”
Rhetorical questions are generally unhelpful because they create question marks in your visitor's head, a sign of friction. Any question creates a void, which the visitor is expected to fill, and that means your site loses control of the dialogue.
You wouldn't expect to walk into a car showroom and the salesperson come up to you and ask, “Why would you choose to shop here?”, would you?
Hint: If you have a rhetorical question, try simply turning it into a statement, maybe just by removing the question mark. “Why use Cleverdick Consulting” is much stronger when put as a statement than as a question.
11 chapters, 22 complete web page redesigns, in 108 pages crammed with professional web design secrets & tips!
Save the Pixel is brillant, just brillant - just what is needed! A must read for anyone who designs and develops web sites.Anne Nortcliffe, University lecturer
After working on website development for years I read the Save the pixel book by scratchmedia. It has revolutionised the way that I think about websites and I only wish I could have read it sooner.David Carr
A real gem of a book.Trent Brown
Every working web designer should read it as it is chock full of great tips and advice for creating great user experiences. An excellent resource even for seasoned Web design pros but it should be required reading for all aspiring and new Web designers but especially wannabes This book demonstrates very well why real design is a lot more than mere decoration and why every pixel counts when your site tries to communicate a brand or message as clearly as possible. Best $30 I spent all year...pixelyzed.com
The principles in this book are really outstanding and really work. I utilized some of the techniques with the getability section and some various techniques, and it helped me close 2 projects worth over $4000 each.MAJ3STIC STUDIOS
I just read Save the Pixel and loved it! Ive read about a half a dozen books on web design, and Save the Pixel says 3X as much in half the space.whynot
Hi, Im a web designer in the U.S. I bought your book Save the Pixel and I found it incredibly useful and helpful. It seems impossible to find information on how to effectively communicate on the web, and this book was a great help. THANK YOU!Jillian Nickell
Whether you are a web designer or a company looking to enhance your web presence, Save The Pixel is a must read.Paul Dixon
If you design websites, you will want to check this out.Bernadot Studios
An easy to read and apply how-to guide to building simple and effective websites. I purchased this ebook a while back and I can say from personal experience that it is worth every penny. It is chock-full of real advice and instruction on building clean, crisp websites that meet the needs of your clients.
“Save the Pixel“ - one of the best books on goal-oriented webdesign.Saint
Ben Hunt has done a great job writing this one, its simple, pleasure to read and - last but not least - cheap.
The key idea is that design is a means of information communication and presentation, which many webdesign companies completely forget. Now this guy reminds it to you.
Having 6 years of design experience, I highly recommend this book to anyone involved in sites production or thinking about ordering a site for himself.
Why should you read it? Simple: you will learn to work less, work faster and work more efficient. Given that the book isnt a thick old-school manual you will read and start to implement the contained ideas real fast.
This book is fantastic! As a self taught web designer I have been on the lookout for this book for years! Thank you, Ben. Not only will this make my decision making easier - it will save me from the hell of its not quite perfect... I GET IT! I am excited to get to work - something I havent been for quite awhile!Wanda
Well worth the money. He has a very no-nonsense style that I think a lot of us as web designers need to re-adhere to.Kara Gates, Base Aesthetic
Any webdesigner should buy and read this great ebook. Unless youre a guru webdesigner already, youre bound to learn something from this ebook. The focus is not on the technical or arty aspects of webdesign, but purely on the functional and communicational aspects of web design. Very inspirational, very nice to read. Especially when youre relatively new in web design, but not a complete rookie, and want to take your general web design knowledge to a higher level, this is an absolute must read!Jurgen Nijhuis, ArgosMedia
One of the best book I have ever read about web design.James Bell
Web Design from Scratch has been on my bookmarks for the longest time now, as I was taken aback when I first chanced upon it. It presented web design in such a structured, educational but yet enlightening way that I could not help but continue to be drawn to its contents. It helped shape the way I design my sites, even though web design is just a hobby of mine. So when Ben released "Save the Pixel", it was almost a given that I would purchase it.
And the book sure did not disappoint. Filled with lots of examples, Ben gave a terrific explanation about how to develop a site, from the concept, all the way down to production, complete with diagrams, theories and frameworks. It might sound like a mouthful but somehow, he made it easy to understand. And what I realize, it can be applied to almost any design work one is embarking on, advertising campaigns, posters, billboards, magazine covers, etc. The concepts presented were something new and revolutionary and challenged the way I thought about what creativity really means. I have read it and re-read it and still found it refreshing and useful.
“Save the Pixel” is certainly a gem that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in design work of any kind, and not only web design.
The book was excellent - short and to the point.Richard Griffiths
A great book from a great teacher.
With very clear principles and with countless ideas, Save the Pixel showed me what I want the websites that I create to be like.
“Save the Pixel” will change the way you design websites.Spencer Norman
I want to recommend a 100-page ebook thats the smartest guide to effective web design out there, and probably one of the best books on Internet marketing that youre likely to find.
The ebook is called Save the Pixel and its by Ben Hunt, a UK-based web designer who has drawn a lot of attention with his very useful online tutorials and articles about Web 2.0 design.
If you are doing anything online, or are considering it, then Save the Pixel will be some of the most valuable stuff youll ever read.
If youre just getting started and dont have a site yet, Bens insights will save you a lot of time and hundreds of dollars in unnecessary design dead ends and fancy dysfunctional sites.
I bought the Save the Pixel ebook and found it amazingly helpful and eye-opening.
Your approach is so simple, I think of it as simple genius. I'm not trying to butter you up but my former company has contracted with web designers in the past to build sites for various products. I always struggled with the designers because the layouts just were not working but I had a hard time figuring out and explaining to them why.
Your ebook made it all very clear.
I finished reading it on the plane home yesterday and really enjoyed it. I found that it provided reaffirmation for some ideas and clarified others. I also found some new ideas around displaying results. The entire concept of simplifying and stripping away to reveal meaning makes a lot of sense to me.
The case studies were really valuable in showing how you managed to clearly represent what the end client will be looking for. The TraceTracker design really blew me away. Well done. Visually stunning and you figured out a way to communicate what the company provides.
Edwin van de Plasse
Its just what I was looking for. I know it will be a lot of use for me to build my new website.
I would have bought the e-book for double the price
For anyone who still cares about quality design and clean, intuitive user interfaces for modern web designs, Ben Hunt is your man.ZenTwist