Avoiding Design Distractions

cat chasing a laser
Just like a cat chasing a laser, when we see something on a website that moves, we have to look at it. Photo by jeffreyw (used under Creative Commons license)

“Design should never say, ‘look at me.’ It should always say, ‘look at this.’” – David Craib, owner of Parable Communications, a Canadian design company

Whether you are designing a website, a logo, a flyer, or any other material, you want to grab the viewer’s attention. But the focus of the attention should be the message, not the design itself. Design that calls attention to itself, links that direct the viewer away from a website, or any other distractions can make your audience miss the message you are trying to send and can have a negative impact on their opinion of your company.

Old or Disorganized Content
Probably the most distracting thing is a poorly organized site. If visitors can’t find what they are looking for or if the information is old or missing, they will go somewhere else. Poor design is not only distracting, it also hurts your credibility.

Color and Contrast
Color is a great way to set a tone and create a visual hierarchy of information. In addition to reinforcing your branding, images or text in a bright or bold color are going to draw the visitor’s eyes away from content that is in lighter or subtler tones. Use this to your advantage by using bright colors for headings, call to action buttons, and other content that you want visitors to pay attention to.

However, be careful not to use colors that are too vibrant or that clash, since this will strain your visitor’s eyes and make your company look unprofessional.  Avoid using too many colors. Your designs should use your brand’s color palette to make sure everything flows well and reinforces the message rather than distracting from it.

Also make sure that there is the right amount of contrast between your text and the background color/image. Light text on a dark background is harder to read than dark text on a light background.  Busy background images make it hard to read any text placed above them.

Pop ups and Auto Plays
Unexpected sounds, videos, and pop-ups are not only distracting, they are also incredibly annoying. (Music that automatically plays is my number one website pet peeve.) Today’s internet users are multi-taskers; they have several tabs open, are listening to music, and are doing other things while they are online. Pop-ups and auto-plays interfere with their other actions, forcing them to stop what they were doing and close the pop-up box or hunt for the “pause” button. Visitors often do like to listen to music or watch videos, just make sure you let them choose when it stops and starts.

Anything that moves will automatically draw your visitors’ eyes away from the content. Many websites do a good job of using this to their advantage through beautifully designed sliders that call attention to certain areas of their website. Just be aware that any movement decreases the likelihood that a visitor will read what is on the page. (And don’t ever make things blink; that’s annoying, unprofessional, and outdated. But mostly annoying.)

Ads can be a way to earn additional revenue with your website. But there is a huge trade-off. With that additional revenue comes the increased likelihood that visitors will leave your site to go see the website that was advertised.

On the other hand, due to the prevalence of online ads, many visitors have become blind to anything that looks like an ad. They will ignore content that is placed where they expect to see ads or that is designed to look like ads. When creating buttons or navigation on your site, make sure they do not look like ads or visitors may ignore them.