Why you DON’T want users to linger on your website: The dangers of flat UI

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Here on the Feed, we like to highlight articles or news that we find especially relevant and interesting to comms professionals. This week, we came across a blog post from last  year on The Register on User Interface (UI) design.

Flat UI design has seen something of a surge in popularity in past years. Flat design involves interfaces that are graphically structured and illustrated to look flat, rather than making use of techniques or shading to make a page appear three-dimensional. A good example of this is Apple’s iOS 7, and many subsequent phone operating systems; as shown to the right, iOS 7 stylised its icons and apps as flat-looking graphic elements, employing minimal — if any — shading or highlight to give them dimension.

While many appreciate the aesthetic appeal and modern, clean simplicity of flat UI design, it can cause one key issue: research shows that it’s unintuitive and harder for users to navigate. Shading and highlight are useful tools for helping to visually distinguish between elements on a page — for example, to draw the eye towards navigation, or encourage eye tracking towards a call-to-action button.

The Register take a financial spin on this, and state that flat UI design is “costing publishers and e-commerce sites billions in lost revenue”. They focus on a study by Nielsen Normal Group that tracked the eye movements of 71 participants attempting to navigate nine different sites with different UI design. The results showed that participants spent “22 per cent more time (i.e. slower task performance) looking at the pages with weak signifiers” — that is, pages that weakly distinguished between navigational elements on the page, and thus had a flatter UI design, made it more difficult for users to find their way around. The results “suggest that participants struggled to locate the element they wanted, or weren’t confident when they first saw it,” concluded the researchers.

While this doesn’t imply that all flat design is bad, it does highlight the importance of taking into account user preferences and browsing habits in shaping your website.

For more information, read the full article here.