How much does design actually effect your users? Believe it or not, design effects your site more then you think, even the smallest change in design effects it. I was recently listening to Marissa Mayer’s keynote from Google IO 2008 and found some of the information she pointed out very interesting. (If you want to watch the keynote you can do so at Youtube).
One of the things she stated was that Google had three designs for their search results page. The only difference in the designs was a small amount of white space on the page. (Youtube Clip) From the test that Google did, they noticed that even the small amount of white space, just a few pixels difference, made a big effect on how happy their visitors were. This small study shows that even the smallest changes on your site effects your users. This is also another reason to make for sure your site has a very clean and professional design.
Some other information that Marissa explains is that even giving your user what they want can effect your visitor’s response to how they respond to your website. In the keynote she stated, that they asked users how many results they would like to see per page. At the time they were using ten, which is what Altavista.com was using at the time. Users stated that they would like to have thirty results per page. Google did testing, and noticed that the people with thirty results per page used their site less. They did additional research to see the cause, because at first the people reviewing the results thought that the users used the site less becuase they got more information. Upon reviewing the new information, they found out that since it took their query three times as long to process, that the users were becoming unhappy with the response time. The time difference was less than half a second, but it made a huge difference to the user. Mayer follows up this study with what Google noticed between Google Video’s and Youtube’s upload time. She stated that Youtube’s ability to instantly view your view is something that users wanted, instead of waiting 24 to 48 hours on Google Video.
For most web designers and programmers, you don’t have the resources to do large scale studies like Google does to find these type results, but you can use Google’s studies to help you better understand your own site’s design. You can take a lot of Google’s results, like limited load time, apply it to your site. You may like the look your site has with ten blog summaries on your front page, but if you have only six your visitors would like it better. Another thing you can do is test different designs with people around you, like your friends, family, or co-workers. Make for sure that the people you ask to look at the site will give you honest feedback. You don’t want people to feed you incorrect information. Your mom may not be someone you want to ask to test your site, because mothers naturally want to encourage you. Like when you were younger and use to draw scribbles and she told you they were the most beautiful drawings she had even seen.