The best design is invisible

March 30, 2009

When designing or redesigning a site – and especially when planning the navigational structure – the best guideline to follow is to make it so the reader doesn’t have to try: everything is obvious, simple and easy.

You don’t have to come up with design principles yourself. There has been a ton of research on web usability, especially by Jakob Nielson at useit.com. I suggest reading through some of his archives to learn more about usability.

But when it comes to magazines in particular, there are two key things we all need to remember. First, no matter how dedicated the reader is, they are never as familiar with your print product as you are – you can’t expect them to remember section names or even to reliably distinguish your brand from others. Second, your site visitors will not necessarily have ever seen your print product.

What does this mean?

• When naming sections on your site, don’t automatically mirror the sections in the magazine. Use an architecture that works for your site content, and make section names clickable and obvious (which is better for SEO, too).

• Don’t assume that your site visitors know your print product. Make it obvious what the site is about and don’t rely on “insider” information for navigation or site structure.

• Yes, display a magazine cover, preferably the current one. But don’t make it (and subscription offers) so prominent that they overpower the rest of the site.

• Do assume that many of your site visitors are print readers, and come to the site for one purpose: customer service. Make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.

What are your favourite and least favourite sites in terms of navigation and usability?

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2 Responses to “The best design is invisible”

  1. Matthew Says:

    I’ve always liked Geist (geist.com)’s site. Clear navigation and the “ON THE NEWSSTAND NOW” sidebar and highlighted Subscribe nav element are constant reminders of the print magazine.


  2. Great post. Personal favourite (though not one that follows your advice) is http://www.newyorker.com/


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