We all know the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This concept as applied to modern Web design might read, “If a website has an amazing design and cool/advanced features but takes too long to load, will anyone use it?”
And thus is the struggle of the modern day Web designer. Of course, we want our designs to be striking and our websites to have cutting-edge features. But at the same time, we don’t want the design or features to overshadow the ultimate goals of the website. Maybe just as important, we don’t want the site’s features to adversely affect the site’s performance: slowing down load times or overcomplicating the interface, which could turn users away.
Recently, I attended a Dallas User Experience Group meetup. One of the featured speakers, Jeff Whitfield, touched on this topic during his talk. At one point, Jeff started to draw a pyramid on the whiteboard and related it to a user’s experience on a website. This idea referred to an outstanding article written a few years back by Smashing Magazine called, ‘Designing For A Hierarchy Of Needs,’ which applied psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory to Web design. (This article has a solid explanation of Maslow’s theory, as well as a great application to Web design. See visuals below.)
At the heart of the Smashing Magazine article and Jeff Whitfield’s talk was this question – In terms of the experience of a website, what is the most important thing vs. the least important? As he drew the pyramid, Jeff explained that the base of the pyramid is the most important. As applied to design, the base is functionality: does the website work/load correctly/address the user’s basic needs? If the website does not load correctly, or takes too long to load, or doesn’t have the content the user is looking for, they will leave your website. Quickly. The user in that case won’t get to experience the amazing looking features you spent months creating. The same goes for general human needs. If you don’t have enough food to survive, you won’t get to achieve the higher level needs we aspire to in life: like peace, knowledge and self-fulfillment.