A Simple Website Design is Scientifically Better: True or False?

A Simple Website Design is Scientifically Better: True or False?

Two well-known studies, one by Google and one by Harvard and the Universities of Maryland and Colorado, suggest that the less visually complex a site, the more pleasant and beautiful it is deemed to be.

Oliver Wood
Oliver Wood

Two well-known studies, one by Google and one by Harvard and the Universities of Maryland and Colorado, suggest that the less visually complex a site, the more pleasant and beautiful it is deemed to be. The Google study indicates that a homepage lacking simplicity can create a negative first impression within 17 milliseconds.

Of course, turning visitors off is the antithesis of what a web designer wants to accomplish. But, what does design simplicity and its flipside, visual complexity, refer to?

White Space

Minimalism is the goal. For starters, consider the power of empty space. White space improves readability and guides the eye to salient aspects of a web page such as Calls to Action (CTAs). Images eliminate the need for huge chunks of text and succinctly convey messaging.

When content contrasts with white space, it makes it easier to skim over and glean essential facts. And skimming is how most people consume content.


Navigational Tools

Obvious navigational tools draw attention to key information and to convenient ways to purchase should the visitor feel so inclined.

Online businesses usually do better when they cut back on superfluous buttons and streamline header bars. Present an easy-to-understand hierarchical site map and you’ll boost your SEO.

Embracing Convention

We like what we know. Familiar patterns learned from other sites help visitors quickly find what they’re looking for on your site. That’s why it’s prudent to study your target market’s most frequented websites. When things are where and how your audience expects them to be, they can then shift their focus to your content. The Association of Consumer Research published a study confirming that website complexity in this regard confuses users.

Bucking certain conventions for the sake of being unique isn’t necessarily going to score you more conversions. Familiarity in this context does not breed contempt. Rather, as the mere-exposure effect in social psychology suggests, it fosters the opposite. Over time, conventions become standards which signal professionalism. Diverge from them and your site will be perceived as being not quite right.

If you’re an eCommerce site, crisp professional photos of your product range are expected, so meet that expectation.


Good web designers create original, memorable and effective websites within established frameworks. However, if the prevailing way of presenting something in your industry could be improved and yield better results, there’s nothing stopping you from doing your research and making design choices that differ from the norm.


Web design can get as dated as a home’s interior. The best way to not cave into fads is to recognize that today’s impressive trend may well be baroque tomorrow. And your website was not created to be a museum.

This is so important if you’re a small business and can’t afford to change your web design at a whim. Having a classic, perennially modern design is the most sensible course of action. Remember, simple does not have to mean boring.


Avoid inundating visitors with too much information. Too many competing choices for where to go next, especially when that information is not directly related to conversion points, is not good content marketing.

Think about it. If a kid at a carnival is about to cough up money for an arcade game, is that really the moment to distract him/her with a balloon animal or free magic trick? No! When someone is on your service pages, don’t link to blog posts and detract from lead generation.

Fun content is valuable, but you need to pick your moments. Frills should never appear at the expense of their raison d'être or reason for existing. Entertainment that fatigues visitors stands in the way of making sales.

Do one thing at a time, on one web page at a time.


Paying attention to layout and the subtleties of font and colour can result in more gains than trying to pack in glitzy supplementary content.


Too many variations in colour and brightness physically tire our eyes and minds. If we want to create an atmosphere conducive to business, incorporating these design flaws are counterproductive and create a bad user experience. A study conducted by EyeQuant shows a dramatic correlation between clean design and a lower bounce rate.

And there is still evidence that the fold matters. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group found that users spend at least 57% of their time above the fold, in the top part of your homepage. Clearly, descriptive headings related to key phrases and a single CTA (we don’t want to overwhelm) need to be included here to confirm the relevance and engage people further.

User Experience (UX)

A U.S. Government document on web design and usability recommends: avoiding densely cluttered displays; structuring for easy comparison to accommodate the limits of users’ working memory; limiting unsolicited pop-ups. These are basic design considerations that can have a profound impact.

Complex web designs are also less accessible to individuals with disabilities. Any company that designs with the UX of this demographic in mind coaxes more people down their marketing funnel.

In addition, a simple website design loads faster. And visitors and search engines both love instant, responsive pages.


A better SERP position isn’t the only reason why simple web design is great. Complex design elements and media files occupy a lot of virtual real estate. Having too many of them often means paying your hosting company more to store it all on their server.


Another major factor to consider is that the more complex a site, the more of a mission and the more expensive it is to update and maintain.

To Sum It Up

If you focus on your product and less on the trimmings, you will see results. Science is all about experiments and results and the experimentation in this field, expounded upon in the studies we’ve listed, confirm a basic truth. The less complicated your web design, the more success you will have increasing session durations and ultimately growing revenue. It’s true, both form and function are important, but the latter is more so.
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