Many modern website designs feature massive images and blocks of text. You have to scroll down to see each new piece of content or to find further details.
The reason so many websites have this kind of design is because of the growing trend for tablets. People with these mobile devices like to flick through each screen of information, and it grabs their attention when it is big and bold.
The problem for this kind of design is something known as “Gestalt Psychology”. This is the process whereby we understand the whole thing from the sum of its parts.
There are several “laws” of Gestalt psychology, one of which directly impacts upon a website’s ability to get people engaged. This is the “law of closure”. Effectively it means our brains automatically complete things, even if they are not actually completed. For instance, in the diagram below you will see a circle and a rectangle, even though all you are actually shown is a series of lines. Your brain is putting those lines together to form a whole, even though it is not there.
This is a real problem for modern website design. Because the big bold sections make people feel as though the element is complete, there is no incentive or apparent reason to scroll down. Consequently, people often only see the top section of web pages designed in this way and do not look further.
Eye tracking studies and website heatmap studies confirm this. Clicktale, for instance has shown that horizontally blocked design makes us feel as though the page is complete and hence we do not scroll down.
Overcoming Gestalt laws in modern design
The “trick” to avoiding people thinking the page is complete is to make sure it isn’t. Web pages need to break in places that a designer would say “looks bad”, such as through the middle of text or though a portion of an image. That way you interfere with the sense of completeness, encouraging people to scroll down.
Some websites also use design features such as a line with a downward arrow suggesting to people that they should scroll the page. The following block might appear at the bottom of the screen, for instance, demonstrating the need to go downwards. In Gestalt psychology this down arrow signals lack of completeness, inviting people to wonder what they cannot see.
The laws of Gestalt psychology also apply to other areas of your web design. Often, forms do not get the submissions that website owners want or expect because the form design has broken one of the laws of Gestalt. SmartForms has an article where you can find out more about using Gestalt to design great forms.
You can also used Gestalt psychology to sell more online.
Modern design trends may look great, but they are not that good for business if you don’t take into account the Gestalt effect.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+