Content vs. Style

University of ViennaThrough an Influx Insights blog post I found my way to a University of Vienna study that found that when viewing art, people could register content within 10ms, and style within 50ms. This result is particularly interesting since conventional wisdom held that visual or sensory features – style – would be processed first. Needless to say, this has some real significance for those tasked with designing web pages that pull in their intended target users.

Interestingly enough, this research has been interpreted in two, somewhat opposing, ways. Influx believes that “It shows that art directors and designers have less time than we originally thought to capture attention and stop people from clicking away with their remote button or mouse.” Others, however, see in it proof that “Web design is not that important.”

In explaining why “web design is not that important,” Graham Jones warns against the common mistake of creating a beautiful design that turns out not to fit the content. I would argue, however, that this is exactly why design is important. A look at any content rich web site (e.g. media companies) shows how difficult it is to effectively convey just what content is available. These sites truly present a design challenge. Too many site producers believe that the principle of form following function means that once you’ve decided on the function, the form will naturally follow with little creative effort. In fact, it’s how the function is followed that makes all the difference. A spare design such as that of Google‘s home page closely follows function, but it most certainly is design.

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