We all know how important great design is to a positive user experience. A website’s graphics, aesthetics, content and typography can make or break a person’s first impression of a business.
But should great design ever come at the expense of site speed? And where should we draw the line between the two?
In this blog, I’ll discuss the main culprits responsible for the ream of sluggish but beautiful websites on the internet, how getting the balance wrong can effect an online business’s success and how web designers can find some equilibrium.
Why does it matter?
Why the battle between features and page speed matters is simply a question of user experience.
Both search engines and real people take page loading speed into account when making up their mind about website. In 2010, Google announced that site load speed is one of their ranking factors. And a person who waits longer than 3 seconds for a page to load is very likely to leave for a competitor.
This behaviour damages a site’s SEO by increasing bounce rates and pogo-sticking and very likely loses a business their customers.
So, if the design package you offer to your clients includes search engine optimisation, you’d be doing them a disservice if you’re not addressing page load speed as a matter of course.
What are the major design causes of page slow-downs?
Content may be king, but it is also an absolute speed-killer. The ever-increasing demand for more complex and multi-media content is putting serious strain on most websites. With people preferring videos, webinars and other data-heavy visual and interactive elements.
Images are an essential aspect of design. Studies show that the majority of people are visual learners and remember 80% of things they see or do compared with 20% of what they read. But images also consume the lion’s share of a site’s outgoing bandwidth. If you can’t avoid using a lot of them, use a quality appropriate for the device it’s viewed on and compress, compress, compress.
Dynamic and interactive features have become a mainstay of modern design, and with good reason. Most businesses have outgrown static websites and most users prefer personalised web content that they can interact with. But all of the extra code and plugins required to meet these expectations is a heavy load for sites to bear.
Where to draw the line
As you can see, pitting features against page speed creates a tug of war between competing aspects of user experience. So, it’s obviously going to be difficult to know where to find balance.
One thing you should always consider is that great design is worthless if no one is able to look at it. That is, if they bounce before the page even loads.
Lean on your developers
A good developer will take steps to reduce the burden of design on a website’s performance by, for example:
- Compressing images using software like kraken.io
- Using CSS sprites to combine separate images that load at the same time into one to save on multiple HTTP requests
- Setting complex design elements to defer during rendering so the page doesn’t need to load multiple, data-hefty features at once
- Streamlining code using minifycode.com or similar application
- Keeping the data per page below 2MB
If you’re not already aware of these practices, read up on them so you can better work with developers.
De-clutter your designs
While some features are a necessity for good design, others add little and can be avoided:
- Image scrolls: less than 1% of people interact with them, so why bother?
- Parallax scrollers: great for artists and designers, unnecessary for everyone else
- Scaled responsive sites: use simpler features in mobile and tablet site versions, rather than scaling desktop ones
Since page speed isn’t all about web design, you could offer advice to your clients on other actions they can take to improve site speed. One of the best is to encourage them to use the best web host they can afford. Free web hosts are probably good enough for small businesses with static sites, but won’t cut it for dynamic designs.
Offering information on how to work out projected site bandwidth and disc space based on design and demand will set you ahead of your competitors and offer added value to your customers.
To sum things up…
Page load speed is not at the top of most people’s lists of priorities, but insights from the field of SEO suggest that it should be. Creating websites with page speed in mind will keep more web users happy and ensure your customers get the most out of your designs.
Have you made the mistake of using a byte-guzzling design feature? Let us know in the comments below.