Academic journal article Human Factors

The Impact of Visual Layout Factors on Performance in Web Pages: A Cross-Language Study

Academic journal article Human Factors

The Impact of Visual Layout Factors on Performance in Web Pages: A Cross-Language Study

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Background

"Page design is the most immediately visible part of web design" (Nielsen, 1999, p. 17). One's initial impressions and subjective experiences when arriving at a Web site are strongly influenced by the appearance of the Web page (Horton, Taylor, Ignacio, & Hoft, 1996; Shneiderman, 1998). Thus the advent of Web design introduced visual designers and graphic artists to a golden opportunity. Many Web style guides and design "cookbooks" (Horton et al., 1996; IBM, 1997; Lynch & Horton, 2004: Spool, Scanlon, Schroeder, Snyder, & DeAngelo, 1997; and many more) have been published, but how did the visual design evolve in Web pages? There are two primary sources for the visual Web page design: graphical user interface (GUI) design guidelines and many studies of Web page usability. The primary objective of our study was to challenge this inheritance of design guidelines from GUIs and arrive at some additional Web-specific guidelines.

The basics of visual design predate the information age and the World Wide Web (e.g., Tufte 1985). Smith and Mosier's work (1986) introduced many of the basics for computer displays that still hold today. Much of the earlier work on display design was reviewed by Tullis (1997). The emergence of the GUI as the dominant interface triggered further empirical research and the appearance of many design and style guides (e.g., Howlett, 1995; Marcus, 1992; Mullet & Sano, 1995). The primary finding of many empirical studies is that the visual design of the interface has a strong impact on task performance in general and on visual search in particular (e.g., Galitz, 1996; Tullis, 1997).

In visual design, the overall screen organization or layout is considered to have a major impact on task performance (Mullet, 1995). Tullis's earlier studies (1981) showed that there was a significant improvement in visual search times in redesigned screens as compared with the original screens. The layout factors that Tullis (1981) studied were global and local densities, grouping, and complexity. Additional studies (e.g., Callan, Curran, & Lane, 1977: Staggers, 1993; Treisman, 1982) further confirmed that greater information density increased search times and errors. Other studies (e.g., Burns, Warren, & Rudisill, 1980) showed that other factors, such as alignment and consistency in location of elements on the screen, had a positive impact on search times. Layout parameters, such as density, grouping, and the number of elements, were taken as the underlying factors of screen complexity (e.g., Comber & Maltby, 1997: Tullis, 1981). Parush, Nadin and Shtub (1998) studied screen complexity in GUIs and found that alignment and grouping had a relatively larger impact on visual search as compared with factors such as density. In summary, the impact of elements of visual layout on performance was demonstrated in many GUI studies.

Research on Visual Design in Web Pages

The approaches to and guidelines for screen design in general, and for GUI design in particular, were adopted in Web page design. In addition, major Web design works are based on many empirical usability inspections and on informal and formal tests (e.g., Nielsen. 1999: Spool et al., 1997). As inherited from GUI, Web page layout is also considered a major influencing factor on performance, orientation, find subjective satisfaction (e.g., Brinck, Gergle, & Wood, 2002; Garrett, 2002: Krug, 2000). The use of an underlying grid and grouping (implemented sometimes by frames) is considered critical for achieving good page layout (e.g., Marcus, 1997). Zimmerman (1997) described how Tufte's (1990) principles of information design can be applied to Web page design. For example, the principle of layering and separation is the basis for grouping information into blocks or distinct zones. In a study by van Schaik and Ling (2001) that demonstrated the effects of Web page layout on visual search tasks, frame locations had more impact than did background contrast. …

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