Columns can be very effective in web design, but in some cases, they can actually be counterproductive. With the growing focus on minimalist web design, the column has started to become less popular. According to Web Design Depot, websites from 2005 to 2007 often incorporated as many as five columns on a single page. While it’s not as common to see five columns on a single page these days, some websites still get into column overload. Additionally, many sites do not lend themselves well to columns all.
Splitting the Focus
One of the biggest problems with columns is the fact that they split the viewer’s focus. Columns vie for the viewers’ attention, and when the columns are of equal size, it can be confusing for the viewer to decide which one she should give priority to. The problem becomes even greater when the webpage has more than three columns, each one with images, videos, and other multimedia inputs.
When designing your website and your eCommerce store, you must think of the design as pushing the viewer toward your final call to action. Think of every obstacle as being an opportunity for that viewer to leave the page. Columns break up the focus, and the breaking of the focus jars the viewer from the browsing experience. In that moment, she can decide to go to another webpage or eCommerce store. It doesn’t matter if you’re using the newest and greatest iPhone website template, breaking the focus makes it more likely that you will lose that viewer.
Best for Breakdowns
The column has not outlived its usefulness yet. Instead, it has a very narrow function in modern minimal web design. The column works well when used provide a breakdown. For instance, eCommerce stores use columns to provide a breakdown of the various product categories they offer. This breakdown sometimes is nothing more than a header in the column with an image underneath. These kinds of columns tend to work well, so long as they are not fighting with one another. If one needs to be dominant, only one can be highlighted in terms of size or coloration. You must make the others more neutral.
Columns can also work for news stories. A number of eCommerce stores use columns to categorize subjects such as news, latest additions, and the like. As long as they follow the same pattern of having minimal content in the column, viewers will not be too distracted. Remember that you should not use columns on a squeeze page or a sales page of any kind. The disruption of the viewing process is too great, and you will substantially reduce the effectiveness of your sales pitch.
While columns used to be quite popular, they have decreased significantly over the past few years. The increased focus on minimal web design has also led to a further decrease in column use. The main problem with columns is the fact they split up the viewer’s focus. The columns compete for attention, and with each obstacle, it becomes more likely that you will lose the viewer. To avoid this, you need to avoid using columns except for narrow breakdowns that link to other pages.