Top 11 UX design principles #3: Minimize visual workload

03 Nov By Molly Hammar | November 3, 2014

I hate shopping in thrift stores.

Rationally, I know that I should love it. I have a young child who outgrows his clothes every three months. There are unique finds for adults. As a Boulder area citizen, I should wave the green “recycling” flag.

But here’s the thing.

I walk into a thrift store and all I see is a sea of color, mismatched sizes, and styles. I conclude that it will take me at least an hour to find something I like in my size. I’m overwhelmed and panic sets in.

I’m outta there.



In contrast, I don’t panic when I walk into this shop.



The breadth of the store’s offerings is immediately obvious. Similar items are grouped together. Findings items and checking for my size will be fast, and if the shop doesn’t carry what I want, I can quickly move on. I will spend more money because I feel at ease and in control here.

How do you transform a thrift store website into a luxury boutique?

Even if your website isn’t aimed at the top tax bracket, you should still take advantage of what luxury brands understand.  When I design or revamp websites, I have three simple principles for making a website easy on the eyes.

1. Simplify and reduce
Your users bring a limited amount of mental processing power to your website or app. Each visual element on the page taxes this limited resource. Determine the most vital actions or information and make those the most prominent.  More importantly, let the remainder fade.

If you make everything bold, nothing is bold.
– Art Webb

Making something more noticeable doesn’t mean darkening its visual presentation or making it larger. Often it means making the elements around it recede. (I’m talking to you, JCPenney.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 2.51.03 PM


2. Group
People perceive things as belonging together if they are in close proximity on the screen. Don’t make users stitch together an idea of how your functions are organized if you can do the work for them by grouping related information and controls.

3. Use white space
White space is an elegant way to reinforce visual grouping, minimize anxiety for users, and also create a perception of high quality. You’ll notice that luxury brands, from websites like BMW to the in-store racks of Saxs Fifth Avenue, use plenty of space between elements. In contrast, bargain retailers like Kohl’s present compressed displays.

Let’s leave the thrift store websites behind.  Users will want to spend more time on your site if they can see you aren’t going to waste their time.  Simplify and reduce, group similar items together, and allow for white space. Your users will thank you by hanging out just a little longer!



You might be thinking, “Molly, it’s all fine to emphasize the important, and minimize the unimportant, but how do I know what is most important to users?”

It’s a good question. We’ve found that the only reliable way to remove the guesswork is through spending time with users. Drop me a line to discuss the user research approach that will work best for your site or app.

Lots of my work isn’t complicated. If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the rest of the Top 11 UX Design Principles series.