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Study: Clean Design Really Is Better

EyeQuant used machine learning to show just how impactful uncluttered design can be.

You’re looking for rental cars, concert tickets, or shoes online. On some websites, you stick around and look for awhile; on others, you can’t get away fast enough.

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In all likelihood, the websites you were drawn to were visually clean, with more white space, less text, big images, and a simple design. That’s not just my own personal preference–a new study by the design analytics company EyeQuant shows the impact of clean, clear design on a lower bounce rate, which is the percentage of people who leave a web page without clicking on something.

According to Fabian Stelzer, EyeQuant’s CEO and cofounder, this link between clean design and people actually wanting to hang out on your website has been noted in case studies before. “A lot of marketers and designers would suspect that and fight for that,” Stelzer says. “A designer’s job is often to defend a minimal design with all these organizational intruders that want to add their stuff to the front page.”

EyeQuant’s study puts real data behind their intuition. Stelzer and his team analyzed the design of 300 e-commerce websites that sell things like clothing, insurance, flowers, and consumer electronics. They ran the design of these sites through a machine learning algorithm the company had developed previously that gives a “clarity score”–a ranking from 0 to 100 that rates how visually cluttered a site is (0 is the worst, most eye-draining site you can imagine, while 100 is utter simplistic bliss). The machine learning algorithm was derived from a study where EyeQuant had thousands of people rate different websites for clarity–their data was used to generate an algorithm that he says is at least 85% accurate.

[Screenshots: courtesy EyeQuant]
Stelzer then took the bounce rates available via Amazon’s digital analytics website Alexa (not to be confused with Amazon’s voice assistant) and graphed the clarity score and bounce rate of each of the 300 sites. The result? The cleaner the site, the lower the bounce rate, almost across the board. Stelzer says he expected some kind of relationship but was shocked at just how dramatic the correlation was. He says this suggests that visual clarity could be impacting about one-third of a person’s decision to stay or to bounce on an e-commerce store’s home page.

The study isn’t the most scientifically rigorous–the bounce rates aren’t necessarily accurate, for one, though Stelzer believes that because they all come from the same source, they’ll be accurate relative to each other. And “clarity” remains a subjective matter (I’d imagine designers would have a stricter eye for what’s clear and what’s not, for instance). But it does support a logical theory around people’s behavior online–in an overstimulated world, no one wants to be bombarded by more clutter.

“If you’re a consumer today, you’re surrounded by an exponentially growing amount of content around you–more ads, more Snaps, more Slack messages,” Stelzer says. “Cleaner stuff is more appealing because it doesn’t overwhelm you.”

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There are other studies that have looked at factors that influence bounce rate–most strikingly, one by the software testing company Soasta and Google, that found that load times have a big impact on bounce rates (why would you surf a site that takes forever to load?). In context with this previous work, EyeQuant’s study suggests that clean design is another factor in whether people stay or leave a site.

So as much as people critique web design today for always looking the same, there is a good reason for it. It’s not just easier on the eyes, it’s likely better for the bottom line.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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