Doing More with Less | Why Instagram Works and Your Website Doesn’t

Identify The Problem

Websites are complicated, but your customer’s experience shouldn’t be. Confusing navigation bars, overwhelming blocks of endless text, and poorly optimized websites are what separates a good site from a bad one: the balance between content and user experience.

We often see our own websites as an extension of ourselves, which leads many of us to include too much information about ourselves and our business. While you do want to show your passion, you don’t want to overwhelm your readers to the point of disinterest.

Understand Beauty and Function

Beautiful like art—functional like design

Perfect balance between these two can create a website you’ll be proud of, and your customers will love.

One design principle has stood the test of time with this balance: Simplicity. Think of your favorite websites or social media apps. What makes them so easy to use day after day? What makes their content so easy to digest? What draws you and and causes addiction in some cases?

Study Instagram’s Psychology

There are many theories at play behind the scenes at Instagram. Searching “Why is Instagram addicting” will return results such as FOMO (fear of missing out), instant gratification and validation, and the appeal of filters.

I won’t be exploring these phenomena today, but rather how Instagram’s design releases dopamine in your brain through a Reward System.

At any given time, browsing instagram stimulates your brain very strategically. You see only two icons on the top, one large image from friends or family in the middle, and five navigation icons at the bottom.

Here’s the strategy:

  • Show the viewer bite-sized piece of information through a stimulating photo
  • Have the viewer perform an action in response to that stimuli by swiping to the next photo
  • The viewer forms a habit based on the reward of seeing the next stimulating photo by swiping
  • Repeat

Why Does This Work?

Leaving your user wanting more means more frequent and often longer visits. The method used by Instagram can be used on almost any website: give the viewer just enough to look at and reward them for looking at more.

Imagine a social app that does the opposite—ten icons instead of three, clunky interface, having to click back to see a new stimulus instead of swiping. Suddenly, what should be easy and enjoyable has become overwhelming, confusing, and a chore.

When thinking of content and design, consider the purpose and value of what you’re creating. Does your customer need to know every owner your business has ever had? Do they need a link to every given page at every given moment?

No. No they don’t.

Try This at Home

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and you don’t need to be an experienced designer to get this concept. Try out this activity and you’ll see exactly what I mean:

  • Go to your favorite websites and write down why you use them, how you use them, and what they’re doing right.
    • Look at how many paragraphs they use.
    • Look at how many sentences are in each paragraph.
    • Look at how they’re using the white-space around their content.

Now, go look at your competitors’ website. Chances are, you’ll find so many of these rules and standards thrown right out the window. I just hope you didn’t have to read… COMIC SANS.

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