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The Need for Web Design Standards

Users expect that 77% of simple Web design elements behave in a certain way. Unfortunately, confusion reigns for many higher-level design issues.

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The concept of “website design” is a contradiction. Individual project teams do not design the Web, nor do ants conceive an anthill. Site designers build components as a whole, especially now that users see the entire web as a single, integrated resource.Unfortunately, much of the Web looks like an anthill built by ants on LSD: many sites do not fit the reality and are too difficult to use because they deviate from expected standards.Many design elements are sufficiently common for users to expect them to work in a certain way. Here is my definition of three different levels of normalization:


80% or more of websites use the same design approach. Users strongly expect standard elements to work somehow when visiting a new site, because that’s how things always work.


50 to 79% of websites use the same design approach. With a convention, users expect things to work somehow when they visit a new site, because that’s the way things work.


with these elements, no single design approach dominates, and even the most popular approach is used by up to 49% of the websites. For such design elements, users do not know what to expect when visiting a new site.(These threshold values ​​are slightly lower than what I used in 1999. I now believe that a design becomes an expectation when users see it more than half the time.) Instead of just counting the number of websites, it would be better to count the percentage of the total user experience taken into account by each design approach. In other words, sites frequently visited by users would get a higher weight than those that users rarely or never visit. The use of weighted scores would slightly alter my conclusions, considering that more design elements were standardized, as larger sites tended to adhere to basic principles in the design of their user interfaces.

How many design elements are standardized?

To estimate how well web design meets interface standards, I compared two studies: my own study of 24 features on 50 corporate web pages and a master’s thesis from the University of Washington who studied 33 features on 75 e-commerce sites. It is interesting to note that despite the study of two different subdomains of web design, the two studies resulted in almost identical figures. So I’m just reporting the average of the two sets of numbers here.

Here is the extent to which websites have standardized the design approaches studied:


37% of the design elements were done in the same way by at least four fifths of the sites. Standard design elements included:

A logo in the upper left corner of the page

A search box on the home page

An absence of cover pages

Breadcrumbs listed horizontally (when they were used)


40% of the design elements were done in the same way by at least half of the sites (but less than four-fifths of the sites). Conventional design elements include:

  • Using the “Site Map” label for the site map (recommended by users when searching for the usability of the site map)
  • Changing the color of visited links (recommended for easy navigation)
  • Place the basket link in the upper right corner of the page
  • Place links to sister areas (related topics at the same information architecture level as the current location) in the left-hand column.


  • 23% of the design elements were realized in so many ways that no single approach dominated. There was confusion in several areas, including:
  • The main navigation systems, including the left menu, the tabs at the top, the navigation bar at the top, the Yahoo style directory in the middle, and so on.
  • Positioning the search function, including top right, top left, middle and elsewhere on the page.

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