Despite thousands of years of evolution and great advances in technology Humans haven't changed that much when it comes to basic instincts.
Things that influenced Human behavior 10,000 years ago still influence us now and evidence of this can be found in modern web design...
Contrast of Colours
Contrasting colours helped historic mankind to pick out fruit, spot raw meat and avoid mouldy parts of perishable food. The difference in colour stands out and draws your attention, without these distinctions they would be a lot of upset stomachs for our ancient ancestors! Also Humans historically have always had a fascination with shiny objects such as Gold and Mirrors, they stand out from everything else so they must be special.
Websites nowadays also benefit from contrasting colours; if you really want someone to click on a button then design it with a contrasting colour like orange on a dark blue background for example. Shadows and bevels also help to create a contrasting border around a button but you have to be careful not to go over-board and create a website that looks like it's from the 90's.
Non Contrasting Colours
Non-contrasting colours put your mind at ease and blend together. Mankind has used all sorts of hidden traps and disguises in the past to hunt animals and to kill one another.
If you have content on your website that helps it's search engine position but you don't want it to be read then either hide it away in a "see more" tab or blend it slightly into the background so it will probably go over-looked.
Arrows and Pointers
Pointing has been around longer than the wheel, if one of our Human ancestors wanted to highlight something then they'd point furiously at it. Still today you can point at pretty much anyone and most people will look at it, try it in the street with random member's of the public if you don't believe me!
Websites can also lead your gaze by using arrows and pointing objects. A big red arrow pointing to a special offer will get a majority of people looking at the offer depending on how much it's contrasts with the rest of the site. Placing key areas of your homepage within the area of pointing arrows, body parts or other objects will improve conversion rates. A big sales killer online is when people cannot find the "buy now" button or figure out how to use the shopping cart; these people get frustrated and leave the website after a short while. Placing help text along with step by step arrows helps make sure even the stupidest person can see where to click or where to enter information in, this simple change can transform a businesses bottom line alone.
Regular Internet users are very set in their ways that a right arrow denotes forwards and a left arrow denotes backwards due to popular browsers. If you are designing a checkout then the "proceed" button works best accompanied by a right arrow and a "continue shopping" button is best accompanied with a left one.
When mankind started reading and writing some read left-to-right, others right-to-left. Whenever presented with text Humans jump to the start line and start reading almost automatically; for left-to-right readers like ourselves we'd start by looking to the left and then scan right.
Websites are generally full of words and content and eye tracking technology has proven that website users in the UK and USA start by 'reading' a website from top-left to bottom-right just as they would a book. Placing key information such as the brand's logo and motto in the top left corner can have positive effects on a website's bounce rate (percentage of visitors who leave without visiting another page). A simple few words about what your site offers in the top left corner also helps with the bounce rate, people online are very trigger-happy when it comes to leaving one website for another if they don't instantly find what they want.
Combining the Techniques
Using all the "caveman" techniques together can work wonders for your website, whatever it's purpose.
Below is a tick list of what you should be doing:
- Are call to actions in a contrasting colour?
- Is irrelevant information hidden by a "see more" tab or blended into the colour scheme?
- Are there arrows or objects pointing to the key areas of your website?
- Does the top left of your site hold the most important information about your site?
- Finally, is everything you want a website user to do clear and easy to spot?
Many web designers seem to forget about the basics and concentrate on creating a 'cool' looking website. Just remembering one of the 5 points on this list will make you a better web designer cashing in on people's core psychology that goes back many thousands of years.