March 4, 2014, 4:43 PM

Lessons from the Oscars about web site design

The way we view the Oscar telecast and the high fashion on display says a lot about human psychology—and can teach designers important lessons about how to make their web sites more appealing.

The 2014 Oscars—what a night!

We can obviously discover a great deal about trends, brands and design from following the celebrities at this type of snazzy event. But the way we view the Oscars also provides some interesting insights about human psychology that can be applied by businesses of all sizes to their online and mobile presences.

The Oscar dresses and eye movement

On every entertainment channel, news magazine and fashion house homepage, you will find the long dresses of each and every female Oscars attendee front and center. What is it about these long dresses that demand our attention? Is it their colors? The haute couture geniuses behind their design? The fashion trends they impose?

But more importantly for our purposes here—what can they teach online businesses?

The scrolling factor

Long dresses pull our eyes downwards. Once a long dress is spotted, the eye goes from top to bottom, bottom to top. The colors of these dresses, usually monochromatic or following the fashion trend of that particular year (this year it was 'the mermaids'), facilitate the eye motion to continue downwards—and in the case of online, help users to continue scrolling and browsing.

This vertical movement is important, giving the visitor very little choice but to look at the entire page in front of them. Creative imagery especially does this if you have a strong image that cuts into the average fold of the page, letting visitors know that they should continue to scroll and invest more engagement time on the page.

The hitch factor

Drawing too much attention to the wrong places often distracts from the right ones.

While considered by many the best dressed of the night, Charlize Theron's 'invisible' straps take the attention away from the magnificent shape of the dress (a true mermaid). Similarly, Anne Hathaway's sparkly corset distracts the attention (and sometimes even glares at us) from what could have been a true fashion moment.

Take the hitch factor into account when designing your webpage. Do not fill the page with too many calls to action that confuse your visitors. Avoid designing checkout forms that have visitors focus on less important information. Rather, use elements that provide a smooth path through your page, eliciting visitors to continue their journey to conversion.

The banner of blindness

Liza Minnelli is a true diva, and could probably get away with almost anything. However, most fashion critics did not like her blue satin vintage pantsuit. Although the touch of the blue streak in her hair had its moment on the red carpet, the entire composition made it difficult to stay focused on her for a significant amount of time.

The same is true of your online agenda. Trying too hard to get customers to see your product and service offerings in most cases hurts, rather than encourages your chances of conversion. Visitors can see that you are trying too hard, and get turned off from making a purchase on your website.

Avoid too many calls to action on one webpage, especially when you need your customers to move forward in the funnel.

The element of surprise

People's attention can be captured in many ways—with colors, fonts or attractive images. But in the endless quest to attract more visitors, surprise has become a very important tool.

Let's take for example the dress that Hilary Swank wore to the 77th Academy Awards in February 2005. Yes, it was a long time ago and many dresses have been worn since. But as recently as February 2013, the Hollywood Reporter listed it as one of the 50 best Oscar dresses of all time.

In a pure navy blue, the dress accentuated Swank's flawless figure. Long-sleeved and high-necked, the dress was simple and classic.

So what was so special about it?

The element of surprise.

The spectacular and very low-cut back had people gawking.

Nothing in the front of the dress prepared people for what was 'hidden' in the back. The contrast was unexpected. A very solid and classic look at the front became an extremely sexy one in the back.

The same is true for your online presence. Do you have a special offer that you want to promote this month? Place an image of it in the center of your homepage that spreads both above and below the fold. Pique your visitors' curiosity and have them scroll down the page to learn what it is about.  Or make the image enormous on the page, so that visitors are instantly surprised and intrigued right when they reach your site.

This doesn’t mean that you have to shock your visitors; it's enough to give them a hint of something that makes them think, look, scroll or click.

The foreign effect

In recent years, the Oscars have seen an increasing number of foreign actors, directors and musicians being nominated for or winning the prestigious prize. However, while British, Australian and South American celebrities have all embraced the Hollywood-esque etiquette of the Oscars, they have retained their own personalities. When Hugh Jackman hosted the Oscars back in 2009, he gave the show a touch of class, with some viewers saying that he brought a bit of the theater to Hollywood. At the same time, foreign-language films bring different flavors and customs to the attention of millions of viewers and spectators.

If you want your site to appeal to international audiences, you have to adapt it to different cultures, languages and regions. You have to personalize your pages based on your audience’s preferences. Are you targeting the Chinese market? Make sure that the journey through your pages follows the eye movement of the Chinese. Do you want to increase your market share in South America or in the Arab countries? Study their buying habits and make pages that speak their language. Make sure that your pages also cater to right-to-left languages so that larger audiences can have access to your brand and help you increase your profits.

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