How Simple Web Design Helps Your Business


Many e-commerce sites these days tend to be loaded down with too much information on their landing pages. The reasoning for cluttered e-commerce sites is simple: the more information you can cram on the page, the more the user will buy. Unfortunately, web buyers are a finicky bunch.

Jacob Nielsen reports that web users are becoming much more impatient1 while shopping and browsing online. Instead of spending their time going to a site’s homepage and finding the content by categories or other product recommendations, most shopping is done by quick Google searches. If the user can’t find what she’s looking for right away, she’s gone.

It’s crucial to have simple web designs to allow the user to quickly find the information they need, especially if you are selling a product. If the page is cluttered with useless text, widgets or unrelated products, the site becomes meaningless.

However, it’s become a common practice to do just the opposite. e-commerce sites have taken this “scatter shot” approach of trying to slap the potential buyer with as many options as possible. Instead of making the landing page solely about one product, sites usually clutter the page with unnecessary information, ads and related products.

Less Products Mean More Focus

Many web companies forget the cardinal rule of e-commerce: Web shoppers want as little hassle as possible. Instead of hopping in the car and driving to the store to buy a DVD, it’s much easier to go online and snag it from Amazon in a few clicks. The customer is even willing to wait longer and spend more money if the shopping experience is simple and fast.


Apple3 has mastered the art of minimal homepage design. If you go to their homepage, they’ll only show you three things:

  • A simple header navigation
  • One product in the body of the page
  • A few informational links about the featured product with images below the fold

Aside from the standard footer navigation, the homepage consists only of three parts. Here’s what you see if you click on a product link (like the iPhone4).

iPhone homepage5

Even on the product page, you immediately see what the page is about: the iPhone. The product itself dominates the bulk of the page, and the surrounding information are apps and features of the new iPhone. But more importantly, notice what’s not on the iPhone page:

  • Unrelated products
  • Unrelated sidebar ads
  • Lots of copy
  • Clutter

Apple has effectively shown just enough information in a very pleasing manner. There’s nothing wrong with showing lots of information, as long as it doesn’t feel like a lot of information. You’ll also notice that all of the information, links and pictures are all centered around the iPhone and what it offers. There are no distracting ads or unneeded information about other products.

There are a couple of tried-and-true methods that any designer or web developer can take to ensure that the site layout doesn’t drive customers away with clutter.

  1. Only what you need.
    The biggest aspect of simple web design is only showing what’s needed to make the sale, and nothing more. This doesn’t mean that you can’t give the user lots of information. Just make sure they want to see more information. Apple uses “Learn more” links throughout the page to accomplish this.
  2. Reduce clicks. The less clicks it takes for a customer to buy a product, the higher returns. Don’t make them jump through hoops to buy your product.
  3. The “Grandma” rule. If your grandma (or any elderly person) can figure out how to buy a product for your site, odds are it’s put together pretty well. Unneeded information will turn Grandma away quickly.
  4. Reduce the number of columns. Each time you add a column to a page, the content is pushed into a smaller and smaller space. This puts less emphasis on the main product, and more on extra stuff the buyer isn’t really looking for.
  5. Give less options. There is an added stress put on web shoppers to make decisions. Ultimately, the buyer wants to think as little as possible when making the purchase. Displaying products in a way that eliminates extra thinking and decisions will streamline the buying process and give the customer more peace of mind.
  6. Keep it clean. A clean design keeps visitors happy. By taking the time to ensure that the layout of the site is aesthetically pleasing keeps the customer returning to the site.

Intuitive web design means thinking like a potential customer. Would you shop at your site?

Other Great Examples of Simple e-commerce Design


Bell.ca7 uses only a few colors to indicate the branding and offers visitors only the main navigation options. Notice how well the design manages to present a number of different options — shop navigation, support as well as personal and business areas. The design isn’t cluttered but clean and simple and provides the visitors with a broad overview of available options without forcing users to actually go through all of them. Also notice how clever the product navigation is designed at the top of the site. There is just nothing users can do incorrectly.


Shoeguru.ca9 present a very user-centric and product-centric design. The product seems to be on the stage just in front of the visitors. The design presents only the product, and nothing else; even only few navigation options are available.


Etsy11 is a great example of how to place a lot of information on a page without it being cluttered. Etsy has a wide catalog of products to sell from, yet Etsy’s design has an earthy, relaxing quality. Creating a useful homepage that doesn’t distract is no small feat.


Crupress13 is an elegant book site without many distractions. The homepage manages to present a lot of text without agitating the user. The header navigation is prominent, but doesn’t demand attention. All the design elements flow together smoothly.


Tokyocube15 is a fun, trendy little site that sells Japanese products. Instead taking precious space explaining what the site sells, the products are put right in front of you. Also, the heavy use of white space allows the products to almost jump right off the page at you. You can’t help but click on one of the toys to learn more about them.

furious tees16

While Furious Tees17 is a tad busier in graphics than the previous sites, it helps do two things:

  1. Show the playfulness of the site
  2. Make it very clear that all shirts are only $19.99

You aren’t lost trying to figure out what Furious Tees is selling, the products are all in front of you. Having all the products on the homepage is especially beneficial for novelty sites that have merchandise people normally wouldn’t be looking for.

But sites with lots of products on the homepage run the risk of becoming cluttered very quickly. Furious Tees doesn’t have this problem. They don’t use any extra sidebars or ads taking attention away from the T-Shirts. The focus is solely on the shirts and the hilarious design.

37 Signals18

Basecamp (37 Signals)19

Look no further than 37 Signal’s project management tool Basecamp for an incredible example of mixing different types of information to sell a product. Yet there’s just enough information to make an effective sales copy. Every word, every image has to be weighed in a design. If there’s not enough information, the user won’t spend time trying to figure out what the product does. Too much information and the user becomes overwhelmed.

The tasteful use of heading backgrounds and company logos makes every bit of information stand out on it’s own. And they somehow made all of the different types of media blend together, with plenty of space so that the user isn’t bombarded by lots of text or images at one time.

You Only Have a Few Seconds

Every website is going to require a different type of layout, design and copy to sell products. But designers can strive to do more with less by:

  • weighing every word
  • removing unneeded elements
  • using tasteful colors and whitespace
  • and limiting the amount of overall information the shopper sees at one time

Remember, online shoppers are a fickle bunch. They don’t “window shop”. They use search engines to limit their searches to a very narrow field. If they don’t like what they see, they leave. Site owners only have a very small window of time to capture the attention of the prospective shopper. A tasteful, clutter-free design that places the focus on the product (and nowhere else) will allow the shopper to find what she wants faster.

Glen Stansberry is a web developer and blogger. You can read more of his articles on smart web development at Web Jackalope20.


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Glen Stansberry is the editor at Web Jackalope, a blog about creative Web development.

  1. 1

    Max | Design Shard

    August 27, 2008 6:24 am

    Good points, pretty true.

  2. 52

    Aaron do we work for the same company? That sounds exactly like where I work. The last people who are listened to are the web designers, you know, the people who’s live revolve around making websites work. Instead the orders for usability come from people who thought the internet was just a fad a couple of years ago.

    You’re right, Prozac is a wonderful thing.

  3. 103

    How you relate “Giving less options” and “Other things you might like” in order to increase sales?

  4. 154

    Martijn Mangelaars

    August 27, 2008 6:46 am

    /* offtopic


    “Apple won two black pencils at the D&AD Design Awards for the iMac and iPhone. I guess the panel of experts who decided the winner didn’t have your insight.”

    These are PRODUCTS and not WEBSITES so the above comment is irrelevant in your reply to ms.


    /* On-topic:

    Like has been said, too many easy examples of “simple” shops and too much “obvious talk”. I personally don`t agree with some of the statements made like “cardinal rule…hassle…”. Alot of people take their time to browse an e-shop and see what`s available instead of googling + buying it.

    Also most samples you provide don`t work with Javascript/Flash off, which in my opinion is an even bigger showstopper then 2 extra clicks. Aswell as a bad check-out option. But I guess that`s not the subject of this particular article.

  5. 205

    @ Nathan & Marc

    totally agree with you guys. Fuck yeah bros.

    @ Glen Stansberry
    – Loved the article dude. Thanks for posting. Im not sure about the “clicking” Point you made but in general Im just happy we are talking about usability not as in usabillity in general but more of usability in a specific field of Webdesign.

    You guys probably read the Games Sites Design Survey Article that Youri Souiah wrote which has been posted on smashing Mag.(Game Sites Design Survey: Examples and Current Practices)?

    Im not into Flash because of its general Usability Issue.

    You can achieve alot of things with JavaScript Frameworks instead of using Flash (- except embedding Videos on your Site, quite frankly, your audience is bigger if you do the embedding for the flash player.)

    however thinking about the Sites of a Video game, that tries to generate an emotion or a visual appealing environment for the consumer, I totally understand its function and accept that Sites made of Games appear to be as a whole constructed 70% of Flash and 30% XHTML/CSS.

    @ Vitaly and Sven (Smashing Magazine) – is it possible to generate a Preview Button in the Comment Section? Would be nice to just check for spelling and the whole she bag that has just been written instead of scrolling up, if you know what I mean. – bad usability without one ;)

    thanks to you guys too for posting this indeed brilliant article (sooo nice)



  6. 256

    Terrific. Another in a series of valuable articles from this site. Thanks!

  7. 307

    Hmmm i liked it, keep stuff like this coming!

  8. 358

    Pretty much right-on but not new. The writer may want to invest in a grammar book – one that focuses on common mistakes like: less vs. fewer.

  9. 409

    Nice Article!!

  10. 460

    Very nice! You’re sharing not only an overview of design principles, but also a usable checklist and a list of sites that use the principles.

    It’s a good way to teach. Thank you.

  11. 511

    Excellent reminder that “Keep I Simple Silly” is still the best policy, even for website design!

  12. 562

    Etsy and Basecamp are HORRIBLE examples.
    Here is why:
    – My User friendliness testing tool is a tired person or a sleepy person. If a tired person or a sleepy person is overwhelmed by information that means that there is too much clutter.
    – I am pretty tired right now, and Etsy is really confusing at first.

    Basecamp is horrible AFTER you sign up. I mean do you visibly see the Log In button or link on their site? No. It’s in really small letters.
    And text is as much part of the design as colors and positions are. But “Get projects done” tells me nothing about what is Basecamp for.

  13. 613

    Very good article, I love the tips. I found that this website has a few good pointers as well.

    As always, thumbs up for the tips

  14. 664

    “I always wonder if this trend towards simple tends to make the developer more relevant than the designer. Hmmm…”

    Actually its quite the opposite…

  15. 715

    Nice article. and are few sites which will probably top the examples you mentioned in the article.

  16. 766

    I would kill to see an article like this that specifically addresses auto manufacturers and their sites. New car shopping online is incredibly frustrating and most manufacturers appear to be completely out of touch with web trends, other than to add fancy bells and whistles into their online “tours” etc. Navigation itself is usually a non-intuitive nightmare.

  17. 817

    Ive always admired the websites that got it done easy with little to no design. The most glaring example being craigslist. Basically no design but infinitely useful. While I dont sell anything on my website Ive attempted to completely minimalize the design aspect and let the content take control. Which hopefully also makes it easy to navigate.

  18. 868

    This was an awesome post! I agree with all the comments especially about the much needed white space, and about placing the product first before the copy. This site is super simple and useful and is really easy to see what you want.

  19. 919

    I’d love to have people critique my website. Toys of Discovery I think I have streamlined it to the point where I fail “the Granny test.”(love that concept!) I used to have my links be pictures with one line of text underneath. It seems many readers navigated away after one page, and didn’t click on any links. I think most of my readers are not as savvy as the techies reading this, and were looking for links to look like links, that is, underlined. So, I recently added that feature.

  20. 970

    if it were only this simple…

    simple doesnt always work. it works for some situations, and other situations require more complex solutions.

    key is finding the right match to website’s audience and thats far from being easy.

    but of course SM clearly found that designer crowd appreciates articles on how simple works for everything, and thats why we’re all here and not reading thick publications about curing cancer ;)

    (dont mean to offend anyone)

  21. 1021

    English problem:
    “Less Products” should read “Fewer Products” Less is used when you cannot count the items or subject. Fewer is when you CAN count them, even if it is not practical to do so. For example: Fewer people, not less people. Less sunshine, not fewer sunshine. etc…………

  22. 1072

    Well, well folks. Fanboys shut up! Fanboy bashers – shut up too. The grown-ups are discussing webdesign here.

    My 2 cs worth. Apple – like lots of other vendor sites – make the mistake of hyperfocusing on their landing pages for current profit leaders, while large portions of the rest of the site are cluttered and shoddy. Try using on a regular basis and the varnish will peel off the Apple pretty quickly. The information you find there is great – when and if you can find it. Dead ends and misleading links a dozen per page.

  23. 1123

    Logitech’s site is now taking this more minimal approach.

  24. 1174

    Just because there’s a nice glossy sheen on the sales pitch within the site (re: conversion) doesn’t mean that it offers consistent customer service (re: retention). Most of the time, the two are incredibly at odds.

    To take Apple for example, how about the fiasco with their MobileMe product:

    And as for Bell Canada, what a nice veneer their newly-rebranded website has. But once you are an active customer, which I am (mobility, 3-year contract), their login area is brutal. It takes 8 clicks (I counted) to find your recent usage summary, and the GUI looks like it was created in an Excel spreadsheet.

    Yet, I was a customer seduced by their website — and I can’t wait another 1.5 years until my contract expires so I can migrate my cell # to another provider. And now I tell everyone who inquires not to go with Bell as their customer experience (and post-purchase customer service in general) sucks.

    But hey, these websites sure get people to buy their products!

  25. 1225

    Thanks for the article. There is another problem I’ve noticed and I think it merits discussion; large images (including examples in this article) with lots of text and white space are actually links which are often clicked accidentally and lead the viewer away in turn forcing the use of the back button.

  26. 1276

    Beat me to it. Fewer => Countable Noun, Less => Uncountable or Collective Noun (e.g. liquids or beaches)

    But of course, they have a role model: the TV channel TBS flubs it also on national television with the tag line “Less Commercials” – which has it own irony because it implies that the commercials are so numerous as to be uncountable! Pretty much why I don’t watch TV at all without Tivo to skip through.

  27. 1327

    Good read. Straight to the point. Thanks.

  28. 1378

    Seriously, about SEO…

    People need to get over this wierd SEO craze. It will get you more hits, yeah, but not more quality readers.

  29. 1429

    to all the people that say clients fight simple design:

    my approach is this

    1. I take their crap and just do my thing ignoring 80% of their directions.
    2. Once they see a new clean layout with some content they change their mind very quickly.

  30. 1480

    I’ll have to disagree slightly. Amazon employed the same approach when they released the Kindle.

  31. 1531

    this is a good article, ill apply this to my current project.. thx

  32. 1582

    Bell’s site design is excellent, at least as far as the main page goes, but unfortunately, the rest of the site isn’t as clean or efficient.

  33. 1633

    I’m sorry, but you need to have data to justify a post like this. You are critiquing these sites from a design perspective, not a business perspective. Which of these sites is generating the most revenue? Converting the most visitors? Apple may be supporting their brand with a sleek, minimal site, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting the most click-throughs or the fewest help requests to customer service.

  34. 1684

    I am working on a small ecom site for india traditional craft. Nice article.

  35. 1735

    adelaide web design

    August 27, 2008 11:45 pm

    theses are great. thanks.
    Duivesteyn Web Consulting

  36. 1786

    @ Scott. I pretty much understand your point I guess.

    The article talks about some interesting things in the perspective of Graphic Design Manners. Thats what were all here for by the end of the day, right? I surely understand the article to have interesting conclusions about the design, the construction of an e-commerce site/business site. However Numbers as for:

    what products have been sold the most and how were these presented in a design manner on the site? Has the design of the site towards its products helped the overall sale? Usability does matter indeed and the article did point out to interesting topics that just matter when designing any (business) site. Now what am I suggesting for a better article (its still a brilliant article by the way) ? Id like to see a How-To on the cooperation of marketing and graphic design. I mean they are both sitting on the same boat, the marketing part of this article just decided to go to sleep and let the graphic design to all the job.

    I mean come on, Apple, Bell, those companies do not only have great graphic designers. They also did their homework on marketing. Product sales right or wrong, design good or bad definately follow a positive path if there is a working together.

    Id be more than pleased to just have decent conversations so send me a message what so ever for a chat or come over for a Coffee at the coffee bar of the agency where I work at.

  37. 1837

    The new Bell site looks nice, but the navigation is as frustrating as before. Searching for simple account information, the other day, kept circling me back to the front page. I finally had to root through my old paper bills to find what I was after!

  38. 1888

    @ martis

    cute. ehrm I work on Linux by the way

  39. 1939

    Nice article Glen. I’m happy to see someone write about getting to the point in design and not trying to sell EVERYTHING on one page. A good book that touches on this is ‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum.” by Alan Cooper. (Chapter 9 specifically.)

  40. 1990

    Make Design, Not War

    August 28, 2008 10:29 am

    I respond with an emphatic “yes!” – there’s a ton of gorgeous sites based on simplicity that you missed (i’d be happy to share my own list), but for the sake of getting a point across, these are fantastic. Great post. Wiser words aren’t spoken too often about web design than “keep it simple, stupid”. Thanks! MakeDesign,NotWar

  41. 2041

    Synergy Informatics

    August 29, 2008 1:44 am

    Nice article about web design….

    All the best….

    Synergy Informatics
    Linux Web Hosting Surat, Ahemdabad, Baroda, Navsari, Anand, Mumbai, India

  42. 2092

    I just wanted to say that the discussion is very very interesting

  43. 2143

    Are you a language nazi?

  44. 2194
  45. 2245

    Marc Van Rymenant

    August 30, 2008 2:09 pm

    Cool article… Let me share some info with you :
    As we know, 95% of our behaviour is non-conscious. Our brain will choose the places that are the less tiresome for our eyes to look at, which is an activity that goes beyond the conscious choices we make when surfing on a website.

    This non-conscious behaviour leads users to start their visit of a website in the Netway Interface Comfort Zone. The zones outside this area will be less visited. And if they are visited, it will be done at a later stage during the visit.

    Take a look at :



  46. 2296

    Options Strategist

    August 30, 2008 4:41 pm


    ( See brief I can be).

  47. 2347

    The real challenge lies in the fact that simplicity breeds innovation. By this, what I am trying to say is that no matter how simple the products or online interfaces get, they should be able to do everything they are supposed to do and more. This obviously leads to innovation because your choices are limited with the existing set of tools and you then invent new to fit into that simple framework.
    I think Apple follows the same policy and ends up “WOWing” the world. I agree that not all Apple website pages are simple but what i like about all the pages of Apple website are that they are very functionally designed and one would never get lost in that website.
    Yes they are the gods of simplicity. I think this is what Apple’s principle has been from the beginning. I think if we all strive to understand this ideology of user experience, we would end up speeding the innovation process and transform the world much more quickly than expected.

  48. 2398

    Design is definitely important but people also get caught up in the design of a website instead of -if the website is doing what it should be-making you money.
    In reply to what you said about giving less options to your customers-
    I agree with what you said about the importance of making sure that your goal is targeted and clear so that your customer will react and buy your product.
    But giving less options to your customers-I definitely don’t agree with you on this point. From a designer point-of-view, the website looks nicer. From a sales point-of-view- you’re losing out on making more money! Websites have proven the power of cross selling products, if the customer already purchased a product it drives them to purchase more products or offers them other product suggestions. Don’t forget that we have to treat it as a shopping experience, not only a design experience.

  49. 2449

    Really good article!! I should print it and give it to all my Clients. I try to tell them the same over and over again. Good job on this one.

  50. 2500

    Thanks really cool article.
    I love the low fat sites :) This site should be added too


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