When it comes to web design, guidelines are helpful for designing a website. However, design trends come and go, are no longer supported, etc. Then there are other web design guidelines that have held on for quite a number of years. One we’ll look at in this article is the F-pattern.
This is a design guideline that’s been around for years; however, is it still relevant today, especially when considering mobile-first design?
What is the F-Pattern?
The F-pattern is one of several patterns used by web designers. These patterns show how readers’ eyes scan and read content on a website. In fact, you can find heat maps created by companies such as Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) that show these distinct patterns.
The eye tracking studies show that the F-pattern isn’t always a distinctive “F” shape. It is a more general reading pattern used to scan and read the parts of a page or even the full page. Some readers may stop in the middle, and then move on to another section, creating more of an “E”. Other readers may follow the “F” pattern more closely—it varies for each individual site user, because we’re all different and unique. The F-pattern applies to both mobile and desktop screens.
Is the F-pattern Relevant These Days?
Web designers and copywriters have been taught for years that the F-pattern is essential to providing the best web experience, because this is the way most people scan/read the page. This is a somewhat negative view.
It’s a fact that this is a rather negative method used in web design, which still persists. However, keep in mind that no one knew any better years ago. As the data was reviewed, the thinking was that sites should be created in the way visitors used the site. This is just how it is, so websites were made in accordance with the data.
However, these days the thinking has changed. Now, web designers have decided it’s better to have more control over how site visitors behave. Rather than giving control to the user, web designers are now taking control. This way, visitors don’t have to think about what to do, where to go next, etc. The design and layout of the site are crafted in such a way that visitors are guided through the website. You might say it’s a bit like guiding them on a journey.
In fact, NNG has revisited the issue of the F-pattern. Back in 2017, they came to the conclusion that “When writers and designers have not taken any steps to direct the user to the most relevant, interesting or helpful information, users will then find their own path. In the absence of any signals to guide the eye, they will choose the path of minimum effort and will spend most of their fixations close to where they start reading (which is usually the top left most word on the page of text).”
That’s a powerful conclusion, which says that site visitors will resort to the F-patter most often when web designers have not done a good job in guiding them through the website.
So, is the F-pattern still relevant? In short, no.
Web Design That Works Better
No matter how a site is designed, visitors will tend to scan the site. That’s just how it is in these days when everyone’s so busy and time is limited. It’s how we tend to engage with websites. However, site visitors will stay on a page if they find it’s worth reading, rather than only scanning and following the F-pattern naturally on their own.
The updated web design guidelines encourage web designers to create pages that promote the natural habit of scanning the page. Why? Because if visitors scan and find interesting, valuable content, they’re more likely to stay on the page and read, rather than only scanning.
As a result, web pages should be designed with:
- Short sentences and paragraphs
- Elements that create natural breaks:
- Bullet points
- Bold text
- White space
- And more
- Headers and subheads that provide information quickly, yet sparks interest of information is offered in this section
These elements can be used to break up blocks of text, which frustrate site visitors, making them more likely to scan rather than read. Instead, breaking up the text will guide visitors into actually reading the text, rather than just scanning it.
In addition, rather than focusing on web design patterns, such as the F-pattern, it’s better to avoid them where possible. While these are great for pages with a lot of text, the alternative is to create a design that welcomes and encourages visitors, gently guiding them on what to do, where to go next, etc.
Guide visitors to those parts of the page that are more valuable, and you’ll keep their interest. You’ll make it easier and faster for them to find the information they need or to take the next step, such as making a purchase.
The F-pattern is still usable, but is not as relevant these days, due to the way site visitors now use web pages. Instead, the better method is to create a welcoming, comfortable website that guides the user to those page elements that are the most important. Designers can lead the user to important information, next steps, etc.
By making text manageable and easy to read, the visitor will have a little breathing room before moving on to the next section or step. Using design elements such as white space, images, etc. to guide the visitor helps them save time, and helps them to accomplish their objective (such as making a purchase, etc.). This is the new thinking in web design—make it comfortable and easy for the visitor.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.