Are Hidden Design Flaws Holding Back Your Site?

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You've carefully examined every detail of the design of your site a thousand times, and it looks really great.

Your site looks really great...

To you.

But what if your site contains a hidden design flaw that makes your site look so bad to some users, that they leave immediately without even complaining? And what if these users are actually an important part of your audience?

Let's talk about two segments of our audience that may be having a bad experience on our sites.

The Visually Impaired

1) The first group is anybody who has been spending so much time online that they are now suffering from eyestrain. This could be anybody of any age.

2) The second group are aging baby boomers. This is the largest, richest generation in U.S. history, who for now at least control most of the money available to be spent online. The baby boomers are of course no longer babies, but have become the senior boomers.

Both of these groups share a common problem. They're having increasing trouble seeing the text on the screen.

Both of these groups will attempt to solve the problem in the same way. They will boost the size of the fonts they are using.

The Hidden Design Flaw

You've probably been looking at your site with a normal font size such as 12 - 14 - 16 point text. It looks great at that font size, because that's the font size it was designed to look great at. After all, whoever designed your site building software was probably a smart 26 year old programmer with strong young eyes, who was trying to serve most users.

Here's the hidden design flaw that you may not be seeing.

- Often a design will be built around fixed sized content boxes that are defined with CSS.

- And then, variable sized text is placed within these fixed sized boxes.

That is, the content box that contains the text is a fixed width and height, but the text that goes in to that box could be any size, as determined by the user.

If the reader is using small or medium sized fonts, this works fine.

If the reader is using a large font, the entire page can be reduced to completely unreadable utter chaos. What happens is that the large text flows out of it's container box, and prints over text in other nearby boxes.

Picture this paragraph being printed directly on top of the last paragraph. If that happened, it would be impossible to read either paragraph, right?

If this happens within your navigation system, your site is completely dead in the water for this segment of your audience.

Why Does This Matter?

Maybe this hidden design flaw matters to your business, or maybe not, it depends on your audience.

If your topic is gaming or skateboarding, you probably have a young audience with strong healthy eyes, who are using normal font sizes. Thus, few of your visitors will experience this design flaw, so why worry about it?

On the other hand...

If your site addresses any topic that rich aging baby boomers would be interested in, you might have a big problem, and not even know it.

You won't know it, because your navigation system may be so compromised that visitors who wish to complain can't find your contact form.

Does Your Site Have This Hidden Design Flaw?

I was going to post screenshots to demonstrate this problem, but I don't want to do anything that might seem like an insult to somebody's site.

And anyway, you don't really need a screenshot, as you can easily replicate this issue in your own browser.

Just go in to your browser preferences, and set the minimum font size to 24 point text. That is, you are doing what many visually impaired people will do, instructing their browser to boost all text to this large font size.

Now take a deep breath, and visit your site? How does it look?

It might look perfectly fine. That's great!

You see, it's entirely possible to design a site so that that large text isn't a problem. Your site might not have this problem at all. In fact, most sites designed in the first decade of the net had this ability to gracefully accommodate large text. It's only in recent years that new design trends have made this in to a bigger issue.

But what if your site looks awful with large text?

What's The Solution?

A solution may be easy, or impossible.

If you designed your site yourself, you can of course edit your site template to better accommodate large fonts.

If you're using a template driven sitebuilder like Wordpress, changing your template might do the trick.

If you're using a content management system that can't be easily changed such as say, forum software, your options are more limited.

You could contact the developer and hope they will understand this issue.

You could try another content management system, but that's a pretty big hassle.

If no easy fix is available, you may have to just write off the visually impaired audience, and build your business upon younger healthier people. Again, depending on your niche, this may be an easy solution.

Do You Have A Problem?

One way to determine if you have a problem with your audience could be to....

1) Boost the fonts in your own browser to a large size like 24 point.

2) Look at your site, and put a contact form link somewhere where it is easily seen even at large fonts.

3) See how many people contact you with complaints.

Again, if your business plan permits you to ignore aging senior boomers, it's possible you can simply ignore this hidden design flaw too.

If your business plan depends on hooking those who currently have most of the money in our economy, it's probably worth your time to investigate, and see if your site has this hidden design flaw.

If you have insights in to this issue which haven't been covered here, please post a comment to share your thoughts.
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