Grid-based design provides designers a formal way to assess the
communicative expression power of the UI thanks to the rule of thirds - a topic
Website Magazine addresses in our July 2011 issue. But what is the rule of
thirds and how can you use it to improve interaction on your own site?
Originally used in the visual arts field, the rule of thirds is adapted well
to any design and any design format or device thanks to its simplicity. The rule
of thirds identifies four focal points within compositions to where the human
eye is naturally attracted. By aligning elements on dividing lines or placing
elements at these focal points, a maximum amount of interest and energy can be
directed to the most important elements of the page. While eye tracking and heat
maps provide meaningful, empirical data on how the site was used in the past by
users, applying the rule of thirds can be useful as the design takes shape to
ensure you are meeting the underlying objectives initially set forth and within
the boundaries of standard design practices.
To really understand how the rule of thirds can be used it is necessary to
compare and review various websites to see what are they doing right and what
are they doing wrong. WM reviewed homepages/index pages of three sites in the
"Music/Entertainment" category including Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine and our
very own WM Senior Editor Mike Phillips' Chicago Music Blog, Sound Citizen. We're
looking beyond the homepage as well with an analysis of content pages on these
websites and how the rule of thirds applies to their layout/structure.
Rules of Thirds on Homepages
When applying the rule of thirds to home or index pages, having site-wide
objectives prioritized is of vital importance. In the case of the three sites
reviewed, exposing content, profiling advertising, and encouraging "social" are
the apparent core objectives of these sites when the rule of thirds is applied.
So how do the sites stack up? All things considered, pretty well. Some things
that stand out at the outset are the predominance of advertising on Rolling
Stone and Spin and how well they have done to balance advertising with featured editorial content. Sound Citizen's focal points mainly target content and community features. Sound Citizen is also the only one of the three sites to employ a
two column layout as opposed to three column layouts used by the others. The use
of a two-column layout has different restrictions than that of a three-column.
Rolling Stone and Spin are able to feature more content over the fold than Sound
Citizen without losing site of the primary ad's importance. Also, notice how
much more linear (and in-line with grid based design) Rolling Stone and Spin are
compared to Sound Citizen.
Rules of Third on Content Pages
When it comes to content pages, the rule of thirds once again proves useful.
Keep in mind that the intersections of our "thirds" (represented by the blue
dots) are not actually intended to be the the exclusive focus of our readers but
also what is immediately around them.
So how do these pages stack up? Not very
well, in our estimation. But there are some instances of abiding by the rule of
thirds. Rolling Stone once again puts the ad in plain sight and Spin further
exposes its most popular content to the lower right of the fourth focal point. Both, however, put the burden on the viewer to locate and consume the page's content. Unlike Rolling Stone and Spin, Sound Citizen maintains its structure well. The design supports the primary objectives of
the site (content and community) and it is carried over from previous pages visited by the user, such
as the homepage. However, based on our evaluation, there is a great deal of room for
improvement on all three sites.
Rule of Thirds @ RollingStone.com
Rule of Thirds @ Spin.com
Rule of Thirds @ SoundCitizen.com