Screen "Real Estate"

I saw Jakob Nielson, the famous "web guru" speak for the first time at the AACE's WebNet conference in 1998. It was an interesting and entertaining talk and it was pretty obvious that this guy was indeed a guru. One of the things he spent of lot of time doing was displaying web sites and breaking them down by content areas, in terms of what he called the screen "real estate". A main point was that much of this valuable real estate was taken up by things that were not useful content. In fact, his first chapter on page design in his now classic (in web time) book, Designing Web Usability (Nielson, 2000) begins with a discussion of screen real estate, where he suggests that page content should account for at least 50% of a page and ideally 80%. Like many of his design "principles", Jakob states this as if it's a law of the universe, which it is not, but it's probably a pretty good rule of thumb.

Of course, some part of most any page on a typical web site is dedicated to navigation, which is also important for obvious reasons. Such navigation, according to our guru, is a "necessary evil", and should not be the focus of a page.

Therefore, one of the first steps in designing a web page is determining how you are going to lay out your content and navigation. The focus needs to be on the former, though the latter is still important.