Begging for attention


When I look at the navigational menus on most DVDs, I am immediately struck by how busy everything is. Nearly every surface is either covered by an image, or a texture, or some sort of animation. Nothing is left unadorned, creating a very busy design that makes it hard for the viewer to accomplish their goals. The last time I checked, that means actually watching the movie or TV shows on the disc.

We can generalize this problem quite easily: if every element of a design is covered with patterns and complex images and videos and animations, you lose the natural hierarchy and contrast of the design. Everything screams out for attention, and nothing whispers in the background. And this isn’t just a problem with DVD menus: Flash websites, magazine ads, and other media are frequently loaded up with overly busy visual structures.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if your design has three or more distinct areas or layers, at least one of those should be simple, basic, and unadorned. Maybe this is the background area that you cover with a solid color, or the body text that you render as simple black-on-white. By giving that element a restrained and subtle visual presentation, you’re setting the stage for the rest of the design to be that much more interesting and engaging.