The Golden Triangle

I’m finding that as the weeks go on, I’m thinking more and more about how I want my final project to look. So this week’s readings on usability were slightly overwhelming, if not perfectly timed.

It’s as if every week, with each additional reading, we get one more thing to think about or take into consideration as we’re designing our projects. Then the panic sets in.

This week I read, had my usual panic attack and then took a step back to breathe. After I thought about it, Sasha is right , we’ve seen this before. We’re just getting a bit more detail about what it is we already sorta know about web design. Further more, these readings bring home to me an argument I’ve been having for years in my work life. Specifically, where to put things. Let me explain.

In re: the readings on Rule of Three. At work, we use a term called the “Golden Triangle,” which reflects how users expect to find information when they visit your site. These expectations are based on users’ experiences with Google’s Search Results layout, which love it or hate it, is the dominant way users navigate the web now. The concept of the Golden Triangle was/is based largely on a 2005 eye tracking study done by some fancy web marketing research firm to understand how search was really taking over the world wide web AND changing how users navigate it.

(In another lesson in how blogs typically can stand the test of time, while web sites rarely do, you can get to the blog entry discussing said study, but you can no longer get to the full study – big bummer. You can see the heat map below and the triangle is pretty clear.)

Graphic of the Golden Triangle, lovingly borrowed from

Let me be clear, I have never designed a site before this class, nor have I ever hand-coded a site by myself. My job in the working world has always been, solely, to represent to the web development and design teams the business requirements for content and advertising on major,high-traffic commercial sites. ie, “I need the content box to appear here and it needs to be at least 5 lines of text with six possible hyperlinks and an image at least ‘this big.'” “The ad needs to be above the fold and adhere to the Internet Ad Bureau’s standards on size and expansions,” blah blah blah.

And then the fight over the Golden Triangle would ensue:

Highly skilled design and usability folks: “No, it can’t go here because you are trying to dominate critical space in the Golden Triangle with your stupid content.”
Me: “Well, I know, but if I can’t recirculate traffic to our internal pages where the big ads are, then the user can’t see the ad, and then we can’t sell the ad and then none of us get paid.” And so on and so forth.

They were all in good fun and we were all representing the camps we were hired to represent. The war between good design and profitability hasn’t subsided, we just have many years of analytics to use in our arguments now.

Which brings me to another web usability study, this one done back in 2006, which addressed where users expected to see common site navigation elements: the home button, search box, internal links, ads, and about us links. It’s an interesting and short read and the visuals make it pretty clear where users expect these elements to go.

I realize that 2006 seems like a long time ago in web ages, but not much has changed. Actually, that’s not true. Years of web experiences and analytics have proven these standards over time and now we no longer really fight about this stuff.

It’s commonly accepted now that your home button should be in the upper left hand corner, your links should be underlined, you cannot hide your search box and that you should point the users’ eyes to the most important elements using the Rule of Three or the “Golden Triangle”, whichever term you use.

Reading the foundations of these “rules” reminds me that I need to not take them for granted and really think through how I apply them. So to my current and former design colleagues: I appreciate you – I’m walking a mile in your shoes now, and I get it. I really get how hard it is!!