What Content Is Appropriate For Index Pages And Start Screens

It's a common question for informational websites and for mobile applications as well. Should it be the main screen of your product or just a list of content? What information is appropriate for a starting point?

The main concern is that actually people do not pay attention to Index section. Since, they more focused on functionality, features and how content are organised on inner pages, landing pages, and all the places where we are talking about conversion.

Before making first steps in this topic, I'd like to show you how magazines design their index pages. They have a lot of experience in this area...

Scanning index pages of the big players in magazines world are interesting. You'll not find there a dry content with a linear approach. When you can see a boring list of all the content that magazine is consists of.

They use an interactive approach to navigating you through all the topics.

Take a look at ELLE centrefold. They use all the space and make scanning of contents not so boring.

ELLE magazine example

Starting point of a website or application should be interesting as well as the example above. It should motivate users and show directions where they can go and what's interesting they can find here. In a case of technological apps, I think it should educate and motivate to create an account, download something or subscribe, show features and benefits. Again, it should contain all necessary information. At least briefly with links on sections with a detailed information.

However, in a case of websites, we should take into account that not all users open a website from an index page. They can go directly on one of the inner pages from search engines or social networks. But still we need to pay attention to index. Since they can go back to the very first position to review all that we have.

I do like New York Times website as an example in the case when I'm talking about content, information design and information architecture.

The New York Times website screenshot

Well, yeah... It mimics printed newspaper. But, in the same time, they pretty much take into account interactiveness of the web medium.

The New York Times newspaper

I think that we can use this experience for contents and navigation...

Yes, we are living in a digital age and information on all physical mediums becomes secondary. It's easier to unlock the mobile device to find something in Google or whatever... But we need to take into account that transition to digital laws should be not too fast. So, people can understand how to use your products and find what they are looking for easily. Or have a clear understanding of what do you suggest on your website, app, product, etc.

This experience of interaction with the website from the starting point is pretty similar to reading the book...

When I visit a bookstore and find for myself attractive one of the book covers I take this book, open contents page, search for an interesting topic for me and go on the page to read 1-2 pages. Then I go on the contents page again and search for another interesting topic... And only then I'll read about this book, author etc.

I've heard from many people that not only I do it in this way. So, the question is should we tell something about on the starting point of a website or app? Or we need to think about the prioritization of the information that we give. And make sure that contents not in the bottom position of this priority list.

Reading books and magazines is not reading websites. We deal with an interactive medium where we can go whenever we want with just one click. The experience of navigation is different. We don't need to spend time on turning pages until we'll find desirable content. So far speed boost of navigation in the digital environment let us make mistakes easier than in physical mediums. In several clicks we can forget about a starting point and where it is located and how can we back to the point where we started to interact with the interface. So, we should think about an appropriate approach to navigation...

A navigation should always be clear, consistent and visible. But in a case when we have a tons of categories, sections or items we need to use a hidden design paradigm. So, the navigation is always near with us, but it's hidden in the button or panel which are easy to find.

Contents should not be only in a text form... If you build a portfolio website or a catalog why don't you put all your items right on the start screen?

Of course, you can add special offers and separate items by categories as Amazon or eBay do. Do You want to create a page with a special offer? Fine, you can have as many landing pages as possible. Or you can do it on a product page. But starting point shouldn't be a strong offer unless you have a one-page website.

Let people know what do you have on your site / in your app. Think about them as visitors to your office, for example. Imagine you are going to visit a company and you have an address. You go there to this address find a building and the first thing that you see is a sheet with numbers of offices with floors and logotypes. So, you pick one that you need to go there or ask a receptionist to help you find a specific office. It could search option on the website where you enter a direct response. As you can see it's pretty similar to real life navigation and relationship with the information.

Thus, we need to start from basics. Analysis of information that you already have and purposes. Then we need to work on priorities and form of a content. Do not make it difficult. Think about people when you work on starting point of your product. It should be clear, easy to navigate and work well on different form factors (you can read about this in one of my previous articles).

Take examples from big players that have a huge experience such as magazines, big data websites, popular resources and products. But at the same time think about your product as something new and try to be on one step higher in your industry. In an ideal case, people should reach all information that you have from starting point, but it can be implemented in dozens of ways.


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