Once upon a time, when the World Wide Web had barely outgrown its blinking, “NEW”-shouting, and “Under Construction” infancy, there were splash screens.
From Splash Screens to Home Pages
A splash screen was a showy entrance to a web site or to a section of a web site. It was a way for the site owner to announce, “Ta-da!” and show off some graphics to a text-dense internet. It was also a navigation aid: menus were still somewhat ad hoc, so it was easy to get lost at a large-ish web site. If you could find the home page, you could get re-oriented.
It didn’t take long to discover a problem with this, exacerbated by the relatively slow internet speeds of the time. A splash screen required time to load. It also represented one more click between the user and the content they wanted — and delayed gratification is not a trait of our online lives. Splash screens were doomed to become anathema to most critics and many users.
Another sign of those times: it was pre-Google. Without a search engine, we relied on directories of links posted by other users and on guessing at domain names. We had little-to-no hope of guessing a whole URL and, without decent menus, we really needed splash pages to show us, “You are here” and “You can go these places.”
Enough Web-Design History — Where Are We Now?
Our sites are now so thoroughly indexed by search engines that visitors land on whichever page has the precise content they want, not necessarily on our home page. Many, perhaps most, of them never even see it. This is not news to us, but it has implications still worth considering.
Users don’t get lost in the stacks any longer because every normal page of our web sites has global navigation. And they arrive at the page they need, not necessarily the one we plan for them. Instead of splash screens, we optimistically plan landing pages — but people will drop in anywhere and we must be prepared to meet them there.
It’s time to re-think this with a clear head and fewer preconceptions. What is a home page other than a splash screen, one more stop between the user and their destination? If we think our visitors need one to find their way, we should evaluate our nav and information architecture; both need to be logical and intuitive. Some sites might need a home page to make a point or to establish the brand image and message; but they cannot count on users to see it, and shouldn’t beg, so they must ensure the entire site carries their message in some way.
And if that is done well… what is the point of a home page?