I happened to be browsing GE’s web site recently and was very taken with its clean, almost minimalist design. However, I was interested to note that the use of sIFR for their overview pages seemed to have an unintended negative consequence.
I found that the sIFR text didn’t look enough like regular text for me to read it. I found myself skipping down to what looked obviously like normal content in order to see what the pages had to say.
On reflection I was surprised that I exhibited this behavior, but it seems that I have been conditioned to ignore content that looks too ‘designed’ as I expect it to be promotional, overly marketing-oriented, or simply decorative in nature.
Judge for yourself. Here’s the content with sIFR applied:
And here it is with sIFR disabled:
To me, the ‘normal’ text in the second example looks much more appealing in the sense that it appears like real content — something that you might actually want to read.
(Note: I’ve reduced the screenshots to make them fit my column width. The difference is more pronounced on the actual page).
It’s likely that the underlining that’s been applied in the sIFR version also has a negative effect on readability. I personally find it quite off-putting.
The takeaway for me from this encounter is to be careful about over-designing your content (i.e. apply techniques like sIFR judiciously).
Otherwise you risk making it look more like decorative imagery than content that’s worth reading.