3 Ways That Web Innovations Can Improve Health Messaging


The 1990s, which always will be about 5 years ago for me, saw the emergence of a great new technology.  The World Wide Web!  “W3” was clunky, text-heavy, and only thoroughly understood by my computer science friends (even back then).  Do you even W3?  Let’s check out how innovations in website development can improve health messaging!

At the dawn of the World Wide Web, websites were simple out of necessity.  Websites were generally text heavy and relied on minimal graphics and sounds that were very low resolution in nature. After all, it was really hard to push a lot of pictures, audio, and other rich media through your Mom’s AOL dial-up.  (Not that I’d know anything about that from personal experience, of course.)

Amazon.com is generally considered to be an innovator in web-based commerce.  But here’s how it started.


And here’s how amazon.com looks now!


Clearly, there are a lot more bells and whistles on this site.  There is a heavier emphasis on graphics, layout of text and graphics, and the convenience of a search bar and user login on the home page.  For people seeking a simple health message or information, though, even the streamlined look of the amazon.com homepage might be bewildering.  Even though there’s a lot we can do with the “World Wide Web,” we’re at the point now when we can decide what is best to do.  Let’s take a look at health-related web design in 3 easy recommendations.

1. What’s your point?  Begin with the end in mind!  What do you want to say, and what’s the simplest way to say it?  Having a specific health message in mind will help to focus your web design. It doesn’t get much simpler than one word – One.  This organization aims to combat poverty using a variety of programs.  However, the simple central theme of togetherness and collective action allows them to organize several different charitable focuses under the same conceptual umbrella, and therefore a relatively simple and visually appealing website.

2. Consider “flat design.”  The simplest web designs are best.  A study by Google indicates that people decide within the first second whether they like your website or not.  If your website is visually complex, you’re sunk before you even start!  Flat design involves an emphasis on simplicity in features and graphics of a website.  Consider this example from public health, Every Last Drop.  The user interface during early website navigation is very simple – all you have to do is to scroll!  The website take your through a brief animation that is user controlled, which stops every so often to display relevant facts about water usage.  At the end of the animation, there is access to rich media and web links for additional information.  This is a great health-related example of web design that is accessible to a range of web users.

3. Do something familiar.  Stick with something people know.  Make it easy for your readers to think about your content.  It’s important that your web design looks enough like something that people have seen before for them to connect.  That said, don’t do the exact same thing everyone else is doing!  Your website still needs to be different enough to stand out.  The Global Oneness Project is great example of cognitive fluency in web design.  The website is rather unusual because it has a lot of visual open spaces and leads with the opportunity to watch a video.  However, the website also has more standard aspects of web design – a navigation bar at the top, familiar links to share by social media, and a way to sign up for an email newsletters.

To summarize my learnings about successful health messaging on the “World Wide Web”:

  • Simple message
  • Simple design
  • Stay just on the edge of people’s comfort zones

It’s clearly not 1995 anymore on the “W3,” and definitely for the better as it relates to health messaging!


2 thoughts on “3 Ways That Web Innovations Can Improve Health Messaging

  1. Hey Todd,

    I always love reading your writing. You have such a personable way of speaking and it translates well into printed text. I love your point about doing what is BEST now. We know what we can do and maybe even what we want to do, but what is going to be best for getting our public health message across. Simple, clena and straight forward seems to be the overall consensus. I’ve found working with patients that I can tell them absolutely everything there is to know about their disease and what they need to eat a therapuetic diet but it will probably only make a difference in 1 in a 1,000 people. I need to reach every single person as best I can. So, I need to do what works and will actually effects change in somebody rather than what I feel like doing. The internet is infinite in possibilties but people’s attention spans are not, and so getting even a 30 second look at your cause or website is probably what everybody needs to shoot for.

    Overall, you have a fantastic blog post here. It’s well written, to the point and it has a handy summary at the end for my limited attention span.


  2. Todd, I so agree with Bryanna–I always enjoy reading your posts each week. I love how you have been able to integrate your own voice and personality into all your posts. I always find myself laughing or smiling while I read through them. We want our audience to be captivated and interested and again, your writing does just that. Along with adding in your own personality you do a great job of incorporating key resources, information and readings from our class and many other outside resources- you provide your reader with a wealth of knowledge! Your writing is impressive, and you do a great job of summarizing your posts. This week it is incredibly difficult for me to identify area’s of opportunity for your post. Already you have such a strong post. However, one piece that may strengthen it is incorporating more of the Public Health voice towards the end of the post. I will miss reading your posts! Thanks!

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