Before the days of websites and user experience, the job of a website designer was focused and there was one goal: make it simpler and easier for users to get their tasks done.
A traditional human factors concept is the idea of loads. A load refers to how much work you are requiring. When you are designing to make something easier or simpler, you want to lower these loads. Often usability work is about finding the right balance.
For example, let’s say the user needs to make a series of choices. You don’t want to overwhelm the user with too many choices on one screen, or a lot of information to read and scan, so you break up the choices into a series of screens that narrows down the choices based on what was chosen on the screen before. By doing this you have lowered both the thinking and visual loads, but you have raised the number of clicks required.
If users are trying to get a task done, then lowering the loads is what you want to do. But interestingly, when you lower all the loads you are also lowering engagement and entertainment. Think about gaming — a game is interesting and engaging because it creates loads on the user.
So when you design for engagement or entertainment you might not want to lower all the loads. If a website has an animated panel of information in the middle of the screen next to an area of text users are trying to read, the users will be constantly distracted. Is this annoying or is it engaging? It depends. This is a difference in expectation, and sometimes, age. People over the age of 45 or 50 are accustomed to computers as tools to get tasks done. Unless they specifically want to be entertained, they often want to do one task at a time without interruption. Younger people are a little more forgiving. They are used to thinking of the computer and the Internet, as primarily a source of engagement, entertainment, and connection, and will therefore have more tolerance for increased loads.
It’s not one size fits all. If you need to grab someone’s attention to get them to even start a task, then increase the visual load to grab their attention. But once they have entered the process and are just trying to get a task done, then lower all the navigation steps so they can complete the task at hand.