This category features articles on general design principles, Web design, typography, user interface design and related topics. It also presents design showcases and practical pieces on the business side of design. Curated by Alma Hoffmann.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a century ahead of his time. He was a pioneer, an avant-garde architect who broke free of the traditions of his era. His views on materials, form, function, space and environment define his iconic works. These ideals and principles are still used in architecture today, and his buildings have stood the test of time, remaining relevant even in today’s digital age.
I find a lot of inspiration in Wright’s timeless work. As designers, we’re frequently asked to create digital experiences (especially in software) that will have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years. This is an eternity in “digital” time, and it has made me ponder the future. What kind of devices will people be using in the next few decades? What interaction patterns will we be using in 25 years? 50 years?
Every element on a web page exerts a visual force that attracts the eye of the viewer. The greater the force, the more the eye is attracted. These forces also appear to act on other elements, imparting a visual direction to their potential movement and suggesting where you should look next.
We refer to this force as visual weight and to the perceived direction of visual forces as visual direction. Both are important concepts to understand if you want to create hierarchy, flow, rhythm and balance in your composition.
In the physical world, no one builds anything without detailed blueprints, because people’s lives are on the line. In the digital world, the stakes just aren’t as high. It’s called “software” for a reason: because when it hits you in the face, it doesn’t hurt as much. No one is going to die if your website goes live with the header’s left margin 4 pixels out of alignment with the image below it.
But, while the users’ lives might not be on the line, design blueprints (also called design specifications, or specs) could mean the difference between a correctly implemented design that improves the user experience and satisfies customers and a confusing and inconsistent design that corrupts the user experience and displeases customers.
Apple launched the Macintosh personal computer in 1984. It was more user-friendly than other PCs at that time — and, with its desktop publishing software, graphical user interface and mouse (all novel at the time), the Mac was uniquely geared to designers. Compared to what we can create on the computer today, the original Macintosh, with only 128 KB of memory, had limited capabilities. At the time, though, it opened up so many new possibilities.
Of course, using a computer didn’t automatically make designers better at their craft. Instead, the new technology gave them more control and sped up their exploration process. As with anything unfamiliar, the Mac sparked debate among designers during this time: While some saw the computer as simply another tool for creating work, like a drawing pen, others saw its potential as a medium in itself.
As we refine our methods of responsive web design, we’ve increasingly focused on measure (another word for “line length”) and its relationship to how people read.
The popularization of the “ideal measure” has led to advice such as “Increase font size for large screens and reduce font size for small screens.” While a good measure does improve the reading experience, it’s only one rule for good typography. Another rule is to maintain a comfortable font size.
Similarity and contrast, connection and separation, grouped and ungrouped are all ways to describe the varying sameness and difference between elements. Based on the information they carry, we’ll want some elements to look similar, to indicate that they are related in some way. We’ll also want to show that some elements are different and belong to different groups.
Key to showing both is the visual characteristics of elements and their relationships. If two elements are related in some way, then they should show similar visual characteristics. If the elements are different, then they should look different.
To badge or not to badge? That is the question. Because badges — and a lot of stuff designed for conferences — often look the same. But if you have a little, different conference, you need different kinds of things. Badges included.
It all started in 2013 with the first Kerning conference. I was asked to design the official notebook: we ended up with a really typographic design for the cover and a funny pattern on the back. And an Easter egg on the cover — more on that later. It was a really funny project, so when my dear friend Cristiano Rastelli, a member of Kerning’s organizing committee, asked me to design the notebook and some printed materials for Kerning 2014 I immediately said “Yes, let’s start!”
Many modern software development best practices draw on influences from the industrial era and concepts like specialization, where individuals with specialized skills worked in an assembly line to mass-produce physical products. These practices from the world of manufacturing have come to influence how things are done when designing and building software products as well.
Lean thinking is one of the latest approaches software development companies have adopted to maximize value and reduce wasted effort and resources. It does so by breaking down an objective into a series of experiments. Each experiment starts with a hypothesis that is tested and validated. The output of each experiment informs the future direction. This is similar to the idea of “sprints” in the agile world, where the overall product roadmap is divided into smaller and meaningful bodies of work.