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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.
We’d like to believe that we use established design patterns for common elements on the Web. We know what buttons should look like, how they should behave and how to design the Web forms that rely on those buttons. And yet, broken forms, buttons that look nothing like buttons, confusing navigation elements and more are rampant on the Web. It’s a boulevard of broken patterns out there.
This got me thinking about the history and purpose of design patterns and when they should and should not be used. Most interestingly, I started wondering when breaking a pattern in favor of something different or better might actually be OK. We all recognize and are quick to call out when patterns are misused. But are there circumstances in which breaking the rules is OK? To answer this question properly, let’s go back to the beginning.
The story of usability is a perverse journey from simplicity to complexity. That's right, from simplicity to complexity—not the other way around.
If you expect a "user-friendly" introduction to usability and that the history of usability is full of well-defined concepts and lean methods, you're in for a surprise. Usability is a messy, ill-defined, and downright confusing concept. The more you think about it—or practice it—the more confusing it becomes.
In my nearly two decades as an information architect, I’ve seen my clients flush away millions upon millions of dollars on worthless, pointless, “fix it once and for all” website redesigns. All types of organizations are guilty: large government agencies, Fortune 500s, not-for-profits and (especially) institutions of higher education.
Worst of all, these offending organizations are prone to repeating the redesign process every few years like spendthrift amnesiacs. Sadly, redesigns rarely solve actual problems faced by end users. I’m frustrated because it really doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at why redesigns happen, and some straightforward and inexpensive ways we might avoid them.
The gaming industry is huge, and it can keep its audience consumed for hours, days and even weeks. Some play the same game over and over again — and occasionally, they even get out their 15-year-old Nintendo 64 to play some Zelda.
Now, I am not a game designer. I actually don’t even play games that often. I am, though, very interested in finding out why a game can keep people occupied for a long period of time, often without their even noticing that they’ve been sitting in front of the screen for hours. I want my apps and products to affect my visitors in the same way.
Our world is getting louder. Consider all the beeps and bops from your smartphone that alert you that something is happening, and all the feedback from your appliances when your toast is ready or your oven is heated, and when Siri responds to a question you’ve posed. Today our technology is expressing itself with sound, and, as interaction designers, we need to consider how to deliberately design with audio to create harmony rather than cacophony.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the uses of audio, where we might find it and when it is useful. This is meant not as a tutorial but rather as a discussion of some basics on using audio feedback.
Emotional design has become a powerful tool in creating exceptional user experiences for websites. However, emotions did not use to play such an important role on the Web. Actually, they did not use to play any role at all; rather, they were drowned by a flood of rational functionality and efficiency.
We were so busy trying to adapt to the World Wide Web as a new medium that we lost sight of its full potential. Instead of using the Internet on our terms, we adapted to its technical and, at first, impersonal nature. If it wasn’t for visionary contemporaries such as Don Norman or Aarron Walter, we might still be focusing on improving processes, neglecting the potential of emotional design.
The practice of using a large letter to mark the start of a text has been around for almost two thousand years. Illustrated caps increased usability by marking important passages and guiding readers through the text. Unlike their historic counterparts, drop caps on the Web don’t add value in terms of usability or readability—and they are hard for Web developers to control, often rendering differently across browsers.
Yet, front-end designers and clients often want to use drop caps as decorative elements. How should we implement them? Just as scribes, artisans, and early printers had a variety of methods for creating initial capitals, we Web designers have multiple methods to choose from. We can use an image of a letter, create a class to enlarge and place a letter, or use a first-child:first-letter to enlarge and place the first letter of the first paragraph. But which method should we use? Which method remains consistent across browsers? Which is most accessible?
When users look for information, they have a goal and are on a mission. Even before you started to read this article, chances are you did because you either had the implicit goal of checking what's new on Smashing Magazine, or had the explicit goal of finding information about "Navigation Design".
After a couple of seconds of scanning this article, and maybe reading parts of the introduction, you may have started to ask yourself whether the information that you’re consuming at the moment is actually relevant to you—the user. Unfortunately (and as certain as death and taxes), if users cannot find the information they are looking for, chances are they will abandon their track, never to return.
Good typography shouldn’t have to rely on ornamental crutches to stand tall. Yet despite all the tools and knowledge available to us, we readily embrace a flourishing, decorative typography, with cheap tricks used in a misguided attempt to make it “pop”. This ancient art may rapidly be gaining popularity, but are we paying it the respect it deserves?
Take a snapshot of the visual culture that surrounds you—magazines, movie posters, packaging, websites—how much of it relies on typography? How much of the typography around you is actually well considered?