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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.
Web design is a craft that is constantly evolving and yet also sometimes sabotaged. The moment a design is released, a new version is born. In the beginning, like a baby, it seems vulnerable and weak, but in time it grows up and becomes self-sufficient. Redesigning a website for its own sake doesn’t prove anything; quite the contrary, it reveals a lack of effectiveness on the part of the designer.
Product design is a craft in which new versions come to life with increasing difficulty. We can learn a thing or two from it when designing for the Web. Forget marketing, technical specs and hardware. Products such as the iPhone, the Mini Cooper and the Zippo lighter have become wildly successful because of their outstanding design. Such massive success springs from three sources: the designer, sticking to the scope and iteration. These aspects can help us in Web design, too. In this article, we’ll look at what we can learn from successful product design.
As technology evolves, so does the art and craft of Web design. New technology creates new challenges, which require new solutions. Often we’re working in uncharted territory, where the solutions demanded really are new. Other times, we’re faced with problems of a more universal nature, problems that have a history.
Given the limited history of Web design, we have to look beyond our immediate domain for answers to the more challenging questions. We do this all the time when we draw on the rich history of graphic design and visual arts. But we’re not limited to sibling disciplines. If we can identify the abstractions and patterns that constitute our challenges, we can look to any source for guidance. We can look to a seemingly unrelated field, such as psychology or music. We can even look to an episode from the early 18th century about Johann Sebastian Bach.
For designers, it’s easy to jump right into the design phase of a website before giving the user experience the consideration it deserves. Too often, we prematurely turn our focus to page design and information architecture, when we should focus on the user flows that need to be supported by our designs. It’s time to make the user flows a bigger priority in our design process.
Design flows that are tied to clear objectives allow us to create a positive user experience and a valuable one for the business we’re working for. In this article, we’ll show you how spending more time up front designing user flows leads to better results for both the user and business. Then we’ll look in depth at a common flow for e-commerce websites (the customer acquisition funnel), as well as provide tips on optimizing it to create a complete customer experience.
Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 (WP7), introduces a fresh approach to content organization and a different UX, based on the Metro design language and principles that will be incorporated into Windows 8. It also targets a different market than its predecessor: instead of being designed mainly for business and technology workers, WP7 is targeted at active people with a busy life, both offline and online, and who use social networks every day, whatever their background.
First, it’s a new interface, so you have space to create and develop some new ideas for it. We are still at the beginning of its growing curve, so it’s an interesting challenge. When I saw a WP7 presentation for the first time, I thought, “I want to design something for this.” Exploring is a great way to learn how to build a new exciting experience for users.
The first thing to understand about content strategy is that no two people understand it the same way. It’s a relatively new — and extremely broad — discipline with no single definitive definition. A highly informative Knol on content strategy defines it as follows: "Content strategy is an emerging field of practice encompassing every aspect of content, including its design, development, analysis, presentation, measurement, evaluation, production, management, and governance."
This definition is a great place to start. Although the discipline has clearly evolved, this breakdown of its scope makes perfect sense. The aspects of content strategy that matter most to Web designers in this definition are design (obviously!), development, presentation and production. In this article, we’ll concentrate on the relationship between content strategy and design in creating, organizing and displaying Web copy.
In this article, I’d like to reacquaint you with the humble workhorse of communication that is the paragraph. Paragraphs are everywhere. In fact, at the high risk of stating the obvious, you are reading one now. Despite their ubiquity, we frequently neglect their presentation. This is a mistake. Here, we’ll refer to some time-honored typesetting conventions, with an emphasis on readability, and offer guidance on adapting them effectively for devices and screens. We’ll see that the ability to embed fonts with @font-face is not by itself a solution to all of our typographic challenges.
In 1992, Tim Berners-Lee circulated a document titled “HTML Tags,” which outlined just 20 tags, many of which are now obsolete or have taken other forms. The first surviving tag to be defined in the document, after the crucial anchor tag, is the paragraph tag. It wasn’t until 1993 that a discussion emerged on the proposed image tag.
Right there in the center of my boilerplate for design proposals is a section that I glare at with more resentment each time I complete it. It’s called “Deliverables,” and it’s there because clients expect it: a list of things I’ll deliver for the amount of money that I specify further down in the document. Essentially, it distills a design project down to a goods-and-services agreement: you pay me a bunch of money and I’ll give you this collection of stuff. But that isn’t what I signed up for as a designer. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about deliverables. And neither should you.
Case in point: for months now, I’ve worked consistently with a particular client for whom I do almost no work on actual design artifacts (wireframes, prototypes, etc.). Rather, I hold frequent calls with the main designer and developer to go over what they’ve done with the product (i.e. poke holes in it) and what they should do next (i.e. help prioritize). Some days, they hand me wireframes; sometimes, a set of comps; other days, live pages. Whatever the artifact, our purpose is always to assess what we have now versus where we need to get to.
Have you read Where the Wild Things Are? The storybook has fluidity of content and design figured out. It goes that one night, protagonist Max “wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another.” He hammers nails into walls, pesters a small dog. Author Maurice Sendak doesn’t explain these hijinks textually for the reader. The mischievous acts are illustrated on the right-hand pages. Readers make the narrative connections for themselves.
The words and pictures depend on each other for completeness. Web designers can employ the same complementary dependence of graphic and text in their own work. It encourages a sense of belonging and can create strong first impressions, which are often essential to effective Web design.
There are many ways to skin a redesign (I think that’s how the saying goes). On a philosophical level, I agree with those who advocate for realigning, not redesigning, but these are mere words when you’re staring a design problem in the face with no idea where to start. This article came out of my own questions about how to make the realignment philosophy practical and apply it to my day-to-day work — especially when what’s needed is more than a few tweaks to the website here and there.
I propose an approach to redesign through realignment, by using a framework adapted from Edward Tufte’s principles on the visual display of quantitative information. But first, a little context.