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Did you know that we publish useful books and run
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dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.
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.
The country selector. It’s there when you create an account for a new Web service, check out of an e-commerce store or sign up for a conference. The normal design? A drop-down list with all of the available countries. However, when conducting a large session of user testing on check-out usability (which we wrote about here on Smashing Magazine back in April 2011), we consistently found usability issues with the massive country selector drop-downs.
Jakob Nielsen reported similar issues as far back as 2000 and 2007 when testing drop-downs with a large number of options, such as state and country lists. So, this past summer we set out to redesign the country selector. This article focuses on the four design iterations we went through before arriving at the solution (free jQuery plugin included).
If content sits at the top of the food chain, why do we spend so much time talking about the finer points of design? Every day we debate, experiment with and discuss topics that easily fall into the category of aesthetics, enhanced functionality and layout; in fact, relatively rarely do we talk about content. Nevertheless, even though we should concede that content is king in this realm, this doesn’t mean that design should be devalued.
It may seem logical that the user experience lives and dies by how the user relates on an emotional level to the content on a website. But this is not necessarily the case. From a design perspective, our job is to maximize the value of every visitor, whether they love the content or hate it. The role of a UX designer is not always to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Since the dawn of the Internet, the demand for good design has continued to skyrocket. From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and beyond, designers have remained on their toes as they define the trends and expectations of our online universe. The Internet is a great designer’s playground, and online businesses are growing more and more appreciative of what can be gained from a bit of well-executed eye candy.
Over the past two years, this fact has become the backbone of a growing trend in online marketing: the infographic. Infographics are visual representations of information, or “data viz” as the cool kids call it these days. The term “data viz” comes from “data visualization,” which implies that sets of data will be displayed in a unique way that can be seen, rather than read. This visualization should not be left up to interpretation, it should instead be designed in a way that provides a universal conclusion for all viewers.
You might consider yourself knowledgeable, but you’ve probably never heard of this powerful communication and design technique that I’m about to share. I’m sure you’ve seen it in practice but never knew it was working on you — that’s how good it is. I’m here to shed light on this technique so that you can use it as a approach to your design or writing.
See what I did there? I introduced you to dissonance by using the technique itself. If used correctly, it can enhance your approach to design and copywriting in certain projects. Welcome to designing with dissonance!
In your pocket right now is the most powerful “remote control” (as Drew Diskin put it) that has ever existed. It is no ordinary remote control. It can harness everything that all of the previous mass media (television, radio, Internet, etc.) can do. People aren’t using them just for simple entertainment or for phone calls. They have become the hub of our personal lives.
It’s no longer just about the evolving power and capabilities of these devices. It’s about us and how we, too, are changing. The user’s expectation of a great experience is the new standard. It falls to us as UX professionals to apply our skills to make this happen on the vast array of devices out there. It’s not always easy, though. The mobile realm has some unique constraints and offers some interesting opportunities. While covering all of the nuances of mobile UX in one article would be impossible, we’ll cover some fundamentals and concepts that should move you in the right direction with your projects.
It’s easy to see your top-visited pages, navigation patterns and conversion metrics using visitor-tracking tools like Google Analytics. However, this data doesn’t show the roadblocks that users typically run into on your website. Tracking and optimizing error messages will help you measurably improve your website’s user experience. We’ll walk through how to add error tracking using Google Analytics, with some code snippets. Then, we’ll assemble the data and analyze it to figure out how to improve your error message drop rates.
The most helpful errors to track are form-field errors and 404 pages. Form-field errors can be captured after the form’s validation has run; this can be client-side or server-side, as long as you can trigger a Google Analytics event when an error message appears to a user. (We’ll be using Google Analytics in this article, but you can apply these concepts to many visitor-tracking tools, such as Omniture and Performable.)
Texture is becoming integral to design. It’s gone beyond being a trend — it’s now a simple and effective way to add depth to a website. Wielding the power of texture is a great responsibility. It increases the effectiveness of websites and is a quality tool in the arsenal of designers. It can guide the user’s eye and emphasize the importance of key elements. [Content Care Nov/30/2016]
However, texture has long been synonymous with “dirty” or “grungy” design. Its overuse can be seen throughout the world of music group websites and has left a bad taste in the mouths of designers. Due to its frequent misuse, its benefits have long been overlooked. Texture can bring a website together, but should not be the main focus.
Designers are visually literate creatures. We use visuals to express our ideas, whether by building wireframes, sketching interfaces or pushing pixels. As a result, the majority of knowledge captured when we design a product is some form of “corporate memory”: a combination of assets and documentation. This creation of visual artifact is widely regarded as our most effective means of communicating thought through a product. However, creating a product takes more than just documentation, and much of it is communicated not visually, but verbally.
Due to the growing popularity of iterative product development, the spoken word has become an integral part of the design process. The shift in focus from documentation to collaboration has put greater emphasis on communication. Now more than ever, there is a need to articulate a design “voice” during the early stages of conversation about a product, and to maintain it throughout the process — although this is easier said than done.
This is not a normal Smashing Magazine post. I’m not going to teach you something new or inspire you with examples of great work. Instead, I want to encourage you to complete a Web design challenge. I believe this will help to address a weakness that exists in many of our design processes.
If you complete this challenge, it will make it easier for clients to sign off on your designs, and it will improve the quality of your work. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.
Metrics can be a touchy subject in design. When I say things like, “Designers should embrace A/B testing” or “Metrics can improve design,” I often hear concerns. Many designers tell me they feel that metrics displace creativity or create a paint-by-numbers scenario. They don’t want their training and intuition to be overruled by what a chart says a link color should be.
These are valid concerns, if your company thinks it can replace design with metrics. But if you use them correctly, metrics can vastly improve design and make you an even better designer. First, when I talk about metrics, I’m talking about making use of a couple of very specific tools, i.e. user analytics as well as A/B or multivariate testing.
I was a competitive road cyclist for four years. My bikes were good, but my race results were much less impressive. Instead of medals and trophies, all I had to show for it were shaved legs and a farmer’s tan. Regardless, on the road to becoming a competitive athlete, I followed a rigorous training plan with concrete goals. These goals were specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. With this training plan, I was able to quantitatively and qualitatively assess my progress and adjust my routine to match.
In the years since, I’ve hung up my racing jersey and replaced it with a designer’s hat. While wearing this hat, I (and many others) have been told to “create a good user experience.” We’ve heard this in creative briefs, project kick-off meetings and critiques. It may have been a bullet point in a PowerPoint presentation or uttered by someone trying to sell a client or company on the value of their services. But there’s a fundamental problem with stating that your goal is to “create a good user experience.”
Anyone designing Web-based properties today requires a basic understanding of interaction design principles. Even if your training is not formally in human-computer interaction, user experience design or human factors, knowing the fundamentals of these disciplines greatly enhances the chances of your design’s success. This is especially true for visual designers. Many visual designers are formally trained in art school and informally trained at interactive agencies.
While these institutions focus on designing communications, neither typically provides a strong interaction design foundation. Having a broader skill set not only makes your designs more successful but makes you more valuable and employable (i.e. you become the unicorn). While in no way exhaustive, to get you started, here are five key tactics to understand and implement in your next project.