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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.
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.
The entire process of designing digital applications comes with many challenges and decisions. For the majority of projects, you will be designing in somewhat familiar territory. But what happens when you have to design something to be used by hundreds of children around the world? How do you accommodate your design for kids of different ages and backgrounds? What special challenges emerge, and how can they be overcome?
For a project of this scale, the design process we follow might require modifications. These modifications would be to accommodate the needs of younger age groups and would shape the entire length of the project, from user research, brainstorming, interface design and interaction design all the way to the final stages of usability testing and user support.
Endless layers in Photoshop. Overstuffed image folders. That jQuery plug-in that has 12 files associated with it. Hundreds or thousands of individual pieces go into making a website. No wonder we go off the deep end when we can’t find a closing div — er, section tag.
We work with a ridiculously large number of things, and how we organize them (or choose not to) is often left to personal preference. But our messy habits result in confusion for the designer or developer who inherits your work. Does it really need to be this way?
Recently, a couple of things happened in my design career that have made me sit down and reflect a bit on where I’m at and how I can improve what I deliver to my clients and their users. I’d noticed that my source of inspiration had changed and that I was being inspired more by clever solutions and ideas than by visual flourish.
Like many designers, my RSS feed of inspirational websites is full of great work and posts. I’m also active on Twitter, and I meet up with other designers regularly at local events. But I find that at a basic level, I actually don’t draw that much inspiration directly from these things anymore.
An understanding of typographic etiquette separates the master designers from the novices. A well-trained designer can tell within moments of viewing a design whether its creator knows how to work with typography. Typographic details aren’t just inside jokes among designers. They have been built up from thousands of years of written language, and applying them holds in place long-established principles that enable typography to communicate with efficiency and beauty.
Handling these typographic details on the Web brings new challenges and restrictions that need to be considered. Below are a few rules of thumb that will have you using typography more lucidly than ever before.
Just how we are constantly trying to fit in with a certain crowd or to be seen in a certain way by our peers in real life, we are doing the same in our digital lives. And by digital lives I mean our social media profiles. If you come to think about it, our online profiles are a lot more than just an extension to our real lives.
I truly believe that in the online world, we are given a lot more freedom to be our true selves as opposed to in ‘the real world’. In the same way many people find it easier to ‘text’ bad news rather than to share it via phone or in person, social media allows us to be the person we want to be without having to face the immediate physiological reactions from others.
Mention Jamaican music to someone who isn’t a fan and you can bet that a fairly predictable image pops into the head of your listener. Chances are this image looks something like the cover of Bim Sherman’s Exploitation. Same old Rastafarian colors… Some guy with dreads… A title that refers broadly to political oppression or positive thinking without much in the way of self-critical awareness or irony.
For many people, this vision — of roots reggae and its deified lead singer — is the only face that Jamaican music has to offer. (To be honest, the Jamaican music industry, in its eagerness to capitalize on the popularity of this face, hasn’t done much to contradict it.)
Games are becoming more Web-like, and the Web is becoming more game-like. If you need proof of this, you have only to look at Yahoo Answers. Random questions are posed, the top answer is chosen, and credibility points are given to the winner. It's a ranking system that accumulates and unlocks more and more features within the system. It works because of the psychology of achievement and game mechanics and thus encourages interaction.
This raises the question, what can a Web designer learn from games, or — more specifically — video games? Good game interfaces have to be highly usable and intuitive, capable of handling a lot of repetitive actions in the fewest clicks possible. They need to be attractive and engaging. They need to be likeable. A good game interface adds to and enhances the user’s experience. In a game, people want the content delivered to them in a way that doesn’t break the fantasy. Any dissonance with the interface will cause an otherwise great game to fail.