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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.
As Web designers, we face a daily struggle to keep pace with advances in technology, new standards and new user expectations. We spend a large part of our working life dipping in and out of recent developments in an attempt to stay both relevant and competitive, and while this is what makes our industry so exciting to be a part of, it often becomes all too easy to get caught up in the finer details.
Responsive Web design, improved semantics and Web typography have all seen their fair share of the limelight over the last year, but two trends in particular mark true milestones in the maturation of the Web: “real-time data” and a more “personalized Web.”
I’m always fumbling with the A/C controls in my car. My daily commute is in hot, sunny Southern California, home of the courteous freeway driver. I can’t afford to take my eyes off the road for too long to find the control I’m looking for. Half of the time when I'm trying to adjust the temperature, I end up blowing my beard off because I’ve spun the wrong dial. If my wife’s in the car with me, I usually resort to asking her to do it for me.
There’s a simple design principle that, had it been given greater attention, could have made this needlessly confusing interface much easier to use: proximity.
For instance, many recent promo websites are essentially single page websites with an array of animation effects used to make navigation a smoother and richer user experience. We need to be very careful and cautious when using these dynamic effects in our designs. A simple, calm navigation is usually much more user-friendly than an evolved, dynamic one. Users want to use the website, not be baffled by the weird and hardly usable navigation. But that's not to say that a creative navigation should be avoided at all costs.
Content, content, content. It’s an obvious part of any interactive experience. In fact, you’ve probably heard content is king, or queen, or some sort of royalty. Yet, content is elusive. Often, you don’t realize your content isn’t cutting it until it’s too late. Does any of this sound familiar? Delayer projects, broken designs, uneven voice or low-performing landing pages.
These problems and more are documented extensively, so I won’t dwell on them. What I will dwell on is the solution. But, first, let's discuss the false ones. Just because someone articulates a problem well does not mean someone knows the solution. That’s when we’re susceptible to a false solution. In my many years of experience, I’ve found these two fake solutions to be very common, very distracting — and very disappointing.
"Look at her: so beautiful, so friendly, so smart. And what a personality. She must be mine. Hooking up with her would make me the envy of all my friends. Sure, she's young and she's gorgeous. Besides, I can easily try something new if I get bored or something better comes along."
No, that’s not an excerpt from Lolita. As cruel and inappropriate as they might seem, these thoughts are fairly common in our society. In fact, in the past year, millions of people have entered into exactly that type of relationship. Don’t bother calling the Special Victims Unit; what we’re discussing here is not what you think it is. It’s the Apple iPad.
In a previous article on Smashing Magazine, I described A/B testing and various resources related to it. I have also covered the basics of multivariate testing in the past, yet in this post I’ll go deeper in the technical details of multivariate testing which is similar to A/B testing but with crucial differences.
In a multivariate test, a Web page is treated as a combination of elements (including headlines, images, buttons and text) that affect the conversion rate. Essentially, you decompose a Web page into distinct units and create variations of those units. For example, if your page is composed of a headline, an image and accompanying text, then you would create variations for each of them. To illustrate the example, let’s assume you make the following variations.
Choosing a typeface can be tricky. The beauty and complexity of type, combined with an inexhaustible supply of options to evaluate, can make your head spin. But don't be baffled — and don't despair. While there are no easy-to-follow rules on how best to choose a typeface, there are many tried-and-true principles you can quickly learn and apply to make an appropriate typeface choice. If you work systematically through the options below, you'll have a winning typeface choice in no time. Let's get started.
The first thing you have to do in order to choose a typeface is form a strong impression in your mind about how you want your audience to react to the text. This is your goal, and it will guide the process. You might provide this impression, or it might be dictated to you by your client, or it may be determined by your audience.
As Web craftsmen, we are living in exciting times today. The frenetic pace of evolution in our industry has created remarkable opportunities for our work. Our established set of design and coding practices is more comprehensive than it has ever been before. Our designs are becoming more usable, our code more scalable, our layouts more responsive. In fact, just by comparing our design processes to those from a decade ago, it's remarkable to observe how quickly we've developed and honed our craft over all these years.
However, the maturity of our industry is far from being complete. While producing a myriad of technological advancements, we have outpaced other developments along the way. These developments aren't related to the lack of cross-browser standards support or technical downsides of the tools we are using. No, they have a different nature. They have emerged within our design community — a community which is now so fertile and diverse that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure its professional maturity.
Regardless of the final platform — desktop, tablet, mobile — most designers start their explorations on paper. Depending on the designer’s preference, the paper may be bound or unbound, lined or unlined, smooth or ridged. And while the materials may differ, the goal is the same: to quickly explore a variety of concepts.
The designer’s sketching tools haven’t changed much over the years, but the role of sketches has evolved. Instead of rushing to convert them to a more polished form, designers now often share early sketches with clients. Their roughness suggests that the designs aren’t “done,” which encourages feedback and facilitates collaboration.
Where do good ideas come from? It’s a question that matters a great deal to designers, yet seems to be curiously discounted in the common perception of graphic design. Any time I talk with, say, an uncle at Thanksgiving about my work, I’m reminded that, in most people's minds, the job of being a designer is mainly a matter of learning a set of computer applications — programs which, when properly operated, presumably do the work of generating ideas on their own. [Links checked February/10/2017]
If pressed further, most people will offer up some version of the Genius Theory: the idea that certain individuals are simply blessed with a force called ‘creativity’ that (as the theory goes) allows them to summon remarkable visual solutions to problems where the rest of us see only a blank canvas.
In this article, we will look at four examples of successful visual solutions created by well-known designers, and examine the process by which each designer arrived at his final concept. In each case, we will see that the solution did not arrive as a sudden flash of inspiration from out of the blue; rather, a good idea emerged methodically out of a sensible analysis of readily-available ideas and impressions.
I used to think the beginning of a website design project was the best part. Hopes are high. People are full of great ideas. Nobody is disappointed yet. But as I gained experience, I found that learning about a client’s brand, competitors and customers doesn’t always give clear direction about design goals.
Brand discussions can generate goals like “be modern,” but they don’t necessarily determine how to accomplish those goals. Competitor reviews can devolve into cherry-picking sessions that spawn “frankencomps” rather than provide helpful feedback. And mood boards, which communicate a general feeling, don’t help to articulate or prioritize design goals. With a design matrix, you can guide discussions and establish clear direction.
Web design community is strong and hard-working. We have plenty of useful resources, tools and services created, developed and released every single day: apart from goodies such as free fonts or icons, there are also many educational resources and little time-savers that can significantly improve designer's workflow. We permanently look out for the new projects and support them by presenting them on Twitter, Facebook, in our e-mail newsletter and, evidently, in Smashing Magazine's posts.
Today we are glad to present one of such posts: an overview of handy new resources for web designers; most of them were released recently, but some of them are a bit older. Still, they were included to supplement the overview, making the post more comprehensive and complete. Please feel free to discuss the featured resources in the comments to this post. And, of course, thank you guys for creating and maintaining all these useful resources. Your efforts are deeply appreciated.