The world renowned Italian designer Massimo Vignelli once said “The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness.” Often times, web designers and graphic artists take this too literally and get caught up in the distraction of simply making something look good. They spend time pushing a pixel this way and tweaking a hue that way, ultimately forgetting about the actual user. While color and typography are important in attracting the user within the 50 milliseconds they take to judge a website, if a user can’t use a feature, it might as well not exist. At Webolutions, we make it our business to keep ahead of industry best practices and user interface design guidelines. We live, breath, and eat the stuff. Below are 5 fundamentals of really good UI design.
1) Know Your User – This is the golden rule of UI web design–the crème de la crème, the big kahuna, and the apple of every UI designer’s eye. Your user’s goals are your goals, so know them. After all, the overall success of a website depends on the happiness of the user and not necessarily the design. Most users search for something useful and clickable. They scan the page rather than read. More importantly, users commonly make careless choices. Instead of seeking the quickest way to find what they’re looking for, they click the first reasonable option. One of the design patterns we routinely use at Webolutions is providing the user with multiple instances of the same call-to-action items throughout the entire site. This guarantees that the user will get what they need, one way or another.
2) Stay Consistent – In order to sustain a high level of engagement, users need consistency. Asking a user to learn something once is half the battle. If you require them to learn something different, you’ll likely lose the battle. Layout, typography, and color should stay consistent from page to page. If a certain style of button or iconography is used on one area of the site, be sure to use similar buttons or iconography elsewhere. For instance, if a house icon is used to direct users back to the homepage in one area of a website, the same exact house icon should be used in any other applicable areas of the website. Also, keep the navigation consistent from page to page. The colors and content of the main navigation should never change.
3) Occam’s Razor – Occam’s Razor is an intellectual tool that basically states that, given any two solutions to the same problem, the simpler solution will be the best. Simplicity should be the primary goal of any website design. For the most part, users don’t care about enjoying the design of a website. Instead, a good website design should be innately understood through simplicity. Don’t be afraid of white space. It makes it much easier for users to divide and process pieces of information presented to them on the screen. Remember, users typically scan websites instead of read them top to bottom and left to right. At Webolutions, when a design doesn’t seem to work, we often ask what should be taken away before asking what’s missing.
4) Design Patterns Aren’t Boring – A Design pattern is a proven solution to a design problem that recurs repeatedly in many websites or projects. Using conventional design patterns for a website doesn’t equate to a boring website. See rule 2 above. Users love consistency and a level of trust can be gained by sticking to familiar design patterns. It’s likely that users spend much more time on other websites’ interfaces (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) than yours, so there’s no need to try to reinvent the wheel. Things can be taken from other successful websites and applied to others. For instance, if the goal is a successful E-Commerce website, consider using a design pattern similar to what Amazon.com or Apple.com uses. They’ve reached their status from years of extensive usability testing. Steve Krug suggests that it’s better to innovate only when you know you really have a better idea, but take advantages of design patterns when you don’t.
5) Watch Your Users – After designing (and looking at) something for a countless number of hours, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight as to how a user will use the website. This is known as Weinberg’s Law. Testing should be done with as many users as possible and tested often. Even running it by one or two sets of fresh eyes is better than waiting until the very end to do usability testing. Doing this can provide crucial insights into significant problems and issues related to a given layout. Also, keep in mind that testing should be an iterative process. You should design something, test it, design to fix it, and then test it again.
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