Designers love to hate bad design. It’s part of their job description. They are hired because they have good taste, and having good taste means having strong feelings. This is what sets them apart. While the average layperson can stomach the sight of Comic Sans, the designer cannot. When asked to use it, she loses her lunch. She quits her job. She petitions for change. She creates a series of parody websites and watches Gary Hustwit’s “Helvetica” to cleanse the pallet. She is rightly offended by poor design choices. Perhaps her reactions are exaggerated by her artistic sensibilities, but they are not unwarranted. The web was once a dangerous place for designers. Low-resolution and aggressively fluorescent, the websites of the early millennium were notoriously abysmal. Some websites still are. Open www.lingscars.com in a browser, for instance, and turn up the volume. You will find that it is the internet equivalent of standing on a Las Vegas street corner while a brass band plays. Amusing, but intolerable and an unpleasant reminder of what once was. (And what, shockingly, still is – see here, and here). Designers take a sneaky sort of glee in these websites. “See?” they say, “See how bad the internet would be without us?”
Good Design Sells.
Until recently, design was not a priority in Silicon Valley. It was an add-on at the end of the conveyor belt. A bonus feature. An afterthought. Like a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant. Nice, but not necessary, and perhaps embarrassingly frivolous. Over the past several years, designers have become more powerful in Silicon Valley. Since 2010 alone, 27 designer start-ups have been acquired by major tech companies. This year marked the first “Design in Tech Report” at South by Southwest, delivered March 15th by John Maeda, a design partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. During this inaugural lecture, Maeda announced that “Design has [finally] emerged as an essential component in both consumer and enterprise technology products.” He explains: For years, the solution to every problem in tech was to build a faster chip. Now, design, not silicon, is the answer. The new MacBook is slower than the old one from a purely silicon perspective, but its industrial design pushes the envelope in other ways, from the simplicity of its ports, to its effortless portability. Tech companies now recruit one designer for every four engineers that they hire, increasingly promoting designers to upper-management positions. Studies have shown that design-led companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Starbucks outperform their competitors by over 228%. For these companies, design is not just about cosmetics and pixel-pushing. Design is function. It is holistic. It is how products become trademarks, and how companies become icons.
Don’t Make Me Think. Make Me Feel.
The ubiquity of technology today has meant that user interface and user experience design is more important than ever. Companies can’t just cater to “techies” anymore. They need their products to have mass appeal; to feel inevitable and to be intuitive. “Design is for everyone,” says Christian Crumlish, curator of the Yahoo! Design Library, “it’s not just the realm of artistic types; it’s everyone’s concern.”It’s been 15 years since Steve Krug published “Don’t Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” but his laws – simplicity, brevity, and clarity – remain the foundation of user experience (UX) design today. Krug’s UX design is not the same as web design. It isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about flow and page organization. It has to do with the functionality of the web, not with its aesthetics. Today, as function and form become increasingly synonymous, UX design is increasingly relevant among mainstream web designers. If Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” inspired the “first wave” of UX designers, Aaron Walter’s “Designing for Emotion” is inspiring the generation after it. Written in 2011, “Designing for Emotion” reminds UX experts (and web designers) to “go beyond the basics – functionality, reliability, and usability – and design for humans, not machines.” The book, available from A Book Apart, features chapters on “Emotional Design,” “Personality,” and “Designing for Humans.” Walter does not rewrite Krug’s rules, he merely adds to them, urging designers to inject personality back into the internet. He does not argue for specific UX “best practices,” but rather for a wider philosophical shift. A new attitude. An approach to the web that appeals to the humanity of those who use it. “If a single, small book can shatter the notion that we’re designing for page views not for people, this is that book,” notes Liz Danzico, Chair of Interaction Design at SVA. Tina Roth Eisenberg, Founder of Creative Mornings, confirms: “Every now and then, a book comes along that changes the way you think about the web. This is one of them.”
What Artists Teach Us.
The “cult of design” in Silicon Valley is still germinating. Already, certain figures emerge as trailblazers of the new “enlightened” usability design. Invariably, their focus is beauty, clarity, and humanity. They strive to unite art with usability.It would be redundant to enumerate Web and UX Design “best practices,” because these do not exist. The best designs are targeted to the people who use them. They are good because they defy rules, and focus on individuals. That said, there is a lot of wisdom to the logic of design.Here is what tomorrow’s top 5 designers tell us about creating for the web:
So much of our manufactured environment testifies to carelessness. We are surrounded by products that want us to be very aware of just how clever they are. This is the opposite of good design.” Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Design at Apple.
Put People First
Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.” Dieter Rams, Former Chief Design Officer at Braun
Don’t Count on Instructions
The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them – at least not until repeated attempts at ‘muddling through’ have failed.” Steve Krug, Writer & UX Pioneer
Design with Purpose
People enter websites hoping to be led somewhere, hoping for a payoff. Websites must have a goal. Goals transform random walks into chases.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Writer & Head of Psychology at University of Chicago
Designing software that is just usable is like a chef creating food that’s just edible. People are attracted to more than just the practical. We want things that interact with us and appeal to our emotions.” Aaron Walter, Writer & Manager at Mailchimp
Learn more about website design best practices.