Websites Need to be Predictable, Not BoringMonday August 24th, 2015
Where has the soul in web design gone? The web in general has grown in the right direction in terms of usability, but we've lost some of the bold creativity in the process. How can we recapture the soul? And more importantly why should we?
Web design is getting stale. We’re not (and I’m generalizing here) creating memorable, engaging, visceral experiences on the web anymore.
There has been a gradual shift towards designing “safe” websites that don’t stray too far from the expected. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s alright for the most part, but it’s important for us as web designers, user experience gurus, and development ninjas to remember to foster the emotional connection with users and find opportunities to break from safe design patterns that we’ve become so accustomed to.
I’ll admit, sometimes I fall into this trap. I’ve been building websites at Brolik for over seven years now. Seven years might not seem like a long time to some, but it’s a long time in digital years. The first few sites I built were Flash sites – 800 pixels wide, custom scrollbars, animations on every interaction, all that jazz.
I look back on them with a fuzzy nostalgic cringe. Yet there was something inherently beautiful about those websites. They were different, and not just for different’s sake. The internet was a wild frontier. You never knew what you were going to get when navigating to any given website ten years ago. Now, you pretty much know what to expect.
I’m suggesting we find a better balance between what is expected and what makes our design unique. The web has grown and become more standardized and efficient, but we’ve lost some of our soul in the process. Usability across all screen sizes is expected with responsive design. Web designers have to try to create something emotionally compelling AND usable, which is difficult. That’s why you get safe sites that are simple and clean.
Can you remember the last time you found a site that really blew you away?
With services like Squarespace, Shopify, and Medium, creating a quality web experience has become easier than ever before. This has also led to web design becoming formulaic. That’s why it’s important for us to build websites with extra panache. Clean, straightforward sites are being templated. Therefore, we must distance ourselves from the expected and generic and work harder to establish a voice and personality. Here are some things all web designers should consider when making design decisions.
There is a fundamental purpose behind every website: the “why.” Tell that story in a meaningful way, because great stories make for great experiences.
Don’t just say what you do. Tell the user why you did it.
Establish clear goals in the beginning of the project. Ask yourself what is the value proposition? Why should they care?
Stop blindly following current design trends. Instead, challenge yourself. Ask why you’re making design decisions. Realize that the first solution might not be the best one. Force yourself to step back and examine the problem AND the solution and ask some tough questions. I guarantee you will see the creativity blossom.
If done throughout the creative process, questions like: “How big should these boxes be?” can turn into “Do we really need these boxes?” Keeping it simple lets us get down to the meat of the problem, which in turn benefits the user exponentially.
There are established design patterns that are good starting points, but…
Don’t standardize the emotional connection with your users.
Use tools like photography, typography, brand aesthetics, and thoughtful content to tell the story and the purpose of the section, web page, or website. This is where you strive to be unique and different, without alienating your users.
For example, whenever possible I encourage clients to hire a professional photographer for their project. Sure, stock photos would look alright and they would certainly be cheaper. But, the quality and control that you get from working with a professional is what begins to elevate a boring website into something special. Investing in these types of details is what will help create an engaging experience.
We don’t need to invent complex systems for utilitarian tasks. Some very smart people have worked very hard to standardize these things. I think every web designer (myself included) at some point has sat down and thought, “I’m going to revolutionize the way people navigate websites with this new menu design.”
Don’t do it. Website navigation should be predictable. A simple and straightforward menu is almost always better for the user. Standardizing things like navigation, form inputs, and layout systems is better for usability.
The most important function of a website is to make it easy for the user to find what they are looking for.
Specifically, sections like shopping carts, contact pages, and login forms should all be consistent in their usability across the web. It’s our goal as web designers to make these processes as painless as possible for the user. Designing predictable processes is good for them and in turn, will improve the usability and performance of your website.
Remember Challenge The Popular Trend
Feel confident to question these common practices. For instance, why does the entire web collapse the menu into a hamburger icon? Why hide all of navigation options giving the user no context clues of what to expect? “Because that’s what everyone else does…” is the root of the problem. Maybe you don’t need to hide the navigation in a hamburger icon. Instead, simplify it for better usability. Question these practices and look for solutions that fit the purpose.
It’s about time we begin designing with some heart and focusing on the soul again, else we risk losing it altogether. Craft a narrative with a backbone and focus on the small details that work together to make the entire experience special. Accompany this with all of the skills and talent that you possess as a designer, and what you’ll get is a website with some soul.