The design challenge
In How to hire designers, Paul Adams explains that there are four major design disciplines: outcome, system, interaction and visual.
Whilst all four disciplines need our consideration, in my experience most designers get caught up on the visual side of design. And in doing so, the overall design is worse off.
Here are some examples that I’ve had to deal with over the years:
1. “Buttons and links should look the same. Minimalist design FTW.”
Clarity trumps minimalism every time. Buttons and links are different. We should design to accomodate those differences. Not ignore them.
2. “Remove the outline when the user focuses on an element. It doesn’t look nice. Most people don’t use their keyboard anyway. We can’t legislate for all users. Be realastic.”
If you know there are people that use a keyboard then design for them. It’s not just about how something looks, it’s about how it works.
3. “Most people with large screens use a mouse. Therefore we don’t need to make big screens touch-friendly.”
Designers often infer that a device is touch-enabled if the screen is small. This is wrong. Take a look a the Surface or iPad Pro.
If you design large targets, it helps people who use a mouse and people who use their finger.
4. “For small screens, let’s hide the arrow buttons on the carousel. Small screen devices allow the user to swipe.”
Maybe some browsers don’t support gestures. Maybe users don’t realise an interface is swipable. Including buttons helps.
5. “Mobile users swipe, desktop users don’t”
There’s no desktop, there’s no mobile. There are browsers of varying sizes and capabilities. There are people with different preferences and abilities. They need your help and consideration.
6. “I think the colour contrasts are fine, they work great on most new devices and that’s our target audience”
You’re making the web unreadable. Your challenge is to use visually pleasing acceptable contrasts.
This makes the clear clearer and the unclear clear. Not everyone can see like you can.
7. “A select box without a label is fine, it’s unnecessary clutter.”
Every form field needs a label; there are good reasons why. Legislate for this and make the design look good as well.
8. “Most users are on a fast connection, it’s important that we have 10 high quality images on one page.”
People on low-speed connections don’t want to wait. Design with performance in-mind from the beginning. Trim the fat for everyone and everyone wins. Faster connections become super fast, slow connections become satisfactory.
10. “We need to fix that by disabling zoom on mobile”
Zoom is essential. Not everyone has good vision like you do. Let go, be boring.
11. “I don’t like the way the text wraps on small screens, we’ll get the copywriter to make the words fit.”
Again, clarity trumps minimalism. Design for content. Not the other way around.
12. “Website X does it, so we should do it.”
Just because someone else does it, doesn’t mean it’s good. You’re probably testing the website in a cutting edge browser and you’re you. You’re not your users. Take the opportunity to do it better. Test with users.
Isn’t this our challenge?
By default, anyone with a browser can use your website. That’s what makes the web so amazing. Our challenge is to design a website that doesn’t break the web. Understand the platform. Design for everyone. Isn’t that what our job is?