The design challenge
In How To Hire Designers Paul Adams the four main aspects of design: outcome, system, interaction and visual.
We often spend too much time obsessing over the visual aspect. So much so that it becomes detrimental to the resulting experience.
Here are some real examples:
1. “Buttons and links should look the same.”
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 good. Most people don’t use their keyboard anyway. We can’t legislate for all users. Be realastic.”
If we know there are people that use the keyboard then we should 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 so we don’t need to make it touch friendly.”
Maybe more people use a mouse. But some people have large touch-enabled screens. Why not design the hit area so it is good for everyone? Then if they use a mouse it’s easy, if they use touch it’s easy.
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 is no desktop, there is no mobile. There are browsers of varying sizes and capabilities. There are people with different preferences and abilities. They need our help and consideration.
6. “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, 10 high resolution images on one page is essential”
People on low-speed connections don’t want to wait. Consider performance and how we can trim the fat for all. 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.”
Sometimes website X does things, sometimes those things are ill-advised. Take this opportunity to do it better. You’re probably testing the website in a cutting edge browser and you’re not your users.
Isn’t this our challenge?
The web has been designed so that anyone with an Internet connection and a browser can access your content/application. That’s the essence of the web — that’s a huge part of the web’s success.
Design for everyone. Legislate for all kinds of devices, screen sizes, capabilities, people with different abilities and interaction preferences. Isn’t this the challenge we face as designers and engineers?