I have always heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” in reference to writing, and throughout my 10 years as a designer, I have found myself saying the same thing when it comes to user experience design. To me, design is the process of creating a visual story-a story not unlike the written word because whether it is a website, app, or ad campaign, the user is being guided through a series of emotional objectives to get them to an end goal (ie. buying an awesome pair of leggings or signing up for yet another newsletter). A well-executed UI guides these users effortlessly without overwhelming them with roadblocks.
Simply put: if 100% of your website isn’t for your users, you’re doing it wrong.
Tell your story through simple, engaging content. Create content that your users will enjoy, and if you’re selling to them, be authentic. Here are some ways you can take it down a notch in 2016 and just be super chill about everything.
Overthrow the Spiders and Bots: Not A Steampunk Fanfic
Stop worrying about SEO, or at least, take it down a notch. During the wild west of SEO, in order to fulfill the requirements of the invisible search engine force in the sky, one would have to navigate through ever-changing algorithms, tricks, and SEO peddlers, finally settling on this idea that we should just write four paragraphs of relevant keywords shaped vaguely into sentences so the search engines can find us. That content was never written for the user, and for good reason because the user never read it, the content wasn’t even written for humans, because it was written for bots. And we all know that bots are jerks.
A funny thing happened, google (and the other big search players who followed suit) adjusted their algorithm to now place priority on authentic content, rich content at that. Those four paragraphs that no humans even read no longer benefit you as much as you thought. If your website was straight-forward, with a clear and concise message, placing what was valuable to your users up front, then your website would fair well in the search engine wars. Now you can get back to what is truly important: producing content and products for your users, content that they will actually read, watch, hear, and take in.
The Fold is Not Dead, It Never Existed
The fold is the idea that designers should stick all that relevant info in the top 750 pixels of a screen. What screen? Doesn’t matter. I am very much a fold nihilist at this point in my life, if I hear any arguments about the fold, for it or against it, I will burn all my possessions and dig myself a hole in the woods and wait there for the cold, sweet release of death because life truly has no meaning and we are nothing. That being said, now I will talk about the fold in hopes that I can make one final desperate attempt to get through to you just how utterly meaningless the fold is and has always been. Here’s the thing, the fold has no place in a world with dynamic and evolving media on dynamic and evolving mediums. If you make websites that perform like apps, there is no fold. If you do responsive design, there is no fold. If you design for screens that come in more than one size and more than one device, there is no fold. If you design for your users instead of their device, there is no fold. If you layout a newspaper, then yes there is a fold, literally this is the only time there is a fold. Let us move on now.
If you find yourself needing a concept to replace the vacuum in your brain created by this newly acquired knowledge of the non-existence of the fold, there is hope. Think of those spaces you once felt were “above the fold” as priority messaging areas. Priority messaging areas are without the woeful inadequacy of the fold because they can take on many forms, they can be loading screens, they can be main navigational components, they can be the top spots in a timeline or feed. Its fuzzy and abstract, it is varied, it is forever changing, and it is beautiful. I liken it the landing strip in a house, that is the table you put your mail and keys down on as you first enter through the front door. You have to be strategic about what you place on it otherwise it gets cluttered and defeats the purpose and now you have lost your keys and missed the note from your baby sitter. It is the first strategic touch-point you have with your users, design it wisely.
Stop Trying to Make [Insert Design Trend] Happen
We get it, you got hungover on skeuomorphic and chased it with the openness and minimalism of flat design. Your website is not made out of nuts and bolts nor is it made of construction paper and ribbons, but it seemed like a really good idea at the time. Then you stripped away all texture and depth and realized your users are too damn classy for drop-shadows or really any visual hint that this thing is a button. Meanwhile, your users were wondering what they can actually press.
The thing that made skeuomorphism work though wasn’t the skeuormorphism. It was the emotional and mental connection that our interactions with products in our physical space made to our interactions with design elements on the screen. It was that bridge we needed during a touch-screen coming of age. You read and interact with an ebook by “turning the page” just like you would a real book, the page corners turned up and the animation of page movement was the visual cue you needed to make that connection. As we learned to subconsciously spot those interactive elements, the design of those interactive elements became universal, those interactions became intuitive, and the obvious visual cues could now evolve to be subtle. Flat design was a reactionary design movement that skipped ahead a little. If Skeuormirphic Design is that needy, emotionally suffocating boyfriend, Flat Design would be the stoic, emotionally distant boyfriend you date afterward, the palette cleanser, if you will. I get it, but you need to find a balance.
The UX should be immersive, not flat. Sly visual cues, using simplified depth and brief subtle movement go a long way in hinting to your users without overloading them with visual noise. Instead of using down arrows (visual clutter), shift the element with a smooth motion up then back into place as the app or page loads, that will not only catch their eye but it will also demonstrate to the user the exact type of interaction they can use.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Just Make the Ride Fun
Do not rely on fleeting design trends, instead, design should have your users needs and context in mind. Design evolves as technology evolves, and your design approach should reflect that. When your design approach is based on your users outside the boundaries of specific devices and technologies, what you create will be more responsive and scalable, and probably enjoyable.