Found this little gem the other day on Twitter. For all of us who enjoy Pulp Fiction as much as we hate broswer testing, I bring you… Pulp Browsers.
I presented at AIGA Arizona Say Anything on November 10th. Here is the write up of the talk based on the slides that were presented that evening. I hope everyone got something out of this presentation and please feel free to post comments regarding questions you may have on this material. Thank you to AIGA Arizona for the opportunity to present and I hope to be back real soon.
Step 1: What is Web Design?
Often fear is simply a lack of understanding, so to begin this journey, let’s start by defining what web design, as a craft, is. I feel that Jeffery Zeldman of Happy Cog Studios put it best when he summarized web design as:
Web design is the creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity; reflect or adapt to individual voices and content; and change gracefully over time while always retaining their identity.
Wow, lots to digest there, let’s break it up a bit.
The creation of digital environments that facilitate and encourage human activity.
So basically all this is saying that web design is design within a digital space (i.e. the web) but more importantly that it’s main purpose is to facilitate and encourage human activity. We want to interact with them, give and get from the user. This allows for a special kind of communication that we haven’t ever seen from media before. Instead of dictating to the consumer, we can now receive and act on information provided to us, very powerful.
Reflect or adapt to the individual voices and content.
While the web is still a relatively new media format in the grand scheme of media and advertising, it’s still very customizable. We should harness this adaptability and use it to the best of our abilities to reflect and present the content in a very specialized manner. The web was created for the purpose of collecting and sharing information; web design cannot forget these roots as we move forward. Content is king, it’s the most important part, and should be treated that way.
Change gracefully over time while always retaining its identity.
Web design is unlike many other forms of media because of the way it can be changed over time. Unlike print, we can continue to add, take away and mold this space over and over again. The tricky part is doing it gracefully and staying true to the original brand and statement. If we change too often or off course of our brand in can alienate our users instead of creating those core connections and communications levels we would like to have.
Overall, web design is very similar to other types of design; there are still guidelines, best practices, and techniques that separate good design from the bad. Also, just like all other types of media, it’s centered on communication, however there is a new addition that makes this a new frontier, the interactivity of the users who use it.
Now that we know our adversary, let’s delve into those guidelines, best practices and techniques that will allow you to be empowered to go head first into the fight.
Step 2: Knowledge is Power.
The more you know about why and what you’re designing for the web will help you in your quest.
Start with a purpose.
What’s the real reason behind why the design needs to be created? Perhaps it’s to share product information or to be able to process online orders. What ever it is, nail it down and keep it simple. Even if there are a few reasons, keep them concise and in front of you at all times. This will help you stave off the needs for the “wouldn’t it be nice if?” scope creep that can really get you in trouble later.
Define your users and what they need.
Who are your users? What do they want from you? More often than not they won’t need a sales pitch, they’re qualified leads or else they wouldn’t be there. So veer away from the extended sales pitch and instead focus on giving your users the information they need & want about your services or products. Need help figuring out what your users want the most? Check out your current google analytics statics to see what your users are looking for the most, or check out a heat mapping service such as Crazy Egg that will help you visualize what your users are looking for and clicking on.
Communicate to develop correct functionality scope.
Talk with your client, project manager, and development team to come up with a correct scope of functionality. When the client signs off on designs, often they’re not only signing off on look and feel but functional items such as searches, drop downs, user functionality, etc. Make sure that everything that’s depicted within the comps is with in functionality scope and doable.
Collect all content.
This is a tough one to accomplish, but stick in there and this one will pay off! More often than not timelines slip because the client doesn’t realize the scope of content needed to complete a web project. When you focus on getting these items right off the bat it allows the client to become more of an active participant in the planning and will help them understand how much work is involved in the design and development process. It will also keep them busy so they’re not prodding for more features or badgering you about deliverables sooner than the timeline suggests. Collecting all the content also helps you plan out an accurate site information architecture and will help you design with the voice and content already in place.
Step 3: Organize for the user.
Once you’ve got all your parts and pieces remember to organize them keeping the users and their needs in the forefront at all times. Knowing more about usability will help you out here, so check out this definition from Jakob Nielsen.
Usability: the users perception of how consistent, intuitive, and organized it is to accomplish tasks within a system.
Offer the user clear choices.
Don’t overload the user with options, stick to the purposes and users needs that you had outlined earlier. Keep it clear, easy to understand, and if you can make it so easy that the user feels like a GENIUS because it was so easy to use.
Use conventional terms, icons and positioning.
Sure we all want to create something new and fun, but try to stick with the normal terms, icons, and placement on standard web stuff. Such as don’t replace the e-mail envelope with the @ symbol, it will require your users to think, and to break that stream of consciousness enables poor usability. However, just because you should stick with the standards doesn’t mean you can’t bend the rules, you just have to do it in such a easy way that it can be picked up with minimal effort. Most users scan the page in a F-Shaped eye tracking, so you most likely want to place your most important pieces within this pathing.
Easily digestible content blocks.
Avoid large / lengthy blocks of content if possible. Most web users tend to scan content vs. read it fully so keep it short and concise. If you want to overview content, stick to three to five bullet points with links that go to the full content for those who are interested.
Consider user flow.
Remember for every link you create in your design there must be somewhere that goes to. Remember standard user flows like what are the steps/process when a user registers, signs in, or tries to buy a product? Remembering these steps as you design will help you comprehend the whole flow and layout of the website as a whole. If you would like help with some of these steps, check out a handy service called Product Planner.
Wireframes are your friends, you can’t have to many.
Wireframes can help considerably when you’re still planning out the placement of major items and user flows, they’re less time consuming and can be really amazing tools when trying to understand what should be the most important elements within a page.
Step 4: Roll up your sleeves.
Alright, with all that collecting and planning I guess you should be ready to actually design something right? Check out some of these tips to make your design to implementation time shorter.
Be smart about imagery/graphics
- Too many images means it will take too long to load, while it loads it will look like crap. So, be smart and use the less is more approach. Also, all those images won’t have the search engine weight as text would have, so remember that when choosing typefaces as images, etc.
- If you REALLY want to use a non-standard font face, check out sIFR for your implementation, but a few notes on this, sIFR uses flash to render the font so it will still impede load time. It will be SEO compliant, but it will also require flash.
- Images can be an accessibility nightmare, if seriously informational text is included in graphics it needs to be in full text as the alt attribute for the image. Instead of having to remember all this, using a regular font and HTML text would be a better decision.
- Organize your PSD to have all elements grouped together by area such as header, footers, callouts, etc this will make selecting and merging for cutting easier later.
- Include on and over states for navigation, since this is an interactive space these styles will need to included so that they can be implemented later.
- Keep all your layers editable, you never know when you’ll need to change a piece of text or a background color later, instead of redoing the entire PSD, just be smart and don’t merge layers.
- Create a style guide that outlines all fonts, colors, and styles used so that creation on the CSS style sheet can be easily created without having to re-examine your PSD later
Stay true to the end user
Even though you’ve focused on the users during the gathering and planning processes, you can’t forget about them now. Through out design iterations it’s easy to forget about the end user in hopes to quell the client, keep in mind that this website isn’t for your client to use, its for their customers, so they’re most important.
Welcome to the first week of LINKS OF THE WEEK! I come across some great informative and humorous content online, and I want to share that.. with all of you. Enjoy!
Wonderful cartoon explaining the communication struggle in development of applications.
Happy Webbies is like Happy Bunny for web geeks. Check out the animated talking heads of web design.
Burns Marketing will be closed up for the holidays, but they created a great viral marketing campaign with their Virtual Account Manager.
“wOOt” crowned as word of the year by Merriam-Webster, what does I have to say about this? WOOT!
CSS for Accessibility takes CSS a bit further, discussing how CSS can play a role in accessibility as well as layout.