Sight isn’t the only way to experience the world: Senses work in tandem to guide cognition, movement, and communication. Experts posit that humans possess between 9 and 33 distinct senses, yet digital design routinely ignores neurological factors beyond sight. Sensory design principles emphasize the interconnection of human perception and prompt designers to explore non-visual solutions.

Life Is Multisensory

Smell-O-Vision.

AromaRama.

iSmell.

Real names of real products once thought to be the next big things in entertainment and technology. All three failed miserably, along with countless other olfactory gadgets and multisensory gizmos. iSmell bankrupted its founders, AromaRama faded into oblivion, and Smell-O-Vision made Time’s “100 Worst Ideas of the Century” in 1999.

Contraptions such as Smell-O-Vision and iSmell represent the lower rungs of practicality. They also reveal a profound impulse that permeates invention: the desire to form symbiotic ties between products and the people who use them.

Unfortunately, most digital designers attempt to establish these ties through sight and…

Quantitative data is of no use without interpretation. Data visualizations synthesize the meaning of raw data into coherent takeaways. When designers prioritize compelling imagery over accuracy, visualizations deceive. To communicate data with integrity, designers must avoid common data visualization mistakes.

“If you torture the data long enough, it will tell you anything.” — John W. Tukey

John Wilder Tukey was a man devoted to data. A founding member of Princeton’s statistics department and inventor of the term software, Tukey’s favorite aspect of analytics was “taking boring, flat data and bringing it to life through visualization.” But for all his numerical fervor, Tukey was keenly aware of the ways in which data is misconstrued, even warning, “Visualization is often used for evil.”

The dual potential for good and evil isn’t unique to data visualization, but it’s an urgent design consideration given…

Motion has a profound impact on the user experience of digital products, but if interface elements don’t exhibit basic motion design principles, usability is undermined. In the context of user interfaces, motion is more than a visual garnish. It is a compelling force that bolsters product engagement and extends the reach of design communication.

Our world is one of movement. Even in still moments, leaves tremble and lungs expand. In the realm of digital product design, it would seem that motion is second nature, an extension of the everyday to be leveraged with little effort. If only that were true.

Just ask anyone who’s animated UI elements for the first time. Hours of effort yield amateur results. Something as simple as a card sliding onto the screen looks awkward. Why is that?

In theory, making UI elements move is easy. Define points on a predetermined path, and software tweens the gaps. In reality, it…

For good reason, the bulk of design literature expounds on the principles and practices of great design, yet there’s much to be learned from bad design. Absurdity accentuates the elegance of logic. Perhaps no one does this better than French poet, artist, and inventor of the world’s worst products, Jacques Carelman.

A finger parts window blinds on a smartphone.
A finger parts window blinds on a smartphone.

There’s a charming little coffee pot on the cover of Don Norman’s classic, The Design of Everyday Things. Its rounded curves and red enamel pop against a canary yellow backdrop. Steam rises from the spout, enveloping the title text. It’s perfectly pleasant, the kind of piece one might expect to find in a well-appointed kitchen. There’s just one problem.

It’s a coffee pot for masochists.

Every design endeavor, whether a one-off banner ad or a multichannel marketing campaign, is bound by factors that limit creative decision-making. These binding factors are called design constraints. Though they might seem to undermine originality, constraints are keys to unlocking long-term design solutions.

Constraints are design limitations. An obvious example is the budget. Money affords manpower, tools, and to some extent, time. Other factors, like governing bodies and public opinion, are harder to buy. And of course, no design solution supersedes the laws of nature.

Viewed unfavorably, constraints are a form of deprivation. They are unavailable options and mandates that…

Life was rolling along–work, family, hobbies. Then, the headlines howled “PANDEMIC,” and your design team went remote, the white-collar antidote to a terrible virus working its way around the globe. Resolute, you set out to gather remote work resources and make the most of your situation. When the news sites ran their work-from-home features, you stockpiled every available pro tip.

But for all your research, you could tell something was off. Remote life wasn’t the good life you imagined. What a mirage it was. “I’ll be up early. I’ll start the coffee. I’ll exercise.”

Reality hit hard.

Right away, distractions…

Not long ago, a rumor spread. Big brands were dying. Out of touch and overpriced, their gaudy packaging smeared like the greasepaint of forgotten fame. The public fawned for a new star, a stark white square illuminating the heavens. Pundits were breathless for Brandless, the eCommerce startup best known for its $3 home goods and minimalist aesthetic. Suddenly, the future of branding was no brand at all, and Brandless represented the best the movement had to offer.

Until it didn’t.

When Brandless unexpectedly closed shop last month, much of the commentary centered on the company’s struggle to communicate its value…

In the glory days of AOL Instant Messenger, back when screen names and away messages were serious literary pursuits, a mysterious chat maverick strode about the dial-up frontier and schooled legions of uncouth adolescents in the art of conversation. Who was this rogue wordsmith, this tireless vexer of pre-teen millennials? Surely no mortal could generate replies with such speed, charm, and unflinching certainty. Turns out it was a bot, an artificial chat companion named SmarterChild, and it was sublime.

No matter the topic, intensity, or logic of conversational challengers, SmarterChild always had the final word. Backed into a corner, it…

Photoshop plugins are used by designers in multiple disciplines. They add functionality, increase efficiency, and enhance creativity. But there’s a problem. With so many options, it’s hard to know which plugins are worthwhile (even more so when they cost money).

To help, we’ve curated a collection of the finest Photoshop plugins available and summarized the strengths of each.

Problem 1: Cutting Layers and Shapes Is Time-Consuming

The Solution: Easy Cut

Easy Cut does what its name suggests-makes cutting Photoshop layers a breeze. With the click of a mouse, the plugin splits layers along guides, selections, and paths. In addition to pixel layers, Easy Cut works on shapes, smart objects, and text.

Even…

Every year a new crop of design trends emerges from the previous year’s labor. Some trends delight, some inspire, and some make our eyes ache. New grows old, and old is new again.

Change is one of the most challenging and satisfying aspects of a career in design. The evolution of taste and technology keeps our skills sharp and demands we stay connected to the people we create for. As 2019 winds down, we’re looking ahead.

We’ve identified 20 emerging design trends for 2020, but we’re not just listing fonts and colors. …

Micah Bowers

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