The Design Challenge

In How To Hire Designers Paul Adams explains the 4 design disciplines: outcome, system, interaction and visual. Many designers focus on visual.

There is no question that visual design is important. But too often we place too much importance on it and forget about the others. So much so that it becomes detrimental to the resulting experience.

Here are some real examples:

1. “We don’t want to differentiate between buttons and links because we want a minimal design”

Clarity trumps minimalism every time.

2. “I don’t wan’t the outline on elements when the user focuses or activates something in the browser, it doesn’t look nice—how many people use a keyboard anyway? Most people use a mouse, we can’t legislate for all users”

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 have 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. “I don’t want to clutter the design of the carousel with arrow buttons. Most small screen devices allow the user to swipe.”

I am a fan of minimal design but this would be oversimplification. Some browsers and devices don’t support touch. These users will be forced to go elsewhere or endure a bad experience.

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. “I think the colour contrasts are fine, they work great on most new devices and that’s our target audience”

Acceptable contrasts make the clear clearer and the unclear clear. It might not be as visually pleasing (to those with perfect vision on the latest Macbook) as the subtle grey you had in-mind, but it will improve the experience.

7. “A select box without a label is unnecessary clutter”

Every form field needs a label; there are good reasons why. Legislate for this and make the design look good too.

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.

9. “Can we fix that with Javascript? We don’t need to worry about the 1% of users without it— it’s important that the design is nice for 99% of our users”

First, this. Second, it’s not the amount of users, it’s the amount of visits. Javascript will fail to download/execute at some point. Embrace Progressive Enhancement. Every time you fix something with Javascript you take a hit in performance, maintenance and usability.

10. “We need to fix that by disabling zoom on mobile”

Zoom is essential. Let go, be boring.

11. “I don’t like the way the text wraps and layout breaks 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. “But 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.


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?

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