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Original author: 
Thomas Joos

  

As a mobile UI or UX designer, you probably remember the launch of Apple’s first iPhone as if it was yesterday. Among other things, it introduced a completely touchscreen-centered interaction to a individual’s most private and personal device. It was a game-changer.

Today, kids grow up with touchscreen experiences like it’s the most natural thing. Parents are amazed by how fast their children understand how a tablet or smartphone works. This shows that touch and gesture interactions have a lot of potential to make mobile experiences easier and more fun to use.

Challenging Bars And Buttons

The introduction of “Human Interface Guidelines” and Apple’s App Review Board had a great impact on the quality of mobile applications. It helped a lot of designers and developers understand the core mobile UI elements and interactions. One of Apple’s popular suggestions, for instance, is to use UITabBar and UINavigationBar components — a guideline that many of us have followed, including me.

In fact, if you can honestly say that the first iPhone application you designed didn’t have any top or bottom bar elements, get in touch and send over a screenshot. I will buy you a beer and gladly tweet that you were ahead of your time.

My issue with the top and bottom bars is that they fill almost 20% of the screen. When designing for a tiny canvas, we should use every available pixel to focus on the content. In the end, that’s what really matters.

In this innovative industry, mobile designers need some time to explore how to design more creative and original interfaces. Add to that Apple’s frustrating rejection of apps that “think outside the box,” it is no surprise that experimental UI and UX designs such as Clear and Rise took a while to see the light of day. But they are here now. And while they might be quite extreme and focused on high-brow users and early adopters, they show us the great creative potential of gesture-driven interfaces.

Rise and Clear
Pulling to refresh feels very intuitive.

The Power Of Gesture-Driven Interfaces

For over two years now, I’ve been exploring the ways in which gestures add value to the user experience of a mobile application. The most important criterion for me is that these interactions feel very intuitive. This is why creative interactions such as Loren Brichter’s “Pull to Refresh” have become a standard in no time. Brichter’s interaction, introduced in Tweetie for iPhone, feels so intuitive that countless list-based applications suddenly adopted the gesture upon its appearance.

Removing UI Clutter

A great way to start designing a more gesture-driven interface is to use your main screen only as a viewport to the main content. Don’t feel obliged to make important navigation always visible on the main screen. Rather, consider giving it a place of its own. Speaking in terms of a virtual 2-D or 3-D environment, you could design the navigation somewhere next to, below, behind, in front of, above or hidden on top of the main view. A dragging or swiping gesture is a great way to lead the user to this UI element. It’s up to you to define and design the app.

What I like about Facebook and Gmail on iOS, for instance, is their implementation of a “side-swiping” menu. This trending UI concept is very easy to use. Users swipe the viewport to the right to reveal navigation elements. Not only does this make the app very content-focused, but accessing any section of the application takes only two to three touch interactions. A lot of apps do far worse than that!

Sideswipe Menu
Facebook and Gmail’s side-swiping menu

In addition to the UI navigation, your app probably also supports contextual interactions, too. Adding the same two or three buttons below every content item will certainly clutter the UI! While buttons might seem to be useful triggers, gestures have great potential to make interaction with content more intuitive and fun. Don’t hesitate to integrate simple gestures such as tapping, double-tapping and tapping-and-holding to trigger important interactions. Instagram supports a simple double-tap to perform one of its key features, liking and unliking a content item. I would not be surprised to see other apps integrate this shortcut in the near future.

An Interface That Fits

When designing an innovative mobile product, predicting user behavior can be very difficult. When we worked with Belgium’s Public Radio, my team really struggled with the UI balance between music visualization and real-time news. The sheer number of contextual scenarios and preferences made it very hard to come up with the perfect UI. So, we decided to integrate a simple dragging gesture to enable users to adjust the balance themselves.

Radio+
By dragging, users can balance music-related content and live news.

This gesture adds a creative contextual dimension to the application. The dragging gesture does not take the user from one section (news or music) to another. Rather, it enables the user to focus on the type of content they are most interested in, without missing out on the other.

Think in Terms of Time, Dimension and Animation

What action is triggered when the user taps an item? And how do you visualize that it has actually happened? How fast does a particular UI element animate into the viewport? Does it automatically go off-screen after five seconds of no interaction?

The rise of touch and gesture-driven devices dramatically changes the way we design interaction. Instead of thinking in terms of screens and pages, we are thinking more in terms of time, dimension and animation. You’ve probably noticed that fine-tuning user interactions and demonstrating them to colleagues and clients with static wireframe screenshots is not easy. You don’t fully see, understand and feel what will happen when you touch, hold, drag and swipe items.

Certain prototyping tools, including Pop and Invision, can help bring wireframes to life. They are very useful for testing an application’s flow and for pinpointing where and when a user might get stuck. Your application has a lot more going on than simple back-and-forth navigation, so you need to detect interface bugs and potential sources of confusion as soon as possible. You wouldn’t want your development team to point them out to you now, would you?

InvisionApp
Invision enables you to import and link your digital wireframes.

To be more innovative and experimental, get together with your client first and explain that a traditional wireframe is not the UX deliverable that they need. Show the value of interactive wireframes and encourage them to include this in the process. It might increase the timeline and budget, but if they are expecting you to go the extra mile, it shouldn’t be a problem.

I even offer to produce a conceptual interface video for my clients as well, because once they’ve worked with the interactive wireframes and sorted out the details, my clients will often need something sexier to present to their internal stakeholders.

The Learning Curve

When designing gesture-based interactions, be aware that every time you remove UI clutter, the application’s learning curve goes up. Without visual cues, users could get confused about how to interact with the application. A bit of exploration is no problem, but users should know where to begin. Many apps show a UI walkthrough when first launched, and I agree with Max Rudberg that walkthroughs should explain only the most important interactions. Don’t explain everything at once. If it’s too explicit and long, users will skip it.

Why not challenge yourself and gradually introduce creative UI hints as the user uses the application? This pattern is often referred to as progressive disclosure and is a great way to show only the information that is relevant to the user’s current activity. YouTube’s Capture application, for instance, tells the user to rotate the device to landscape orientation just as the user is about to open the camera for the first time.

Visual Hints
Fight the learning curve with a UI walkthrough and/or visual hints.

Adding visual cues to the UI is not the only option. In the Sparrow app, the search bar appears for a few seconds, before animating upwards and going off screen, a subtle way to say that it’s waiting to be pulled down.

Stop Talking, Start Making

The iPhone ushered in a revolution in interactive communication. Only five years later, touchscreen devices are all around us, and interaction designers are redefining the ways people use digital content.

We need to explore and understand the potential of touch and gesture-based interfaces and start thinking more in terms of time, dimension and animation. As demonstrated by several innovative applications, gestures are a great way to make an app more content-focused, original and fun. And many gesture-based interactions that seem too experimental at first come to be seen as very intuitive.

For a complete overview of the opportunities for gestures on all major mobile platforms, check out Luke Wroblewski’s “Touch Gesture Reference Overview.” I hope you’re inspired to explore gesture-based interaction and intensify your adventures in mobile interfaces. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. With interactive wireframes, you can iterate your way to the best possible experience. So, let’s stop talking and start making.

(al)

© Thomas Joos for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

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I sincerely believe that the user experience community should add game design to its toolbox of competencies. If we’re truly committed to creating satisfying user experiences, then there’s no reason why games, which can satisfy people so richly, should be excluded.

Operating successfully in the games domain means learning a new set of competencies, and I don’t want to oversimplify the challenges of designing high-quality game experiences. However, if you’re in a position to jump in and start designing, then I can at least offer a primer to help you steer clear of some of the most common mistakes.

1. Games Should Be Games First

Trading off the quality of the player experience in favor of some real-world objective is always self-defeating. This is the recurring problem with “gamified” designs, which too often just cynically tack points and leaderboards onto a product that is fundamentally gameless. First and foremost, a game needs to be enjoyed.

Schwab MoneyWise’s It’s Your Life game has a noble mission: to convince people to save more money for retirement and other long-term objectives. It’s Your Life presents players with a number of choices between spending and saving money over the course of a simulated lifetime. At the end, players get a letter grade on how well they did.

A screen from Schwab's It's Your Life game
At each step in Schwab’s It’s Your Life game, the choice that will lead to a winning outcome is pretty obvious.

The problem is that the designers were much more interested in hammering home their message than creating an actual game experience. If you want to win the game, then the right choice each step of the way is to save your money and not spend any of it. Ever. On anything. You can earn an A+, the highest possible score, if you:

  • Skip college,
  • Never move out of your parents’ house,
  • Never get married,
  • Never have children,
  • Never travel or take any vacations,
  • Work indefinitely past the age of 65,
  • Die alone with a lot of money and no one to leave it to.

I’m sure the designers reasoned that someone playing through the scenarios would elect to do meaningful things with their life, but they set up the scenarios so that doing nothing with one’s life while saving vigorously would be the surest way to win. Even though It’s Your Life is packaged as a game, the designers didn’t commit to it being experienced as a game.

2. Play Test, Play Test, Play Test

Games are highly dynamic experiences. The flow of events changes from moment to moment, and each decision a player makes can lead to a multiplicity of outcomes. Most games are also programmed with an element of randomness, so a player never has quite the same experience twice. Multiplayer games throw even more unpredictability into the mix.

As a result, the designer directly controls not the gameplay, but rather the underlying system in which play unfolds. Without actually seeing the game in action, you cannot reliably anticipate how it will work. Mike Ambinder, an experimental psychologist at game developer Valve, puts it in scientific terms: “Every game design is a hypothesis, and every instance of play is an experiment.”

Be prepared to put your game under the microscope again and again, and to adapt the design to make it more enjoyable.

3. Games Don’t Have To Be For Kids

With a large market catering to them, kids have the latitude to be very discerning consumers of games. Marketing campaigns pushing big-budget titles already crowd out one another, so you’ll find that just getting a young gamer’s attention is a tremendous challenge. You can’t assume that kids will want to play your game just because it’s a game.

And these days, kids are the minority of people who play video games. Eighty-two percent of gamers are over the age of 18, and 29% are 50 and older. Grown-ups are sometimes more receptive to playing games outside of the mainstream, and they have more disposable income to spend on games (i.e. if you plan to sell your game).

Only 18 percent of game players in the U.S. are under 18 years old
Kids under 18 represent a small minority of game players.

This is not to say that kids cannot make up a portion of your audience. But if your game is clearly intended for young children — as announced in breathless starbursts, reading “Hey, kids!” and “Super-cool!” — then you will turn off the larger segment of gamers. So, consider targeting your game to an older age group while keeping it accessible to a broad range of ages.

4. Action Can Be Boring

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is an amazing action game. It also took years to make and a team comprising dozens of designers, artists and engineers at a cost of many millions of dollars. You’re probably not making Call of Duty.

It’s very difficult to sustain adrenaline-pumping excitement for long. If you do choose to make an action-based game on a small scale, you’ll find that you’re limited to very simple and short-lived scenarios, such as racing a car, throwing a basketball or shooting a spaceship. Taken on their own, these types of experiences tend to grow tiresome quickly.

You’ll find a lot of creative opportunity in games that make the player think through interesting choices instead of executing twitch responses. The card game Hearts, for example, is all about choices. Which three cards should I pass to my opponent? Should I play a high card or a low card? If I play clubs one more time, will someone else stick me with the queen of spades? Should I shoot for the moon, or will that prove self-destructive? Each choice is evaluated from one trick to the next, depending on the changing conditions of your hand and on new information about what other players have done. Even though Hearts can be a fairly long game, it holds the players’ interest without any laser blasters or lava levels.

The card game Hearts
Hearts creates excitement by presenting players with a lot of interesting choices.

5. Fit The Game Into The Player’s Lifestyle

Think about the real-life contexts in which people will play the game. Start the design process by asking:

  • Who are your players?
  • How much time do players have to give to the game, and how much of that time will your players actually be willing to give?
  • Will your players need to take a break from the game and continue it later?
  • Where will your players be when they’re playing the game?
  • What kind of hardware, software and Internet access will be available to your players?

Unisys developed a series of online games for the company’s sales team to send to customers as holiday greetings. A customer would receive a link by email to an online holiday card with a personal message from the salesperson. The card would then open into the game, branded with Unisys’ logo.

Screenshot of the Unisys mini-golf game
Unisys’ mini-golf game was designed to be a quick, nonintrusive diversion from the workday.

Because the players were receiving these emails at work, the games couldn’t require a significant investment of time to reach the end, so all of them were designed to last less than five minutes. And because many players would be accessing the game while sitting in a cubicle, with their computer speakers probably turned off, the few sounds in the games were not made essential to the experience.

FarmVille cleverly makes itself adaptable to the player’s lifestyle. Players need to dedicate only a few minutes at a time, during which they can plant seeds for crops that take different amounts of real-world time to harvest. Raspberries take just two hours, so they’re useful when the player is able to check in several times a day. Eight-hour pumpkins fit in well just before and after a workday. Artichokes take four days to harvest — better for players who are able to check in only now and then. These staggered growth rates allow the time commitment to be made on the player’s own terms.

Different crops mature at different rates in Farmville
The staggered harvest times for crops in FarmVille allow players to decide how much gameplay they can fit into their lives.

6. Create Meaningful Experience

Players have to invest their time, concentration and problem-solving abilities to the challenges that a game throws at them. There should be a point to these efforts, a payoff for their investment. When the game ends, players should come away feeling that the experience was meaningful.

A great example is the card game Killer Bunnies, in which success is ultimately determined by a card picked randomly from the deck. The player who holds the match for that card (the “magic carrot”) is declared the winner. No player has any control over which card is picked; the selection is completely random. But the gameplay does give players some control over which matching cards they hold. Players compete for carrot cards over the course of the game, and shrewd players will work to hold the greatest number of them before the game is over. The game says a lot about the players’ mastery of the strategy, tolerance for risk and skill at reading other people. Players come away from the game knowing that they had control over their chances of success, which makes the experience meaningful.

Picture of the carrot cards in Killer Bunnies
Players exercise some control over the outcome of Killer Bunnies by acquiring carrot cards, increasing the probability that they’ll capture the randomly selected magic carrot.

7. Don’t Cheat

Because video game rules are enforced inside the black box of the computer’s circuitry, there’s a temptation among designers to take shortcuts by letting the game cheat. Don’t give in to that temptation. Players will be able to tell when a game is cheating, and they will resent it.

Suppose you’re designing a blackjack game that matches a player against a computerized dealer. As the designer, you need to write a script to control the dealer’s actions. You want the dealer to be a little hard to beat but not impossible. One easy way to create challenge would be to let the script choose which card from the deck is drawn next. You would then program the dealer to pick a card that either wins or loses, and put in a randomizing function so that two out of every three times it picks a winning card. This also creates an easy way to allow players to change the difficulty, so that on a harder setting the dealer will pick a winning card four out of every five times, while on an easier setting it will win just one out of every three. How would anyone even know you’re cheating?

After playing the game a few times, you’ll see how. The dealer will do seemingly irrational things, such as hitting on 20 and magically drawing an ace. The deck will not seem random, because certain cards will tend to show up early and others will show up only after those preferred cards have been drawn. After several play-throughs, these patterns will become obvious. When players realize that a game is cheating, they’ll make the ultimate winning move by turning it off.

8. Skip The Manual

The best way to convince people that a game is worth playing is by letting them jump in and try it out for themselves. Presenting written instructions at the beginning of every new game merely creates a barrier to entry at the very time when you want to be most accommodating of players. Instructions can also become a crutch, used to justify unconventional and unintuitive choices in the interface.

The best place to teach people how to play a game is right there in the game itself. Tutorials have become one of the most familiar patterns in games. Ask yourself, “What’s the smallest amount of information the player needs to make the first move?” Then provide nothing more than that; you can get to the second move when the time comes. Playing is learning. If people are interested in the game, they’ll be motivated to fill in the blanks themselves by playing it.

Screen from Kanyu
In Bri Lance’s game Kanyu, step-by-step instructions on how to play are cleverly incorporated into the game’s storyline.

9. Make The Game Make Sense

Players need to understand why things happen in the game in order to feel that they’re in control. In game design, a sensible experience relies on some mutual understanding between the designer and the player:

  • When the player loses, the reason they lost should be clear. If it’s not, then the player won’t be able to get better at the game by avoiding the same mistake in future.
  • When the player wins, the reason they won should be clear. If not, then replicating the victory will be hard.
  • Every effect should have a clear cause. When something happens, the player should be able to see why it happened.
  • The object of the game should be clear. The player needs to know what they’re working toward.
  • The player should always know what actions may be performed. At every moment, visible or aural cues should be provided to let the player know what they can do.

10. Make It Easy To Try Again

Step back and think about the game as a discontinuous and iterative experience. When a player loses, cycling back into the game to try again should be instant and effortless. Even large commercial games with multimillion-dollar development budgets make the mistake of forcing a lengthy loading screen into that anxious period between a player’s loss and a second attempt. Stretching that space of time to the second, third or twentieth go-round inevitably tries the player’s patience. Games such as Braid and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time take a clever route around this problem by allowing players to rewind time to a safe point before their losing moment.

Playing To Your Strengths

These 10 guidelines will help you get started, but plenty of challenges lie ahead as you set about designing and developing your game, and you’ll need to learn how to manage them as they come up. One last piece of advice is to play to your strengths. If you have a background in designing conventional user interfaces, by all means use the skills and techniques that you gained from it. Wireframing, user testing, rapid prototyping, storyboarding, flow diagramming and other core skills all translate well to game design and can help you pull through the inevitable rough patches. When a game design issue confounds you, trust your instincts and ask how you would handle a similar problem outside of the context of the game. More often than not, you’ll point yourself in the right direction.

(al)

© John Ferrara for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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The way you present your product or service is essential to its success — or at least it could be if you know how to do it right. On the Web, like anywhere else, the first impression you make on people is crucial. When selling a product, you want that first impression to be as positive and remarkable as possible.

Once people visit your website, make sure to attract their attention. If you have managed to draw them in, you will need to introduce the product within a few seconds. According to last year’s Google Analytics benchmarking report, bounce rates in the US were as high as 42.5%. If people don’t understand what you are offering them or how it works, they will lose interest quickly. Show them that your product is just what they want, that it’s useful and that it adds some kind of value to their lives.

A smart product presentation does all of that. Here, we will cover different aspects of a product presentation and give examples of how to use them to your advantage. The idea is to give you an overview of the different elements that make a product page successful.

Attract Attention

Before convincing anyone of the quality of your product, you need to make sure it gets noticed. No matter whether people are looking for your particular product, once you have caught their attention, you are in a good position to arouse their interest and get them engaged. The things you can do to catch the user’s eye are limited only by your creativity. Here are three examples that we believe are effective.

Stand Out From the Crowd

Countless companies and people freelance in the creative sectors, and all of them offer some kind of information about their services and prior work. Usually, you can browse portfolios to find a bunch of boring screenshots accompanied by even more boring information.


(Image: Chris Bower)

Web designer Chris Bower has found a unique and appealing way to demonstrate his expertise. His professional presentation of his work on various devices accomplishes three things. It is the ultimate eye-catcher on an otherwise clean website; it conveys the designer’s quality because it looks truly professional; and it shows that Chris designs for any device you can think of. With only a glance at his home page, you know whether to enter or leave the website.

Surprise Your Visitors

Another great way to attract attention is by surprising visitors. Offer them something they did not expect; make them pause and think to make sense of what they see. We like to be surrounded by the familiar, and things that don’t fit our expectations automatically draw our attention.


(Image: Nike)

Nike presents its new running shoes in the shape of wings, with the promise of a “Super-natural ride.” The arrangement of these multi-colored shoes and the fade in the middle almost force people to take a second look. The visual is not only appealing, but attracts attention because people are not sure whether they are looking at wings or shoes or both.

People Love Humor

Plenty of products out there are easy to promote, whether because of their function, popularity or unique look. Other products are less conducive to effective marketing and require a more creative approach.


(Image: Evian)

One such example is the brand Evian. How could boring water possibly attract attention? Quite simple, actually. Come up with a product-related slogan, such as “Live young,” and then translate that slogan into a visual campaign using some great humor. A couple of years back, Evian’s funny campaign videos went viral — proof that its unique approach works.

Explain The Product

The way you present the product is crucial to people’s first impression of both you and the product — including what they think of you and whether they understand the nature of the product. Online services and new products especially need clarification in order for the audience to make sense of them. Obviously, if people don’t get your product or understand why they would need it, they won’t pay for it.

Introduce the Product

With the ease of access to technologies such as the Internet, the number of inventions has significantly increased. Any ready idea nowadays can be turned into a product or service, but some of these ideas are so abstract that they require careful explanation.


(Image: Tickera)

The people behind Tickera recognized a need to carefully explain what their system is about. Their home page is simple, and the focus is on the product and its main features. Of course, a ticketing service is not a physical product that you can arrange nicely and take pictures of. But they did a great job of translating their service into a beautiful and trustworthy visual. With only a look, it becomes clear what Tickera is about.

How Does It Work?

Related to how you present the product is your explanation of how it works. Basically, you can do this by showing the product in action. And there is a big difference between showing a screenshot of software and showing the software on the device it is intended for.


(Image: Square)

Square is a perfect example of how to present a product and demonstrate what it is and how it works. The high-resolution image shows how simple collecting and processing credit-card payments on the go can be. All you need is the little Square card reader, an iPhone and the app — no words needed to convey the value of this product.

Convince People That They Need It

It could happen that people understand how your product works but don’t recognize its potential benefit to them. This is why you should point out the advantages that people will get from your product. People consider something to be more relevant if they can relate it to themselves.


(Image: Action Method)

The task-management tool Action Method focuses on its main advantage to the user: always being in sync. Seeing these different devices together, the visitor can see that this app could make life much easier for them. Perhaps they’re thinking about how annoying it is to take notes on a laptop and not be able to access them later on from a different device.

Focus On The Main Selling Point

Most products have many features but only a few or even one selling point that makes them special. Distancing yourself from competitors is important, whether through hardware features, design, service or something else. Point out this difference when presenting the product and show people that the product is different, special and better.

Quality

Quality is an effective selling point. And if the product costs a lot, people will want to be especially sure they are getting good quality in return. Competitors might offer the same product or feature but not the same quality. Reflect the quality of the product in your presentation of it.


(Image: Chanel)

Chanel present all of its products in high-resolution photographs. The images were obviously taken by professionals. The white watch above is bedded in perfectly white soft feathers. The image is extremely detailed, the viewer instantly gets a feel for the quality and luxury of the brand.

Features

Whatever your product, chances are high that at least one competitor offers something similar. To convince people that yours is the better choice, focus on features — particularly those that are relevant or essential to your target group.


(Image: HTC)

All smartphones basically offer the same functions. For example, they enable people to make calls, send messages and connect to the Internet. Instead of listing all of the things that all smartphones can do, HTC focuses on special features that are of concern to its target group: camera and sound.

Customization

People love products that have some personal meaning for them. That’s why we love to personalize our possessions, such as phone settings, laptop screens and clothing style. Customizing things helps us shape our identity, which is why customizable products are more special to us.


(Image: Converse)

Offer customization options to connect customers to your brand and products. Converse really makes a point that people can design their own sneakers. Being able to customize your own shoes definitely adds value to the brand.

Don’t Underestimate Copywriting

On the Web, our senses are limited. We send messages blindly, without looking our correspondent in the eyes. However, our limited senses should not limit our creativity. We can use more than plain images and text to make our point. Our message is shaped by our choice of words, typeface, font size and even punctuation.

Play With Words

Puns are a great way to attract attention because they wrap a message in a familiar concept. You are giving visitors something they recognize and are linking it to your own message. Wordplay can be used to explain a concept quickly and convey familiarity.


(Image: Apple)

Apple does this very effectively. It pioneered the tablet and puts everything into showing that it is the best in the field. The iPad 3 has a revolutionary display, which is the main selling point of this latest version. The pun “Resolutionary” is powerful and demonstrates in a single word the high quality of the product.

Don’t Get Too Serious

A good laugh helps people bond. You can surely think of more than one example of an inside joke that fostered a sense of connectedness and belonging. The same can be done online. A funny or ironic headline could be all you need to sell a product. Obviously, you can do both: bond with visitors and send a meaningful message.


(Image: Jax Vineyards)

A perfect example of a funny and powerful headline can be found on the website of Jax Vineyards: “Your food should be so lucky.” Of course, your food would not actually be lucky, no matter which wine you pair it with, but the idea of cherishing your food by choosing the right wine is appealing. Imagine spending hours preparing the perfect dinner; spoiling it with the wrong wine would be a shame, right?

Use Metaphors

Metaphors can bring copy — and, by extension, the product — to life. Metaphors help us understand the world around us and make sense of unfamiliar things. Abstract ideas such as the reason why your product is so special could also be easily explained with the right metaphor.


(Image: Adidas)

Adidas promotes its new running shoe with the slogan, “Sweat nothing, climacool seduction.” The melody of the words and the association triggered by the word “seduction” could easily cause us to misread the slogan as “Sweet nothing, climacool seduction.” The ad gains a risqué charm, giving off a light and comfortable feeling — perhaps acquiring an association with alluring lingerie. The link between running shoes and lingerie is not at all obvious, but it works brilliantly and transfers a positive and familiar association to a new line of running shoes.

Make Use of Context

The context in which you present a product is just as important as the product itself, if not more so. It is the space in which you show the product in action. It is the accumulation of associations that trigger emotions in customers. It draws people in and convinces them that they need your product.

Awake Desires

Motion pictures are a great way to draw people into a different world. Why else do we go to the movies, if not to escape our everyday lives and immerse ourselves in some romantic love story or surrealistic adventure? You can use the same effect on your customers and enable them to experience, say, the pleasure of a vacation.


(Image: Post Ranch Inn)

The 24-hour time-lapse video of the idyllic Post Ranch Inn gives visitors the feeling that they have already been there. The website takes you on a journey from sunrise to sunset, whisking you away from your desk on a long-awaited and deserved vacation.

Trigger positive emotions

You can also use a narrative or mascot to add value to the product. Focusing not on the product itself but on the emotions that come with it is a clever strategy. Customers might have plenty of options, but if you sell them the right feeling, they will be easily convinced.


(Image: Fanta)

Fanta uses animated characters who enjoy life to the fullest and have a lot of fun. The slogan “More Fanta. Less Serious.” communicates the idea that Fanta will relax you and let you have fun. There is no reference to the drink itself, such as ingredients. The only thing you see is the emotional triggers of happy characters and bright positive colors.

Appeal to Your Target Group

Every target group is different, with different interests, levels of knowledge, expectations and so on. Clearly define your target group to make sure you appeal to the right people. Defining a target group means truly understanding what makes them tick: their motivations, goals and habits. Only with a clear picture of who you are designing for will you be able to create a product that people really need and desire.


(Image: Olay)

Products like the age-defying line from Olay have a clearly defined target group: middle-aged women. Products for the body — especially related to sensitive subjects, such as aging — are considered intimate and require a high level of trust. Olay appeals to just that desire and presents its products in a professional yet familiar and trustworthy way.

Offer Sufficient Information

Factual information can be important to selling a product. People make rational decisions based on factual information, especially when purchasing expensive items — at least they like to think so. Factual information not only answers questions people might have about the product, but makes people more confident in their decision.

Highlight Advantages

Facts are a great way to point out a product’s advantages. Clear statements and factual information can be very convincing, and that’s what you intend to do at the end of the day, right?


(Image: Heineken)

You would not necessarily expect a beer brand to volunteer factual information. Yet Heineken presents its tap beer with clarity and sophistication. The information is given a serious and refined atmosphere, instead of Heineken’s usual fun style.

Make Detailed Information Optional

For some products, people really need certain information before being able to decide. This information could be a list of features, technical specifications or anything else. If your product requires such information, make sure people don’t have to hunt for it.


(Image: Viking)

Viking presents a high-resolution image along with a simple textual description. The first impression is very clean. Of course, when buying a lawn mower, a person needs more detailed information; thus, technical specifications and equipment details are neatly included in separate tabs.

Convince With Facts

Use facts to underpin the message that you are conveying visually. Information helps a person feel more confident if it confirms something they already feel.


(Image: Porsche)

No one really needs a sports car. But people do want them, and they buy them for leisure. Porsche uses a lot of great visuals to convey a feeling of speed, excitement and precision. Yet it also offers some information with these visuals — some, though, not much; just enough to underpin the emotions conveyed by the image: power, independence and luxury.

Conclusion

Whether you are selling a gadget, software, service or anything else, your presentation will have a direct impact on people’s first impression. And on the Web, which offers many choices and where people can leave your website in a mouse click, this first impression is crucial to your relationship with visitors and to gaining new customers.

A good presentation will draw the visitor’s attention, help them understand the product and even convince them to buy it. Use sketches, detailed illustrations or vivid photographs to communicate your message. Together with thoughtfully written copy, this presentation could well be the most important asset on your website.

Editor’s Note: This article was created using a new tool from Usabilla, that allows you to collect and discover design elements, like the ones presented in this article. Find more design elements at: discover.usabilla.com.

(al) (fi)

© Sabina Idler for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Good Web designers know what many others might not realize: that creating a truly beautiful website requires care, time and craft. And similar to how a craftsperson molds their creation by combining raw materials, skill and unwavering focus on the vision, a beautiful design is planned and executed with exceptional focus on what is to be achieved by the website.

It is important, however, not to confuse a beautifully crafted website with one that simply brushes over the content with attractive visuals. This article provides a small selection of tried and true methods that Web designers regularly employ to give a website that bespoke look and feel (think a tailor who carefully cinches a suit here and there to ensure a perfect fit).

Make no mistake: these methods do take extra time, and they often result in improvements that the untrained eye might not consciously register. But the payoff is a better overall experience for the user. Users will leave with a smile and a lasting impression or relationship with your website, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why.

Start From Scratch, Every Time


For a truly customized design, always start with a blank slate.

Whenever possible, avoid cobbling together work from old designs. Every website should be treated as unique, regardless of its type (e-commerce, author website, blog, etc.). The very best websites are designed to fulfill a defined purpose. Building your design from the ground up fosters clarity, focus and commitment to the design.

At every step in the design process, ensure that everything in the layout has a deliberate purpose; you should be able to explain your thought process behind every element on the page. If something has no reason to exist on the page, then consider removing it because it could simply distract visitors from more important content.


Every element on the page should have a reason for existing.

Simply copying and pasting elements from previous designs is a crutch that prevents you from experimenting, learning and growing as a Web designer. This isn’t to downplay the value of iterating on previous design elements, which can be a useful exercise and which can challenge you to get creative and experiment.

Invest In Custom Icons And Graphics

Spotify
Spotify uses custom icons and graphics, rather than relying on stock images, to give their design soul and character.

Custom illustrations, imagery and iconography make for a unique experience on a website. While stock photography and vectors do save a ton of time, a photo of a smiling sales rep wearing a headset just feels phoney to visitors when they’ve seen the same image on five other websites.

Invest time in creating custom icons and graphics to preserve the look and feel of your website, as well as the authenticity of your message.

Spotify is a perfect example of this. Its lighthearted, “sketchy” illustration style sets its apart from all the other music services, and it leaves a lasting, positive impression on visitors.

Some other examples of great websites with custom icons and illustrations:

Remove Friction That Impedes Scrolling


Encourage scrolling by removing obstacles.

As screen resolutions expand and touchscreens multiply at every turn, we’re encountering longer pages and smaller website footprints. And with good reason: a user who has to scroll down the page will encounter far less obstruction than someone who has to click a link and wait for the new page to load. Removing this obstruction will not only simplify the navigation, but help to tell a cohesive story, without the interruption of page loading.

As Paddy Donnelly’s excellent article “Life Below 600px” explains, the fear that users will ignore any content unlucky enough to fall below the fold afflicts designers much less today. And the proliferation of devices of different resolutions makes it almost impossible to determine where exactly the fold lies.


Life Below 600px” is an excellent essay that dispels the myth of the fold.

Weave a cohesive story concept by getting creative with connecting individual page sections. This will promote a natural flow for the user, encouraging them to explore deeper into the page, building momentum in their experience and making it easier to get all the way through the page. You can even tie radically different styles of content together on the same page by adding small visual cues at the bottom of each section to indicate that more content awaits — much like how different rooms in a house can have entirely separate functions yet retain a common theme. If each section on the page comes to an abrupt end or looks like a footer, then users will be less likely to reach the end.

In fact, scrolling has become such a natural interaction on most Web-enabled devices that Apple did away with the scroll bar in OS X Lion.

The Dangers of Fracking and Slavery Footprint deserve hearty mentions. Both websites drive the user to scroll down with incredibly creative parallax effects and compelling stories.

More awesome examples of mega pages:

Make The Design Invisible Through Interactivity And Functionality

After more than 20 years of evolution, the paradigms of the print world still provide the fundamental building blocks of the way we present content online. Think about the terms we use to describe the Web: pages, headlines, columns, scrolling. These are band-aid metaphors that we’ve adopted to make the Web more understandable to the public. But the medium itself is capable of so much more. Static text and images are usually fine, but human beings by nature crave varied stimulation, and the Web is capable of feeding that craving with a much more interactive and richer experience.

Zurb
Joyride uses “Pit stops” of interactivity to keep the visitor engaged with the website.

Providing clear points on the page where users can interact with the design, rather than passively consume it, will help to relieve the burden of wading through long passages of copy. Visitors will experience the invisible part of a design; content sliders, tooltips, lightboxes, modal windows and other points of interaction give them something to do and can propel them further along in the story, much like how a good museum exhibit mixes methods of conveying information. Of course, swing too far to the extreme of too much interactivity and you’ll distract users, so be cautious of how much you build in. All interaction points should serve the overarching goal of the page.

Joyride is a great example of this approach. While the page has plenty of content, Joyride does a great job of guiding the user around the page and highlighting points of interest to come back to later. (And the little surprise at the end will leave you grinning.)

Great examples of engaging users with interaction on the page:

Pay Attention To Detail

Whether you’re going for clean minimalism or complex and illustrative, pay special attention to the details of every element on the page. Even slight inconsistencies will be picked up by users subconsciously, thus diminishing their experience or confusing them.

A few common pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Typography gone wild
    Each typographic treatment in the design should be consistent with its function. Headings in one part of the page should look the same as headings elsewhere on the page, and indeed throughout the rest of the website.
  • Buttons, buttons everywhere
    Be conscious of where a button style is called for, as opposed to plain text links. Overusing buttons diminishes their overall effectiveness.
  • Changing gradients
    If your design has gradients, use them consistently, with the same shades across like elements and with the same gradation.
  • Mind the gaps
    Consistent spacing and alignment between page elements will make the layout feel refined and high quality.

Thoughtfully questioning each element in the layout is key to achieving a highly polished design. The burden is on you to prove that an element has a reason to be there and is not superfluous to the experience. At the end of the day, don’t fall into the trap of thinking “No one will notice,” because the chances are high that someone will!

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said:

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Consider whether the elements on the page have the right amount of detail to fulfill their purpose. Does that button have the right texture and color treatment to serve its role? Does it need texture at all? Simplicity is key and is relative to the purpose of the element.


Polished designs can be found across the Web, if you look closely.

Polished touches lie all around the Web if you look. Little Big Details rounds up some details from the Web and other interfaces that many of us encounter every day but don’t notice.

Details

To see a truly polished design, head over to PixelResort. To describe it in one word: sumptuous. No detail has been spared for each element. The entire experience has a weight and tangibility that stays with the user.

Some other excellent examples of polish on the Web:

Bringing It All Together

Creating a truly beautiful and memorable website ain’t easy. You’ll need to make a significant investment of time and effort, focused in key areas for maximum payoff:

  1. Design the entire layout specifically for the given website. Putting a new coat of paint on an old template won’t give you the most compelling design possible.
  2. Create your own graphics to give the design a unique personality.
  3. Motivate visitors to scroll by weaving a story across the page that compels them to finish.
  4. Engage visitors with variety. Adding “rest stops” of interactivity will keep them actively thinking about the experience that you’re leading them through.
  5. Finally, polish, polish, polish! Think about every detail in the design. Make sure nothing is missed.

There you have it: five solid techniques to ensure that your website is a beautiful and memorable experience. This roundup is by no means comprehensive, but the techniques will pay you back with returning visitors, high engagement and user satisfaction.

Do you have any tips on adding beauty to a design? Feel free to post them in the comments!

(al) (jc)

© Jason Amunwa for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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In my nearly two decades as an information architect, I’ve seen my clients flush away millions upon millions of dollars on worthless, pointless, “fix it once and for all” website redesigns. All types of organizations are guilty: large government agencies, Fortune 500s, not-for-profits and (especially) institutions of higher education.

Worst of all, these offending organizations are prone to repeating the redesign process every few years like spendthrift amnesiacs. Remember what Einstein said about insanity? (It’s this, if you don’t know.) It’s as if they enjoy the sensation of failing spectacularly, publicly and expensively. Sadly, redesigns rarely solve actual problems faced by end users.

I’m frustrated because it really doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at why redesigns happen, and some straightforward and inexpensive ways we might avoid them.

The Diagnostic Void

Your users complain about your website’s confounding navigation, stale content, poor usability and other user experience failures. You bring up their gripes with the website’s owners. They listen and decide to take action. Their hearts are in the right place. But the wheels quickly come off.

Most website owners don’t know how to diagnose the problems of a large complex website. It’s just not something they were ever taught to do. So, they’re put in the unfortunate, uncomfortable position of operating like country doctors who’ve suddenly been tasked to save their patients from a virulent new pandemic. It is their responsibility, but they’re simply unprepared.

Sadly, many website owners fill this diagnostic void — or, more typically, allow it to be filled — with whatever solution sounds best. Naturally, many less-than-ethical vendors are glad to dress up their offerings as solutions to anyone with a problem — and a budget. The tools themselves (search engines, CMS’, social apps) are wonderful, but they’re still just tools — very expensive ones, at that — and not solutions to the very specific problems that an organization faces. Without proper diagnostics to guide the configuration of tools, any resulting improvements to the user experience will be almost accidental.

Sometimes design agencies are brought in to fill the diagnostic void. And while not all agencies are evil, a great many follow a business model that depends on getting their teams to bill as many hours as they can and as soon as possible. Diagnostics can slow the work down (which is why clients rarely include a diagnostic phase in their RFPs). So, many agencies move to make a quick, tangible impression (and make their clients happy) by delivering redesigns that are mostly cosmetic.

A pretty face can last only a few years, but by then the agency is long gone. Invariably, the new owner wishes to make their mark by freshening or updating the website’s look. And another agency will be more than happy to oblige. Repeat ad nauseam, and then some.

Oh, and sometimes these redesigns can be pricey. Like $18 million pricey.

See why I’m so grouchy?

Forget the Long Tail: The Short Head Is Where It’s At

Whether you’re a designer, researcher or website owner, I’ve got some good news for you: diagnostics aren’t necessarily difficult or expensive. Better yet, you’ll often find that addressing the problems you’ve diagnosed isn’t that hard.

And the best news? Small simple fixes can accomplish far more than expensive redesigns. The reason? People just care about some stuff more than they care about other stuff. A lot more. Check this out and you’ll see:

This hockey-stick-shaped curve is called a Zipf curve. (It comes from linguistics: Zipf was a linguist who liked to count words… but don’t worry about that.) Here it is in dragon form, displaying the frequency of search queries on a website. The most frequently searched queries (starting on the left) are very, very frequent. They make up the “short head.” As you move to the right (to the esoteric one-off queries in the “long tail”), query frequency drops off. A lot. And it’s a really long tail.

This is absolutely the most important thing in the universe. So, to make sure it’s absolutely clear, let’s make the same point using text:

Query’s rank
Cumulative %
Query’s frequency
Query

1
1.40%
7,218
campus map

14
10.53%
2,464
housing

42
20.18%
1,351
web enroll

98
30.01%
650
computer center

221
40.05%
295
msu union

500
50.02%
124
hotels

7,877
80.00%
7
department of surgery

In this case, tens of thousands of unique queries are being searched for on this university website, but the first one accounts for 1.4% of all search traffic. That’s massive, considering that it’s just one query out of tens of thousands. How many short-head queries would it take to get to 10% of all search traffic? Only 14 — out of tens of thousands. The 42 most frequent queries cover over 20% of the website’s entire search traffic. About a hundred gets us to 30%. And so on.

It’s Zipf’s World; We Just Live in It

This is very good news.

Want to improve your website’s search performance? Don’t rip out the search engine and buy a new one! Start by testing and improving the performance of the 100 most frequent queries. Or, if you don’t have the time, just the top 50. Or 10. Or 1 — test out “campus map” by actually searching for it. Does something useful and relevant come up? No? Why not? Is the content missing or mistitled or mistagged or jargony or broken? Is there some other problem? That, folks, is diagnostics. And when you do that with your website’s short head, your diagnostic efforts will go a very long way.

The news gets better: Zipf is a rule. The search queries for all websites follow a Zipf distribution.

And the news gets even jump-up-and-down-and-scream-your-head-off better: Zipf is true not only for your website’s search queries. Your content works the same way! A small subset of your website’s content does the heavy lifting. Much of the rest has little or no practical value at all. (In fact, I’ve heard a rumor that 90% of Microsoft.com’s content has never, ever been accessed. Not once. But it’s a just a rumor. And you didn’t hear it here.) Bottom line: don’t redesign all of your content — focus on the stuff that people actually need.

You’ll also see a short head when it comes to your website’s features. People need just a few of them; the rest are gravy.

And there’s more. Of all the audience types that your website serves, one or two matter far more than the others. What tasks do those audience types wish to accomplish on your website? A few are short-head tasks; the rest just aren’t that important.

As you can see, the Zipf curve is everywhere. And fortunately, the phenomenon is helpful: you can use it to prioritize your efforts to tweak and tune your website’s content, functionality, searchability, navigation and overall performance.

Your Website Is Not A Democracy

When you examine the short head — of your documents, your users’ tasks, their search behavior and so forth — you’ll know where to find the most important problems to solve. In effect, you can stop boiling the ocean…

Ocean

… and start prioritizing your efforts to diagnose and truly solve your website’s problems.

Now, let’s put these short-head ideas together. Below is a report card for an academic website that starts with the short head of its audience:

In other words, of all the audience types this university website has, the three most important are people who might pay money to the university (applicants,) people who are paying money now (students) and people who will hopefully pay money for the rest of their lives (alumni). How do we know they’re the most important audiences? We could go by user research; for example, the analytics might suggest that these audiences generate more traffic than anyone else. Or perhaps the university’s stakeholders believe that these are the most important ones in their influence and revenue. Or some combination of both. Whatever the case, these three audiences likely swamp all other segments in importance.

Then, we would want to know the short-head tasks and information needs of each audience type. We might interview stakeholders to see what they think (column 2). And we might perform research — user interviews and search analytics, for example — to find out what users say is most important to them (column 3).

Of course, as the good folks at xkcd demonstrate, stakeholders and users don’t always see things the same way:

That’s why talking to both stakeholders and users is important. And once you’ve figured out the short head for each, you’ll need to earn your salary and, through some careful negotiation, combine your takes on each audience type’s needs. That’s what we’ve done in column 4.

Finally, in column 5, we’ve tested each task or need and evaluated how well it works. (Because it’s a university-related example, letter grades seemed appropriate.) You can do this evaluation in an expensive, statistically significant way; but really, enough research is out there to suggest that you don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on such testing. More importantly, these needs and tasks are often fairly narrow and, therefore, easy to test.

So, after testing, we can see what’s not going well. Finding information on “mentoring” is hard for applicants. And current students have a devil of a time when they “look up grades.”

Now we’re done diagnosing the problems and can begin making fixes. We can change the title of the “Paired Guidance Program” page to “Mentoring.” We can create a better landing page for the transcript application. The hard part, diagnostics, is out of the way, and we can now fix and tune our website’s performance as much as our resources allow.

From Project To Process To Payoff

These fixes are typically and wonderfully small and concrete, but because they live in the short head, they make a huge and lovely impact on the user experience — at a fraction of the cost of a typical redesign.

The tuning process itself is quite simple. It’s what we used to arrive at the report card below:

If you repeat this simple process on a regular basis — say, every month or quarter — then you can head off the entropy that causes fresh designs and fresher content to go rotten. Thus, the redesign that your organization has scheduled for two years from now can officially be canceled.

Your website’s owners ought to be happy about all this. And you should be, too: rather than tackling the project of getting your website “right” — which is impossible — you can now focus on tweaking and tuning it from here on out. So, forget redesigns, and start owning and benefiting from a process of continual improvement.

Special Thanks – Illustrations

Eva-Lotta is a UX Designer and Illustrator based in London, UK where she currently works as an interaction designer at Google. Besides her daytime mission of making the web a more understandable, usable and delightful place, she regularly takes sketchnotes at all sorts of talks and conferences and recently self-published her second book. Eva-Lotta also teaches sketching workshops and is interested in (something she calls) visual improvisation. Exploring the parallels between sketching and improvisation, she experiments with the principles from her theater improvisation practice to inspire visual work.

(al)

© Louis Rosenfeld for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Editor’s Note: Smashing Magazine is happy to present this sample chapter from Theresa Neil’s new book Mobile Design Pattern Gallery: UI Patterns for iOS, Android and More, which provides solutions to common design challenges. We’re certain you’ll find the information useful for your next mobile project.

As I was waiting for a table at a local restaurant the other day, I flipped through a couple of the free classified papers. I was shocked to realize how dependent I’ve grown on three simple features that just aren’t available in the analog world: search, sort and filter.

AutoDirect and some of the other freebies are organized by category (like trucks, vans, SUVs) but others, like Greensheet, just list page after page of items for sale. I would actually have to read every single ad in the paper to find what I wanted. No thank you, I’ll use Craigslist on my phone instead.

But after taking a look at Craigslist mobile, it became obvious we could all benefit from some best practices around mobile search, sort and filter UI design. This chapter explores a dozen different ways to surface and refine the data your customers want.

Search Patterns

Before you ever try to design a search interface for any platform, buy and read these two books: Search Patterns: Design for Discovery by Peter Morevill and Jeffery Callendar, and Designing Search: UX Strategies for eCommerce Success by Greg Nudelman.

Then take a look at these search patterns specific to mobile applications:

  • Explicit Search
  • Auto-Complete
  • Dynamic Search
  • Scoped Search
  • Saved & Recent
  • Search Form
  • Search Results

Explicit Search

Explicit search relies on an explicit action to perform the search and view results. That action might be to tap a search button on the screen, like Walmart, or on the keyboard, like Target. The results are typically displayed in the area below the search bar. Consider pairing an explicit search pattern with the auto-complete pattern.


Walmart uses a search button (Go) on the screen, Target uses the Search on the keyboard.


Target loading and then displaying search results.

Offer a clear button in the field and an option to cancel the search. Use feedback to show the search is being performed.

Auto-Complete

Probably the most useful search pattern that emerged in Web 2.0 is auto-complete. Typing will immediately surface a set of possible results, just tap on one to selected it and the search will be performed. Or continue typing your own criteria and then tap the explicit search button.


Android Marketplace (Google Play) and Netflix both use auto-complete

Ideally the results will be displayed immediately, but a progress indicator (searching…) should be used for system feedback. Netflix (above) uses an indicator in the search field, whereas Fidelity (below) displays one where the results will eventually be displayed.


Fidelity shows feedback while loading the auto-complete options.

TripAdvisor provides an enhanced auto-complete, grouping the results by popular destinations, hotels, restaurants. LinkedIn does something similar by showing direct connections first, then other people in LinkedIn.


TripAdvisor and LinkedIn group the suggested options.

Provide feedback if there could be a delay in displaying the results. Consider emphasizing the matching search text in the search results.

Dynamic Search

This pattern may also be called dynamic filtering. Entering text in the search field will dynamically (onkeypress) filter the data on the screen. Note, the examples may look similar to auto-complete but there is a different interation model. The dynamic search pattern is used to refine or whittle down a existing and visible list of objects. In these examples from BlackBerry App World and WorldMate on Android, apps and hotels, respectively, were already displayed on the page.


BlackBerry App World and WorldMate offer dynamic search for refining a big list of results.

Works well for refining constrained data sets, like an address book or personal media library, but may be impractical for searching large data sets from multiple sources.

Scoped Search

Sometimes it is easier (and faster) to get to the desired result by scoping the search criteria before performing the search. Google and Photobucket use different designs to the same end.


Google uses an overlay to present scope options, whereas Photobucket uses a dialog.

AllRecipes also lets you select criteria (or filters) before submitting the search. Dropbox defaults the initial scope to All, but you can switch it to Files or Folders before or after tapping the search button.


AllRecipes pushes the limit of scoping options, Dropbox keeps it simple with just 3.

Offer reasonable scoping options based on the data set. Three to six scoping options are plenty, consider a search form for advanced searching capabilities.

Saved & Recent

Successful mobile interfaces follow a basic usability maxim: respect the users effort. Saved and recent searches do this by making it easy to select from previous searches, instead of retyping the same keywords or search criteria.


eBay lets customers explicity save searches. Both eBay and Walmart implicity save customers’ most recent searches.

Other options to respect the users’ effort involve location based searching options like Trulia, and bar code searching, like PriceCheck by Amazon.


Trulia offers location based searching, Amazon offers 4 ways to search.


Google Shopper offers scan and speak search options and a full search history grouped by search date.

Saved searches typically require additional steps to name a search for later use, whereas recent searches are implicitly saved and surfaced. Consider which one will best serve your customers’ needs.

Search Form

This pattern is characterized by a separate form for entering search criteria, and an explicit search button.


Search forms on WorldMate and airbnb.


WholeFood’s recipe search allows customers to add multiple criteria, course, category, special diets and keywords.

Minimize the number of input fields. Implement OS specific input controls properly. Follow form design best practices (alignment, labels, size).

Search Results

Once a search is performed the results can be displayed in the same screen or on a dedicate results screen. Results may be displayed in a table or list, on a map or satellite, or as thumbnail images. Multiple view options can be used depending on the type of results and user preferences.


Kayak and Foursquare (webOS) show the results in a table.


airbnb shows the results in a list and offers a map view toggle.


Zappos offers a list view and alternate carousel view for browsing search results.

Lazy loading is a common technique to use so that some results will be displayed while the rest are being loaded. Many applications offer either a button to explicitly “view more results” or will automatically load more results when the screen is flicked.


eBay Motors and Best Buy.

Label the results with the number returned. Use lazy loading instead of paging. Apply a reasonable default sort order. Avoid paging tables, they break the natural interaction model for viewing information on a mobile device.

Sort

It is important to choose a reasonable default sort for displaying search results. A little common sense plus user validation is the best way to choose the default sort order. These patterns offer options for changing the default sort:

  • Onscreen Sort
  • Sort Selector
  • Sort Form

Onscreen Sort

When there are only a few sort options, an onscreen sort can provide a simple one tap solution. Placing the sort toggle at the top or bottom of the screen will depend on the other screen elements.

Target provides four sort options with a three toggle button. For the price sort option, they offer two choices: sort by price ascending and sort by price descending.


Expedia (older version) and Target iOS use onscreen sort.

Clearly show which option is selected or “on”. Consider the Sort Order Selector pattern if the option labels don’t fit nicely in a toggle button bar.

Sort Order Selector

The selector pattern is a good alternative to the onscreen sort. There are a number of different UI controls that can be used for selection, but consider the design guidelines for the OS you are designing for (ex. the menu is common for Android app, and the picker and actionsheet are common in iOS apps).


Walmart on Android uses the common menu control.

The option titles can be longer (more explicit) and more options can be displayed. Walmart places the sort button in proximity with the search field, wheras Kayak offers sort and filter options at the bottom of the screen.


Kayak on iOS uses the standard selector control.

OS neutral solutions include a simple combobox, like Target on Android, or an overlay menu, like Awesome Note.


Target on Android just uses a combobox. AwesomeNote uses an overlay.

Follow OS design conventions for choosing the selector control, or choose an OS neutral implementation. Clearly show which sort option is applied.

Sort Form

Some applications have consolidated the sort and filter options into one screen, typically titled “Refine”. This is the most effort intensive sort pattern requiring the user to open the form, select an option, and then apply the selection (by tapping “done” or “apply”).


Cars.com and eBay Classifieds.

Consider the more efficient sort option toggle or sort order selector patterns before choosing this design.

Filter

Large sets of data can require additional filtering, also called refining. Filtering relies on the user selecting criteria by which to refine the set of search results or a large set of objects. Common filtering patterns include:

  • Onscreen Filter
  • Filter Drawer
  • Filter Dialog
  • Filter Form

Also see the earlier search pattern, Scoped Search, for an optional pre-filtering technique.

Onscreen filter

Similar to the onscreen sort, the onscreen filter is displayed with the results or list of objects. With one tap, the filter is applied. HeyZap uses the standard toggle button bar, whereas Google uses vertical tabs.


HeyZap and Google.

CBS News and the ACL Festival app uses a scrolling filter bar as a way to let users quickly hone in on certain types of articles and bands, respectively.


CBS News (single filter bar) and Austin City Limits Music Festival (double filter bar).

Don’t use this filter pattern for primary navigation within your app, but instead use it to group and filter related content.

SXSW offers a filter button bar combined with a second row of filtering options. Feed a Fever news reader uses a super simple stylized set of comboboxes for filtering news feeds.


SXSW Conference app and Feed a Fever.

Filter options should be clearly worded and easy to understand. Show the filters that are applied or “on”.

Filter Drawer

Almost as efficient as the onscreen filter, a drawer can be used to reveal filter options. Flicking or tapping a handle will open the drawer. Audible’s drawer reveals a simple filter toggle bar, whereas Sam’s offers a host of filter options that can be applied to the map of club locations. A better design for Sam’s would be to leave the map visible and allow for dynamic filtering instead of the explicit “filter” button.


Audible and Sam’s Club.


Expedia’s new filter drawer.

Filter Dialog

Like a pop-up on in a web app, the filter dialog is modal in nature. It requires the user to select a filter option, or cancel the action. TripAdvisor on iOS has a custom filter dialog, whereas USPS Mobile on Android relies on the default selector control.


TripAdvisor and Due Today Lite.

While the Filter Dialog may get the job done, the first two patterns provide more freedom for users to experiment with and apply filters directly in context.

Keep the options list short, avoid scrolling. Consider a Filter Form for lengthier or multi-select filter options.

Filter Form

Large data sets can benefit from more advanced filter/refinement options. For example, WorldMate uses a form to filter hotels based on price, brand and stars. Zappos uses a similar approach, using the iOS standard drill down for selection, and the clear/done buttons in the title bar.


WorldMate’s filter form (looks very similar to Kayak’s design) and Zappos filter form for iOS.

Freetime uses custom controls in their filter form. First you pick the filter category, then choose the filter criteria, then apply the filter to the calendar.


Free-Time filter form.

Conditional filters, also called predicate editors or expression builders, are an advanced filtering feature typically found in reporting tools. Here’s the standard layout used on the web and desktop.


Predicate editor in the Wufoo web application.

Creating a conditional filtering a mobile application can be challenging in a mobile form factor but Roambi has accomplished it.


Roambi’s predicate editor.

Don’t over-design the filters, a simple onscreen filter or drawer will usually suffice. If a filter form is necessary, follow form design best practices.

More Resources

Learn more about designing usable and effective mobile apps in Mobile Design Pattern Gallery: UI Patterns for iOS, Android, and More:

  • Navigation
  • Forms
  • Tables
  • Tools
  • Charts
  • Invitations
  • Feedback & Affordance
  • Help

Also check out the Mobile Design Pattern Gallery website, blog and Flickr photostream with +600 screenshots.

(fi)

© Theresa Neil for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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When users look for information, they have a goal and are on a mission. Even before you started to read this article, chances are you did because you either had the implicit goal of checking what’s new on Smashing Magazine, or had the explicit goal of finding information about “Navigation Design”.

After a couple of seconds of scanning this article, and maybe reading parts of the introduction, you may have started to ask yourself whether the information that you’re consuming at the moment is actually relevant to you—the user. Unfortunately (and as certain as death and taxes), if users cannot find the information they are looking for, chances are they will abandon their track, never to return.

Being the compassionate human being that I am, I’ll try to explain to you what this article is about, so you can make your choice either to continue reading, or not. This article is not about where you should place the menu of your website or mobile application, or about the number of options a menu should contain. It is also not about how you visually enforce the perceived affordance of a user-interface element, and why that is so important.

This article is about the tiniest of details that goes into creating the main centerpiece of your digital product—the construction of the elements of your navigation. This is the most important aid you can possibly give to your users as they are constantly seeking a reason to walk out on you.

Words, Words, Words

The first thing I do when I start to sketch out the information architecture of a digital product based on the requirements at hand is to blatantly label stuff. This is nothing unique—I simply need to formulate a label (most of the time accompanied by a short description) of all the possible information entities I discover to be able to reveal taxonomy and relationships between them. You might have a similar approach, using tools like post-its, whiteboards or even some digital application created for this purpose. This can be the inception of small problems that will constantly grow over time if we do not assess them correctly and in a timely manner: the labels are yours, and yours alone.

“Locate store” is your label of something that enables the users to find physical stores in a mobile application. “Commodities” is your label of a view that enlists all the goods your client wants to retail on an e-commerce site. “Start” is your label on the landing-page of a website. From a linguistic point-of-view, you can analyze the meaning of sentences, words and letters in different context for hours on end.

You can look at the structure in terms of morphology, syntax and phonology, or why not look at the meaning in terms of semantics and pragmatics. Fortunately, in most cases you do not have reach as far as asking a linguistic researcher about your labeling—people in your target audience will do just fine.

Navigation - Start
“This might be a good start!”

User-Testing Labels

So what is the easiest way of doing a sanity check of the way you express the information space? A really cheap and well-proven technique is Card Sorting. By using card sorting, you can transform your early taxonomy prognoses into folksonomy. Card sorting not only helps you to create an informed information architecture, it also enables you to get an insight to what keywords users relate to different activities in your product.

Another test is a Word Association game. Take all potential labelings of your navigation design and try them out on users asking them to “say the first thing that comes to mind” (in regard of what they believe to be found beneath such a navigation option—call it Think-Aloud Protocol with a twist. For example, you could say “Products” and the participant might respond with “Price, description, information, stock”. Market researchers have used this technique for decades to ensure that the right message is conveyed by their target audience when promoting products.

Two important questions that you need to find to an answer to at this stage are:

  1. Can the users relate the labels in the navigation design to their explicit goals of exploring your digital product?
  2. Are the meaning of the words metaphorically and visually separated enough not to be confused with each other?

Navigation - Change
“Ok, so lets change ‘Commodities’ to ‘Our Products’ and ‘Locate store’ to ‘Our Stores’.”

Removing Redundancy and Lowering the Reaction Time

In his master-piece “Don’t make me think”, Steve Krug writes, “When I look at most Web pages, I’m struck by the fact that most of the words I see are just taking up space, because no one is ever going to read them.” The more information we cram into our navigation, the harder it becomes for the users to quickly grasp the different options.

In 1935, the American psychologist John Ridley Stroop published “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions” along with the now renowned “Stroop effect”. Stroop had found that given the task of naming the color a word was written in, took longer and was more prone to error if the word itself was the name of a different color (e.g. the word “Blue” written in the color red).

What we can learn from Stroops discovery is that we have a hard time not reading words—even though we are given a task explicitly instructing us not to. Have a quick look at the navigation in your design and ask yourself can be removed without losing its meaning.

Navigation - Change
“It seems I really donʼt need the word ‘Our’ in front of ‘Products’ and ‘Stores’.”

What Did Product ‘A’ Do In Situation ‘B’?

If you still have not managed to convince your employer that early user testing will pay off in the long run, you should at least have the courtesy to look at the benchmark. In what way have others solved their navigation design? Just spending some time looking at what others have done will help you reach valuable conclusions. This can be really time efficient and a good way to increase product usability, since users will be able to use previously acquired knowledge by simply recognizing similar terminology used in other products.

Navigation - Contact
“It does seem like all other websites in our business area have their contact information beneath an option labeled ‘Contact’. I better change ‘Reach us’.”

Symbols, Pictograms & Icons

Symbols, pictograms and icons in digital user interfaces are long gone from luxury to necessity. They contribute to signature, personality, recognition, and abstraction in our visual language. Furthermore, studies have given evidence suggesting that user interfaces have less favorable perceptions of usability and usefulness when only relying on textual expressions.

Why did I willfully write “Symbols, pictograms and icons” and not just “Icons” as we all love to call them? Before I start to use only the word “Icon”, I want to make sure we are all on board as to the differences (without digging too deep into the perilous depths of semiotic science).

What Is What

A symbol is typically defined as an abstract representation that requires conventional knowledge amongst the users for them to fully understand their meaning. People in some cultures have learnt that the meaning of an octagon shaped sign in a tone of red communicates “Stop.” So a symbol earns meaning over time through conventional use.

A pictogram on the other hand is usually defined as simplified pictorial representation. Pictograms—or pictographs—are, as far as possible, self-explanatory and most often do not require any deep previous learnings to make any sense. You often see pictograms (and ideograms) on signposts and in environmental design since they are least contingent to produce cultural misunderstandings. For example, a sign with an arrow indicating a direction.

The definition of the word “Icon” can be a bit vague depending on the context of use, but I like to say that an icon can be a sign, symbol, picture or image that stands for or represents an object in its resemblance as an analogy for it.

Whether you should use a symbol, a pictogram, an icon or a combination of all three to help you communicate information, all depends on the situation you find yourself in. Disregarding what we use, there is some common knowledge and analysis we can use to make sure that the receivers (i.e. our users) actually understand what we are trying to convey with our design.

User-testing Icons

There is an abundance of ways to perform user testing and peer reviews of iconography. My two absolute favorites are what I have come to call “tag-that-icon” and “connect-the-dots” mainly because they are quick to perform and they give great insights into users’ spontaneous opinions (plus, they are actually quite fun to prepare and execute).

You can perform tag-that-icon in one of two ways:

  • Method 1:
    Give several icon suggestions to the participants and ask them to tag them with whatever comes to mind within three minutes.
  • Method 2:
    Randomly show the participants one icon at a time during a day and ask them to come up with tags for each icon during 20-30 seconds.

The latter has most probably proven itself to be really good and better for testing different metaphors for one specific icon when the number of participants are low.

When you have a set of icons and labels that are closing in on finalization, you can then do connect-the-dots testing. All you need to for the test are printouts with one section of all your suggested icons (in a random order) and one section with all your labels (in a different random order). Then, give the printouts to the participants and ask them to draw a line between an icon and the label they think it is coupled with.

Navigation - Test
“At least I can be certain that all my suggested icons works for the ‘Directions’ menu option.”

Removing Redundancy Re-Visited

Just as with labels, avoiding redundant information in the icons is just as important. This is of course quite a bold statement from a designer, but there are many cases out there in the wild that simply add so many details to an icon that it starts to disrupt the users’ ability to interpret and differentiate them. This becomes most evident when you have common shapes in the icons that affects their intergroup saliency (i.e. the quality by which an object stands out relative to its neighbors).

Navigation - Circles
“Do I really need the circles? If I look at them briefly or squint, they all look the same—I better change that!”

Picture/Word Interference

Given a set of lined drawings of simple objects coupled with distractor words, humans show an clear effect of reduced response time in naming the drawn object. This is also known as Picture Word Interference (PWI). What PWI can be interpreted to mean is that when an icon is paired with a label in a way that the user does not connect together, it becomes much harder for them to work out the intended meaning.

For humans, a label with “Banana” coupled with a cucumber icon would be unclear as to what it is. What makes matters even worse for users in a navigation context is; “What should I really follow—your icons or your labels?” Avoid creating distracting stimulus through semantic interference between your icons and labels.

Looking at contextual consistency and standards in regards to iconography can really help you. There are some really great resources out there for finding inspiration, but you can also use them as a source of knowledge in finding trends and standards in iconography. If 9 out of 10 result with the term “Favorites” on Iconfinder.net that contain a star or a heart-shaped icon, then that may probably be a good starting point for your “Favorites” icon as well.

Navigation - Icons
“I have no idea what I was thinking. I think I have to throw away all of these, restart all over again and do some more user testing.”

Six Navigation Design Guidelines

After reading all of the above, you should have a good foundation to take your navigation design to the next level and place it in its intended environment along with the rest of the design and perform controlled user testing and see how they interplay. Here are 6 navigation design guidelines for you to consider as you embark the journey of designing the navigation of your upcoming project:

  • Clarity:
    Make sure that your navigation has a linguistic and semantic clarity that communicates to your users in an direct, efficient and adequate way.
  • Simplicity:
    Avoid using technical labels and icons that no one recognizes. Speak the language of the user rather than using complex terms and form factors unfamiliar to your users.
  • Saliency:
    Avoid having redundant and repetitive terms and shapes in your labels and icons that affects their intergroup saliency. This can easily influence your users ability to differentiate and interpret them as a whole.
  • Context:
    Look at the consistency and standards for labels and iconography used in the context that you are designing for. It is more efficient for your users to recognize rather than needing to interpret information that is unfamiliar to them.
  • Correlation:
    Avoid creating distracting stimulus through semantic interference between labels and icons. Reduce uncertainty and make sure that they clearly communicates one message as they are put together.
  • Tonality:
    Ensure that the tonality of the message is still consistent at the end of the design work. Colors, typography and form heavily affect the way your audience conceive and interprets the information.

Of course, not all types of navigation design contain both labels and icons. Some just use icons and some just use labels. you have roughly three cues for guiding your users: One factual (the label), one helpful (the icon) and then—the sometimes subliminal—character (color, typography and form). They do not always need to co-exist since different context requires different solutions. But your message can easily become blurred the fewer of them you use.

So ask yourself this: Can I afford to be vague in the way I communicate and help my users to reach their goal? (Hint: No!)

(il)

© Petter Silfver for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Since Elliot Jay Stocks so poignantly told us to destroy the Web 2.0 look, we’ve witnessed a de-shinification of the Web, with fewer glass buttons, beveled edges, reflections, special-offer badges, vulgar gradients with vibrant colors and diagonal background patterns. The transformation has been welcomed with relief by all but the most hardened gloss-enthusiasts. However, design and aesthetics work in mysterious ways, and no sooner does one Web design trend leave us before another appears.

The Symptoms

So, exactly what is this new epidemic? Well, let’s start by looking at some of the most common symptoms, many of which you have probably noticed. They are easy to spot, and as with many other conditions, they often appear in conjunction with each other. (This is why the contagion spreads so effectively — seemingly independent symptoms grow more infectious when combined with others.)

Please note: The following list appears in no particular order and does not indicate the level of infectiousness or severity, which seem to be stable across the board. Note also that the instances given often exhibit more than one symptom, making classification more difficult.

Stitching

Stitching appears gradually, often as a result of the designer playing too long with borders and lines, particularly of the dotted variety. A full-blown stitch is evidenced by the subtle shift from dots to dashes, augmented by drop shadows and other effects to give the impression of 3-D. The purpose of the stitch is somewhat elusive, but it seems to thrive in environments where certain textures are applied, most notably fabric and leather, but also generic graininess.

While determining the exact cause of stitching is difficult, scientists are certain that it belongs to a larger strain of the infection known as “Skeuomorphism.”

Collage of interfaces with stiches
Clockwise from top: The Journal of Min Tran; Dribbble shot by Mason Yarnell; Dribbble shot by Liam McCabe.

Zigzag Borders

Borders are common elements of Web design, and as such, they are difficult to avoid; luckily, they are usually harmless and often have a positive effect on the layout. However, for some reason, a particular type of border — the zigzag — has grown exponentially in the last few years and is now threatening the natural habitat of more benign border specimens. Exactly why this is happening is unknown, although some researchers claim that the pattern created by the repeating opposing diagonals has such an alluring effect on designers and clients alike that straight borders have somewhat lost their appeal.

Collage of interfaces with zigzag borders
Clockwise from top: You Know Who; Dribbble shot by Christopher Paul; Dribbble shot by Meagan Fisher.

Forked Ribbons

Like borders, ribbons have long existed in various forms. What we’re seeing now, though, is the near dominance of a particular style of ribbon, easily identified by a fork at one or both ends. Some ribbons are also folded over twice, creating a faux effect of depth and reinforcing the diagonal lines in the fork. Whether the fork is related to the zigzag effect is unknown, but it seems that diagonal lines are the key to the ribbon’s survival, along with its ability to evoke memories of times past.

The danger of the ribbon lies mainly in its ability to exist independent of other symptoms (although it thrives in the company of vintage typography), meaning that it could date your design long after the epidemic ends, even if the symptom itself appears dormant. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the “special offers” badge of the Web 2.0 look.

Collage of interfaces using forked ribbons
Clockwise from top: Ryan O’Rourke; Cabedge; Jake Przespo

Textures

In the age of all things digital, it’s a conundrum that textures should dominate our illustrations and backgrounds, and yet they are indeed one of the most common symptoms on our list. Manifested by subtle grain, dirt and scratches, paper-esque surfaces and fold marks, they seem to embrace the spirit of the handmade. But ironically, they’re often the complete opposite: computer-generated effects or Photoshop brushes.

Possible explanations for the widespread use of textures include a yearning for tactile media (especially considering the emergence of touchscreens) or envy towards print designers, who have a much richer palette of materials and surfaces to play with.

Collage of interfaces with textures
Clockwise from top: Gerren Lamson; Zero; Amazee Labs.

Letterpress

A Smashing Magazine article from 2009 outlined letterpress as one of the emerging trends of the year and, boy, were they right. The simple effect has gone from strength to strength and is now a household technique for sprucing up typography online. A relatively harmless symptom, letterpress might also have infected designers through other digital interfaces, such as operating systems and games, as early as the turn of the millennium, indicating a very long incubation period.

Scientists disagree over whether the incubation period is due to the infection needing a critical mass before emerging from dormancy or whether the infection simply needed the right conditions — CSS3 text shadows, to be specific — for symptoms to appear.

Collage of interfaces with letterpress
Clockwise from top: Billy Tamplin; Dribbble shot by Phillip Marriot; Remix.

19th-Century Illustration

After being released from copyright quarantine, this symptom, favoured by fashionable ladies and gentlemen, was nearly eliminated during the last epidemic due to its inability to cope well with gloss and shine. But in this new vintage-friendly environment, it has found its way back into our visual repertoire. For better or worse, the 19th-century illustration will most likely hang around for a while, emerging stronger from time to time like a flu virus.

Collage of interfaces with 19th century illustrations
Clockwise from top: Killian Muster; Dribbble shot by Trent Walton; Simon Collison.

Muted Tones

After a long period of vibrancy, the average online color scheme seems to have been somewhat desaturated across the board. We’re seeing widespread use of browns, earthy greens and mustards and a general leaning towards “impure” colors, although this is generally thought to be a minor symptom of the epidemic. Some scientists will even argue that muted tones are, in fact, not a symptom themselves but rather a side effect of other symptoms, in the way that sweating is a natural response to a fever.

Collage of interfaces with muted colours
Clockwise from top: Dribble shot by Dave Ruiz; Cognition; Web Standards Sherpa.

Justified or Centered Typography (JCT)

This symptom is nothing new; in fact, it was pretty much the standard for the first 500 years of typography, until Tschichold and the New Typography showed up and quarantined it on the grounds that it was old fashioned, difficult to read and inefficient. Although we’re not sure at this point, this link with history might be what has made JCT reappear so vigorously under the umbrella of vintage symptoms. We do know that overall reading habits among humans have not changed in recent years (most Westerners still read left to right), and there is no plausible argument that JCT improves legibility; so, whatever the cause of the outbreak, we know it’s rooted in subjective emotion rather than rational thought.

Collage of interfaces with justified or centered typography
Clockwise from top: Grip Limited; Tommy; Visual Republic.

Circular Script Logotypes (SCL)

A circle is a basic shape and, in isolation, is no more a symptom of an epidemic than a triangle. However, if you repeat enough triangles in a line, you get a zigzag. Similarly, if you include a circle in your logotype, you end up with a circular logotype. And if that logotype happens to be set in a script font, you’ll get — that’s right! — a Circular Script Logotype (SCL). Not that SCL is lethal or anything, but it is relatively contagious and can be highly detrimental when enough hosts have been infected.

Collage of circular script logos
Clockwise from top: Trent Walton; Mercy; Dribbble shot by James Seymor-Lock.

Skeuomorphic Features

Skeuomorphic features — i.e. ornamentation or design features on an object that are copied from the object’s form in another medium — are rife, particularly in mobile applications, and this symptom is one of the defining indicators of the epidemic. Possibly a mutant cancerous strain of mildly skeuomorphic features such as stitches and letterpress, it can sometimes grow to overtake an entire interface, bloating it with redundant visual references to physical objects and materials. However, due to the labor involved in preparing the graphics and the heavy reliance on image resources, some researchers argue that we’re unlikely to see full-blown skeuomorphism dominate our desktop browsers any time soon.

In fact, most scientists regard the phenomenon as a curiosity and predict that some virtual metaphors for physical attributes will prove useful (as tabs have) and some won’t. Interestingly, while Apple has embraced and continues to pioneer the technique, Google seems to some degree to resist the urge to mimic physical reality in its interfaces. Perhaps it has developed a vaccine?

Collage of skeuomorphic interface elements
Clockwise from top: iBooks; Dribbble shot by skorky; Dribbble shot by Igor Shkarin.

How Did It Start?

Pinpointing the epicentre of a design epidemic (read: trend) is always hard, especially given the myriad of symptoms and the contagious nature of the Internet. Identifying Patient Zero is virtually impossible, and, to be pragmatic, doing so would serve no purpose. What we can say is that we’re most likely experiencing a reaction to the Web 2.0 aesthetic — a craving for textured surfaces and retro imagery, something tactile and natural-looking, as an antidote to the shiny impersonality of the past — and that this is both healthy and necessary for pushing the design industry forward. Whatever the sources of trends, they often start with applying smart design to solve a particular problem or, indeed, to counter another trend.

Let’s say that everyone used sans-serif fonts, strong contrasting colors and crisp white backgrounds as a rule. Imagine, in this environment, if a designer went against the grain by using Clarendon or some other warm serif to infuse some personality into their website (which happens to be selling “Grandma’s homemade jam”), and then complemented the personality of their font selection with earthy colors and some brown paper textures. The result would inevitably stand out from the crowd: beautiful, emotional, different.

Incidentally, this aesthetic inspires another designer who happens to be working on a website with a global audience, exposing the new approach to a whole generation of designers who, in turn, apply it at will (often without considering the context). A trend is born. And yet, paradoxically, the potency of the epidemic is under constant threat. The more people get infected, the less differentiated the symptoms appear; and once the infection reaches a critical mass, the symptoms begin to work against themselves. Infusing personality into your visuals is meaningless if everything looks the same.

Is It Dangerous?

In today’s open collaborative world, avoiding an epidemic of this scale is difficult; so, in a sense, everyone is affected to some degree. The symptoms listed above are not restricted to small-scale up-and-coming designers, but affect even the elite of the design community. This means that even though some symptoms are harmless — like a light fever or a runny nose from a flu infection — the viral onslaught of trendy features puts constant pressure on our immune system to protect our creativity, and staying vigilant is important to maintaining a healthy dose of original thought.

If you’re displaying a handful of symptoms, it’s really nothing to worry about — catching a cold that’s going around is not hard, but recovering from it is also easy. If, on the other hand, you display most or all of these symptoms, then there’s reason to be extra cautious in your next project. Using all of a trend’s identifiers as cornerstones of your work might make your portfolio look oh so contemporary, but in a way this practice is no different than passing off the work of your favorite designer, artist or musician as your own. Granted, symptoms with no identifiable origin are not protected by copyright, but that’s beside the point — you should be worried not about legal implications, but rather about the creative integrity of your output. The danger is not only that your work will be seen as a passing fad, a popular aesthetic that will look dated in a couple of years’ time, but that you will lose the respect of your peers when they catch on to you.

While nothing is original, we all need to respect the difference between inspiration and imitation. As Jean Luc Goddard said, “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” And if you don’t take them anywhere, what’s the point?

Worse perhaps than the loss of respect and integrity is the effect that epidemics have on clients and, in turn, the design community as a whole. The more designers are infected and the more symptoms they show of the same disease, the less your clients will believe that you’re capable of solving real business problems. Eventually they’ll exclude you from the early stages (where all the real design thinking takes place) and employ your services merely to skin their wireframes, in the process reducing the whole profession to an army of decorators.

What Can You Do About It?

Now that we’ve seen how detrimental trends can be, how does one avoid them? Is this even possible? Trends, by definition, are popular, and arguably nothing is wrong with tapping into that popularity to increase the exposure of your product. Convincing a client to accept a design that is off-trend can be difficult, and you run the risk of alienating the audience by going completely against the trend just for the sake of it. On the other hand, blindly following others is never a good idea, and you could severely stifle your creativity, integrity and client base by accepting what’s “in” as a given and copying it without purpose.

So, what’s the right thing to do? Trends are intrinsic to our society, whether in politics, culture, design or even religion, and as the consensus sways in one direction or another, so will your opinion (or “taste”) — to some degree, at least. Alas, avoiding trends altogether seems an impossible and pointless undertaking, but that doesn’t leave you powerless. In fact, you can do a host of things to combat the lemming syndrome.

Ask Why

Always question your design decisions (and make sure they are your own), and keep asking the magic question, Why am I doing this? Am I doing this simply because it looks cool or because it suits the message I’m trying to communicate? Why am I using this ribbon? Does the zigzag border add to or detract from the personality of the website? What does this leather texture have to do with the finance app I’m designing? The moment you stop asking questions, you fall prey to the epidemic.

Put Some Effort In

In his article “The Dying Art of Design” Francisco Inchauste asserts, among other things, that inspiration requires perspiration, and I couldn’t agree more. I was lucky enough to attend a college where no computers were allowed in the first year, which meant we had to use physical tools to express ourselves — tracing letters by hand, drawing our photography, stocking up on Pantone pens (remember those?), abusing the copier. Not only did our creativity grow, but we learned an important lesson: good design is not effortless, and the best results come from your own experimentation.

Try Something Different

Remember that being distinctive is, for the most part, a good thing. Most great artists in history, regardless of their field, stood out enough for the world to take notice. Who painted melting clocks before Dali? Who would have thought to build a huge wall on stage before Pink Floyd? While mimicking what’s popular might be comfortable and might secure short-term victories, long-term success requires a unique, memorable approach.

Diversify Your Inspiration

In order to remain creative, staying curious and looking for inspiration all around you is crucial, not just in the latest showcase of fashionable WordPress themes. Read a book, perform a scientific experiment, listen to music you haven’t heard before, walk through a new neighborhood, or experience a foreign culture. Widening your horizons beyond your favorite websites and finding more than one source of inspiration is critical to making original, lasting designs.

Focus on the Basics

Finally and most importantly, study the underlying principles of design in order to understand what is and isn’t defined by style. Grid systems, contrast, legibility, juxtaposing imagery, well-written copy — these are the key components of successful design, yet they are entirely independent of fads and styles.

At the end of the day, design is not so much about style as it is about communication, and all style, imagery and typography should be inspired by the content, functionality and personality of the product, not by what simply looks cool at the moment.

No matter how cool something looks, it too shall pass.

(al) (fi)

© Espen Brunborg for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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Cognitive dimensions or Cognitive dimensions of notations[1][2] are design principles for notations, user interfaces and programming language design, described by researchers Thomas R.G. Green and Marian Petre. The dimensions can be used to evaluate the usability of an existing information artifact, or as heuristics to guide the design of a new one.

Cognitive dimensions are designed to provide a lightweight approach to analysis of a design quality, rather than an in-depth, detailed description. They provide a common vocabulary for discussing many factors in notation, UI or programming language design. Also, cognitive dimensions help in exploring the space of possible designs through design maneuvers, changes intended to improve the design along one dimension.

The authors identify four main user activities with interactive artifacts: incrementation [creation], transcription, modification and exploratory design. Each activity is best served by a different trade-off in the usability on each dimension. For example, a high viscosity (resistance to change) is harmful for modification and exploration activities, but less severe for the one-off tasks performed in transcription and incrementation.

Design maneuvers

A design maneuver is a change in the notation design to alter its position within a particular dimension. Dimensions are created to be pairwise independent, so that the design can be altered in one dimension while keeping a second one constant.

But this usually results in a trade-off between dimensions. A modification increasing the usability of the notation in one dimension (while keeping a second one constant) will typically reduce its usability in a third dimension. This reflects an assumption in the framework that there is no perfect interface and that trade-offs are a fundamental part of usability design.

An example of a design maneuver is reducing the viscosity of a notation by adding abstraction mechanisms. Stylesheets are an example of a notation where this trade-off is made: a style sheet is an abstraction that represent the common styling attributes of items in a document. Changing the style sheet will modify all items at once, eliminating the repetition viscosity present in the need to change the style of each individual item.

List of the cognitive dimensions

Thomas Green originally defined 14 cognitive dimensions:

Abstraction gradient 
What are the minimum and maximum levels of abstraction exposed by the notation? Can details be encapsulated?
Closeness of mapping 
How closely does the notation correspond to the problem world?
Consistency 
After part of the notation has been learned, how much of the rest can be successfully guessed?
Diffuseness / terseness 
How many symbols or how much space does the notation require to produce a certain result or express a meaning?
Error-proneness 
To what extent does the notation influence the likelihood of the user making a mistake?
Hard mental operations 
How much hard mental processing lies at the notational level, rather than at the semantic level? Are there places where the user needs to resort to fingers or penciled annotation to keep track of what’s happening?
Hidden dependencies 
Are dependencies between entities in the notation visible or hidden? Is every dependency indicated in both directions? Does a change in one area of the notation lead to unexpected side-effects?
Juxtaposability 
Can different parts of the notation be compared side-by-side at the same time?
Premature commitment 
Are there strong constraints on the order with which tasks must be accomplished?
Are there decisions that must be made before all the necessary information is available? Can those decisions be reversed or corrected later?
Progressive evaluation 
How easy is it to evaluate and obtain feedback on an incomplete solution?
Role-expressiveness 
How obvious is the role of each component of the notation in the solution as a whole?
Secondary notation and escape from formalism 
Can the notation carry extra information by means not related to syntax, such as layout, color, or other cues?
Viscosity
Are there in the notation any inherent barriers to change? How much effort is required to make a change to a program expressed in the notation?
This dimension can be further classified into the following types:[3]

  • 'Knock-On viscosity' : a change in the code violates internal constraints in the program, whose resolution may violate further internal constraints.
  • 'Repetition viscosity' : a single action within the user’s conceptual model requires many, repetitive device actions.
  • 'Scope viscosity' : a change in the size of the input data set requires changes to the program structure itself.
Visibility 
How readily can required parts of the notation be identified, accessed and made visible?

Other dimensions

In addition to the above, new dimensions are sometimes proposed in the HCI research field,[4] with different levels of adoption and refinement. These candidate dimensions are based on research outside the Cognitive Dimensions framework, and are adapted to it as a way to summarize that research into the hands-on approach encouraged by it.

Some of these candidate dimensions include Creative ambiguity (does the notation encourage interpreting several meanings of the same element?), Indexing (are there elements to guide finding a specific part?), Synopsis ("gestalt view" of the whole annotated structure) or Unevenness (some creation paths are easier than others, which bias the expressed ideas in a developed artifact).

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This article is about usability evaluation. For application of heuristics to antivirus software, see Heuristic analysis.

A heuristic evaluation is a discount usability inspection method for computer software that helps to identify usability problems in the user interface (UI) design. It specifically involves evaluators examining the interface and judging its compliance with recognized usability principles (the "heuristics"). These evaluation methods are now widely taught and practiced in the New Media sector, where UIs are often designed in a short space of time on a budget that may restrict the amount of money available to provide for other types of interface testing.

Introduction

The main goal of heuristic evaluations is to identify any problems associated with the design of user interfaces. Usability consultant Jakob Nielsen developed this method on the basis of several years of experience in teaching and consulting about usability engineering.

Heuristic evaluations are one of the most informal methods[1] of usability inspection in the field of human-computer interaction. There are many sets of usability design heuristics; they are not mutually exclusive and cover many of the same aspects of user interface design.

Quite often, usability problems that are discovered are categorized—often on a numeric scale—according to their estimated impact on user performance or acceptance. Often the heuristic evaluation is conducted in the context of use cases (typical user tasks), to provide feedback to the developers on the extent to which the interface is likely to be compatible with the intended users’ needs and preferences.

The simplicity of heuristic evaluation is beneficial at the early stages of design. This usability inspection method does not require user testing which can be burdensome due to the need for users, a place to test them and a payment for their time. Heuristic evaluation requires only one expert, reducing the complexity and expended time for evaluation. Most heuristic evaluations can be accomplished in a matter of days. The time required varies with the size of the artifact, its complexity, the purpose of the review, the nature of the usability issues that arise in the review, and the competence of the reviewers. Using heuristic evaluation prior to user testing will reduce the number and severity of design errors discovered by users. Although heuristic evaluation can uncover many major usability issues in a short period of time, a criticism that is often leveled is that results are highly influenced by the knowledge of the expert reviewer(s). This “one-sided” review repeatedly has different results than performance testing, each type of testing uncovering a different set of problems.

Nielsen's heuristics

Jakob Nielsen's heuristics are probably the most-used usability heuristics for user interface design. Nielsen developed the heuristics based on work together with Rolf Molich in 1990.[1][2] The final set of heuristics that are still used today were released by Nielsen in 1994.[3] The heuristics as published in Nielsen's book Usability Engineering are as follows[4]

Visibility of system status:
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

Match between system and the real world:
The system should speak the user's language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

User control and freedom:
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.

Consistency and standards:
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

Error prevention:
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Recognition rather than recall:
Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

Flexibility and efficiency of use:
Accelerators—unseen by the novice user—may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Aesthetic and minimalist design:
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors:
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Help and documentation:
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Gerhardt-Powals’ cognitive engineering principles

Although Nielsen is considered the expert and field leader in heuristics, Jill Gerhardt-Powals also developed a set of cognitive principles for enhancing computer performance.[5] These heuristics, or principles, are similar to Nielsen’s heuristics but take a more holistic approach to evaluation. Gerhardt Powals’ principles[6] are listed below.

  • Automate unwanted workload:
    • free cognitive resources for high-level tasks.
    • eliminate mental calculations, estimations, comparisons, and unnecessary thinking.
  • Reduce uncertainty:
    • display data in a manner that is clear and obvious.
  • Fuse data:
    • reduce cognitive load by bringing together lower level data into a higher-level summation.
  • Present new information with meaningful aids to interpretation:
    • use a familiar framework, making it easier to absorb.
    • use everyday terms, metaphors, etc.
  • Use names that are conceptually related to function:
    • Context-dependent.
    • Attempt to improve recall and recognition.
    • Group data in consistently meaningful ways to decrease search time.
  • Limit data-driven tasks:
    • Reduce the time spent assimilating raw data.
    • Make appropriate use of color and graphics.
  • Include in the displays only that information needed by the user at a given time.
  • Provide multiple coding of data when appropriate.
  • Practice judicious redundancy.

Weinschenk and Barker classification

Susan Weinschenk and Dean Barker created a categorization of heuristics and guidelines by several major providers into the following twenty types:[7]

1. User Control: heuristics that check whether the user has enough control of the interface.

2. Human Limitations: the design takes into account human limitations, cognitive and sensorial, to avoid overloading them.

3. Modal Integrity: the interface uses the most suitable modality for each task: auditory, visual, or motor/kinesthetic.

4. Accommodation: the design is adequate to fulfill the needs and behaviour of each targeted user group.

5. Linguistic Clarity: the language used to communicate is efficient and adequate to the audience.

6. Aesthetic Integrity: the design is visually attractive and tailored to appeal to the target population.

7. Simplicity: the design will not use unnecessary complexity.

8. Predictability: users will be able to form a mental model of how the system will behave in response to actions.

9. Interpretation: there are codified rules that try to guess the user intentions and anticipate the actions needed.

10. Accuracy: There are no errors, i.e. the result of user actions correspond to their goals.

11. Technical Clarity: the concepts represented in the interface have the highest possible correspondence to the domain they are modeling.

12. Flexibility: the design can be adjusted to the needs and behaviour of each particular user.

13. Fulfillment: the user experience is adequate.

14. Cultural Propriety: user's cultural and social expectations are met.

15. Suitable Tempo: the pace at which users works with the system is adequate.

16. Consistency: different parts of the system have the same style, so that there are no different ways to represent the same information or behavior.

17. User Support: the design will support learning and provide the required assistance to usage.

18. Precision: the steps and results of a task will be what the user wants.

19. Forgiveness: the user will be able to recover to an adequate state after an error.

20.Responsiveness: the interface provides enough feedback information about the system status and the task completion.

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