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Evan Jacobs

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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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Web design is a craft that is constantly evolving and yet also sometimes sabotaged. The moment a design is released, a new version is born. In the beginning, like a baby, it seems vulnerable and weak, but in time it grows up and becomes self-sufficient. Redesigning a website for its own sake doesn’t prove anything; quite the contrary, it reveals a lack of effectiveness on the part of the designer.

Product design is a craft in which new versions come to life with increasing difficulty. We can learn a thing or two from it when designing for the Web. First, let’s look at some examples.

  • How many designs for the iPhone has Apple released since 2007? The answer is one, with only two tweaks. How many Motorola phones for Android can you find on the market right now? Thirteen, not counting the old models.
  • How many designs of the Mini Cooper do you know of? Just that one brave design that has continually evolved since 1959! How many Toyota Corolla models can you count since 1967? Nineteen.
  • Zippo lighters have retained their appeal since 1933!

Forget marketing, technical specs and hardware. Products such as the iPhone, the Mini Cooper and the Zippo lighter have become wildly successful because of their outstanding design. Such massive success springs from three sources: the designer, sticking to the scope and iteration. These aspects can help us in Web design, too. In this article, we’ll look at what we can learn from successful product design.

The Ability Of The Designer

Zippo
Zippo lighters have remained elegant and reliable through time. (Image: cell105)

Do you trust your instincts? You should! Because when you see a design, you judge its attractiveness in less than a second. We all know what we like, even if we can’t always explain it. It’s about aesthetics. Aesthetics is a child of harmony, and harmony is not magic. It can be achieved when the designer embraces certain principles, such as balance, contrast and dominance. Becoming a fantastic designer, though, requires more than pure technique. It requires that you see the context and make decisions accordingly.

A couple of comments by Karim Rashid, featured in the documentary Objectified are fascinating and revealing. First, Rashid talks about a stereo that he loved as a teenager:

It was a white kind of bubble stereo with these two bubble white speakers. And it was probably very inexpensive — it was a real democratic product, and it had a turntable and the whole thing built in. It was a beautiful thing. Looking back and thinking why it was a beautiful thing, it was very self-contained, and the message was very strong and very simple, and at the same time it was very human. There was a quality about it.

See? A democratic, self-contained, human, simple thing with a strong message.

Here is Rashid again on thinking outside the box:

Why do we feel like we need to keep revisiting the archetype over and over and over again? Digital cameras, for example, [whose] format, proportion, the fact that they’re a horizontal rectangle, are a model of the original silver film camera. So, in turn it’s the film that defined the shape of the camera. All of a sudden, our digital cameras have no film. So, why on earth do we have the same shape we have?

How is it that Karim Rashid extracts such clear conclusions? What hinders us from doing the same? And not just in theory. Let’s do it for real. The next time you are about to make an important design decision, stop and ask yourself, What would I do if I were Dieter Rams or Jonathan Ive or — since you’re a Web designer — Douglas Bowman?

Asking this kind of question briefly expands our skills of judgment and makes us ultra-alert. Doing it regularly can drastically heighten our perception, values and actions as designers. Is this enough? No, but it is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with design.

And the Zippo lighter? It looks both friendly and solid, a comrade that needs your attention in order to keep working. Ιt has its own scent; it’s windproof; and above all, the sound when you flip open the lid is distinctive. And if you’ve owned a Zippo for a while, you must have noticed that it learns how you touch it when you light it.

All together, a Zippo is a product of craft — just as our designs for the Web should be. This is as simple and as hard as it sounds.

Focusing On The Scope

Mini Cooper
Once a Mini, always a Mini. (Image: Shelley Gibb)

Let’s go back to cars for a moment.

As noted earlier, the Corolla models of Toyota are nothing spectacular in their design. But what is a Toyota car known for? It’s a reliable, relatively cheap family car. Is Toyota successful? You bet!

What’s a Mini Cooper? It’s a beautiful small car that appeals mostly to young people. Is it successful? Of course, it is.

Cars are complicated machines. They do more than transport people. If a Toyota were as fancy as the Mini, then it wouldn’t be affordable. If a Mini were reimagined as a family car, then it would lose some of its charm. Oversimplification? Perhaps. But you get the point.

There’s a scope behind each product. As long as the scope is met, the product will be effective and remain on the market. The same happens in Web design.

Consider a metaphor. The closest physical product to a website is a periodical. Take Wired magazine (the physical magazine, that is, not the website or iPad app, which have slightly different characteristics). I’ve been reading it for more than 10 years, and if I had to describe it succinctly I would say “forward-thinking and cool.” Wired reinvents itself every once in a while and persistently fine-tunes the design, but the scope remains the same. Excellent design and illustration, superbly written long articles and a ton of clever short ones serve the main purpose: to introduce its audience to a new era. Audiences change over time, and new eras dawn, but Wired remains. Why? Because it has always respected a higher purpose. Sure, many magazines are well designed, and enough of them have great content. But you rarely find one with a unique identity, an identity that can’t be easily copied.

Your probably less complicated Web project needs to perform similarly. You must define the objectives. The design must promote them. Good content should prevail. You know the rules; make sure to follow them. Moreover, know where to stop. If it’s a new idea with vague potential or yet another feature or a last-minute change, just say no.

Websites are like breathing organisms. They evolve; new features are added and others are dropped, but they never stay still. Or at least they shouldn’t. Thus, while a promising fresh idea shouldn’t be discarded, it should be held until the next major update.

Big, ambitious, well-funded websites often seem to lose focus. Their owners try to satisfy all requests. This is a recipe for disaster, because it creates unnecessary friction between everyone working on the project. It dulls the impact of the best features and, above all, the scope. Tension fills the air. The worst days are ahead.

Such practices have led to the infamous concept of design by committee. Simply put, if everything is important, then nothing is important.

Iterations

Apple Store, London
Is what Apple does magic? I think not. (Image: Jon Rawlinson)

Let’s talk Apple. Apple’s iconic design and its founder’s exceptional way of thinking have been overanalyzed lately.

No matter how many words we write about Steve Jobs, we still seem to explain away his success as being a kind of magic. But that’s plainly wrong. People are inclined towards the least complicated, least demanding explanation to a conundrum. It is written in our genes. We think more deeply only when there’s a serious reason to do so. (But I digress.)

So, let’s do away with what Adrian Slywotzky refers to as the “Eureka” myth:

Apple would love us to believe it’s all “Eureka.” But Apple produces 10 pixel-perfect prototypes for each feature. They compete — and are winnowed down to three, then one, resulting in a highly evolved winner. Because Apple knows the more you compete inside, the less you’ll have to compete outside.

If Apple iterates so painstakingly, why shouldn’t we?

Inspiration for a great design roars when it comes. And implementing the idea brings a rush of enthusiasm. And our eyes sparkle when we anticipate outstanding success. And yet it rarely works that way.

Why? Because ideas and their execution are seldom free from flaws. You know the old cliché, “There is always room for improvement.” It still stands. There is always room for improvement, and accepting that your idea is the one that needs improvement takes courage. Demolishing your next great product in order to make it better takes nerve and self-discipline. But it also makes you wiser, and can dramatically improve the product.

Iterating extensively and in detail doesn’t depend on a certain type of project or a certain budget. It’s a tricky thing, because it forces us to confront our imperfect nature as human beings. To embrace our inner flaws is to walk the road of truth and maturity, silently, without making a show that we’re doing it.

This weight might feel a little heavy on our shoulders. If it does or if you dismiss Apple’s success, consider what Oliver Reichenstein, head of Information Architects, says about the iterations that his team makes in each development phase (this quote appears in the comments section):

It’s often almost impossible to explain easily why things look like they do, because we went through so many iterations, that it feels like explaining a chess game with all the ifs and whats.

The same goes when designing for the Web: there’s no excuse to avoid making as many iterations as we can.

Final Thoughts

When successful designers are asked where they seek inspiration, they often say something like, “Everywhere — I go for a walk and observe the world around me.” And it’s true. But what they don’t often say is that they also know what to observe and how to ignore the noise of the world.

There are many beautiful well-functioning products around us. Each has a story to tell, a story that is strongly attached to its design, its scope and the iterations that the designer took before releasing it to the world.

Take the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Its design is at least impressive, and its scope is clear (to suck dirt better than other cleaners and, thus, to make your environment healthier), and it took hundreds of prototypes for the designers to figure out how to make it work without a bag. The first Dyson vacuum cleaner was sold in 1970! To explore further and find similar products, just search for our three key words: “design scope iteration.”

Creating a lasting website is no easier than creating a lasting vacuum cleaner. But neither is it impossible. It requires a holistic approach, focus and maturity, just like the products we’ve looked at here. Not to mention, it requires a paradigm shift.

(al)

© Yiannis Konstantakopoulos for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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