Web Design News 09 /03/10

Paul Boag

This week: Giving and receiving design feedback, are you bored of your sites design, CSS typography and helping users when they are too busy to read.

Helping users when they are too busy to read

As is pointed out this week on 52weeksofux the days of reading help manuals are over. In a world of twitter, facebook, mobile phones and email we just don’t have the opportunity to spend long lengths of time learning a new system or website.

As the post suggests…

We don’t have two hours to read a help manual. We probably don’t even have 20 minutes. Instead, we learn a bit here and a slice there, all adding up to real learning but not in contiguous time.

In short we learn as we go along.

This should have a considerable impact on how we design our websites. We can no longer except users to consult a help section or contact you for advice when they cannot use your website. According to 52weeksofux we need to change our approach:

In its place is embedded support: directions, tips, cues, and other signposts that can nudge us back on track. One example of this type of inline hand-holding is microcopy: the small, useful copy that helps answer contextual questions and defray concerns.

An example of Microcopy

So what about your site? Do you provide enough support to help users learn about your site as they go? Are your error messages and instructional text clear and descriptive? Perhaps it is time to revisit your website copy.

Critiquing design

One of the most controversial areas of the web design process is design sign off. Everybody (including clients) has strong opinions about what they like or dislike. Designers on the other hand are often overly sensitive about their work and so this can lead to a lot of friction.

Being able to give and receive criticism as well as discuss design in a constructive manner is a skill both designers and website owners require.

Fortunately an article on Smashing Magazine called “Web Design Criticism: A How-To” guides us through the process.

The article explores the subject of design critiques before suggesting 8 pieces of advice on how best to give feedback. It’s a valuable article and well worth reading.

In my opinion design critiques are extremely important, especially in teams of designers. It is always good to have another designer looking at your work and provide feedback. As a designer it is easy to become too close to your project. A fresh perspective is always valuable.

If you are a freelancer and don’t have anybody to discuss your designs with why not try the website critique section of the boagworld forum.

design critique

Image source

Are old designs boring users?

Talking of design, I am constantly amazed how many websites still go through regular redesigns that involve major overhauls of the look and feel.

I can understand designers desire to do something new and fresh. However, even website owners seem to want something new.

The problem is that although you might get a kick out of doing a major overhaul of your sites look and feel, users often do not respond so well.

In Gerry McGovern’s latest post he points to Facebook as an example of what can happen when you redesign:

“After a redesign in March, a Facebook poll revealed that 94 percent of users didn’t like the changes,” Caitlin McDevitt wrote for Slate in February 2010. “When Facebook introduced its News Feed in 2006, students organized to protest against it.”

In fact most users like familiarity and dislike change. This is because users do not want to be excited by a new design, they just want to get things done. Gerry goes on to say…

The vast majority of them are at your website to get something done as quickly as possible. The only people who are likely to complain about your website design are website designers. Craigslist is constantly being told that its site is boring. “But the people I hear it from,” Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Wired in 2009, “are invariably working for firms that want the job of redoing the site.”

Sites should evolve over time rather than go through sporadic redesign.

Does this mean our websites should never change. Absolutely not. However, we need to examine our motives for change and when we do change it should be an evolution not a revolution.

CSS typography

There has been a lot of excitement recently about services such as Typekit and Fontdeck that allow designers the ability to use custom fonts on their websites.

However, custom fonts are only the beginning of what can be done with typography using CSS. Unfortunately it can be hard to keep up with all the latest innovations so it is good to see a post by Yaili about CSS typography.

The post on Smashing Magazine is a comprehensive overview of everything you can do with type using CSS. This includes:

  • White space
  • Word wrap
  • Word and letter spacing
  • Indentation and hanging punctuation
  • Web fonts
  • Text shadow
  • And some new emerging text decoration

For a beautiful web site

With all of these tools at our disposal it is looking like the days of Cufon, Flash replacement or image replacement are numbered.