Web Design News 17/05/10

Paul Boag

This week: how design and content work together, running a design workshop, the importance of control and top tips for effective landing pages.

How design and content should work together

Relly pointed me at a superb article this week that should be required reading for all web designers and website owners. Entitled “Expanding our Definition of User Experience Design” it asks one simple question: “when did user experience design become just about visuals?”

It’s a fair question. Most web designers like to think of themselves as user experience designers and most website owners are keen to create a great user experience. However, both parties are thinking purely in terms of visual design. Content is often nothing more than an after thought.

The author of this post argues extremely convincingly that user experience design is about both visual design and content. If we wish to improve the user experience on our sites we need to consider the whole package. As Zeldman puts it…

Content informs design; design without content is decoration.

She goes on to look at practical ways those of us who truly care about the user experience can begin to convince others of the importance of content.

Ying Yang Sign

filmfoto, Shutterstock

One suggestion that resonated with me is that we should stop treating content as something separate to design. Instead of making things like content strategy an optional extra in our proposals, we should make it a required part of any consideration of user experience. This is certainly an approach I had not considered before, but it makes a lot of sense.

The more I think about this the more I feel that an agency who sells user experience design without considering content is not in fact selling UX design at all.

Running a design workshop

As I have said before on the show, Headscape runs a very inclusive design process. We believe in allowing the client to see design ideas early and in including the entire project team in design decisions.

We believe these things are important to ensure everybody is moving in the same direction and towards a common goal.

MiniToy team standing in a circle, over arrow signs aiming at a target sign at the center of the team

Antonis Papantoniou, Shutterstock

It is a viewpoint reflected in a UXMatters post entitled “Achieving Design Focus: An Approach to Design Workshops.” The post begins with the following introduction…

Stakeholders with business, design, and technology viewpoints can pull products in different design directions.

Creating a focus around design goals and asking and answering the hard design questions as a team is an effective way of coalescing a team around one design direction.

Of course the question now becomes: “How do we run this kind of inclusive process?” As the post suggests, the answer lies in running a design workshop…

A design workshop creates an environment in which stakeholders with different skills can work as one team to deliver a design solution that will help make their product successful.

The post then goes on to outline how to run an effective design workshop.

If you are a web designer this is certainly a post worth reading. We have found that design workshops are a superb way of improving engagement with the client and identifying problems early in the process.

If you are a website owner engaging a web designer, I would insist that they include a design workshop as part of their process.

The importance of control

Our next post is a great article about control on 52 Weeks of UX.

Essentially the post is talking about the importance of simplicity, a subject generally overlooked by most website owners and designers. As the article puts it…

One of the things that makes [simplicity] so difficult is the ever increasing demand to add more features, more settings, or more controls. While all these things are intended to make it easier on the user, it actually serves to create a state of discomfort and even momentary confusion and anxiety.

It goes on to discuss something called Hicks Law…

Hick’s Law is a design principle that states: “The time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increases.”

In other words, the more choices we offer a user the more anxiety they feel about making the right decision.

studio mixer

Thomas Staiger, Shutterstock

This can be applied to web design in a couple of ways…

  • Navigational choices – too often websites overwhelm users with navigational choices. A large number of options is fine if the right choice for the user is obvious. Too often this is not the case with sections potentially overlapping and content not always where one would expect. As a general rule of thumb, less navigational options are better.
  • Personalisation – Website owners often seem obsessed with allowing users to personalise their site. Setting aside whether users really want to be able to personalise a site they might only visit once or twice a year, there is a bigger questions of whether personalisation helps or hinders. My feeling is that the additional complexity and options personalisation introduces can often cause more confusion than it solves.

Read the article for yourself and see how more options does not always equate to more control.

Top tips for effective landing pages

I want to conclude today by changing subject away from user experience to look briefly at marketing and in particular landing pages. As a recent post on econsultancy says…

If you want to do online marketing well, you need to get the basics right, and few things are more important than writing effective landing pages.

It goes on to explain that…

A landing page is the page someone sees when they click on an advert, usually next to search results but elsewhere, for example, within a marketing email.

In other words it is the first page a user encounters after responding to a call to action contained within a marketing campaign. As a result it is extremely important.

Netflix landing page

The post sums it up beautifully when it says…

If you’ve invested money in getting people to your pages then you need to make sure the page they land on makes the most of that investment.

The article then walks us through 10 tips for creating a more effective landing page. My favourites from the list are…

  • Have a clear goal
  • Make your call to action obvious
  • Don’t ask too much
  • Trust nothing, test everything

It’s a great list and ideal for somebody looking at landing pages for the first time. If you have been pushing people from your ad campaigns through to your homepage it is time to think again and this article is a good place to start.