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Guide to Building a Top Web Design Portfolio


Writer’s Note: This is the first of a series of portfolio guides that aims to help those among our readers with the skill set that is featured.

A portfolio is a very important link between a designer and a client. It aims to impress a potential client by showing the designer’s work and skills. At Toptal, we screen a lot of web designers and review a lot of portfolios. Creating a top web design portfolio is by no means easy, even for experienced designers. We’re sharing our tips to help you create a top portfolio.

1. Content Is King

Most web designers are no strangers to the concept of content first. Content is king in web design, so why not apply that same concept to your portfolio? Make content the star of the show and focus on the quality of the message you are trying to get across. Try to avoid eye candy in the images you use and concentrate on engaging potential customers through the statement you are making. This is not to say you should neglect the images — after all, they will without a doubt attract clients and open a few doors — but the copy is likely to make you the ideal candidate for a job. Without great copy, there’s no top portfolio. As a result, you might easily appear less professional and the client could choose a different designer. Well-written content is your best chance to communicate your skills and expertise and sell your work to a future employer.

2. Take Your Target Audience Into Account

Another well-known web design strategy is not to think of yourself (the web designer) as the user. As you would with a web design project, think of your target audience and their wants, needs, and possible limitations. Put yourself into the shoes of the people who will be viewing your portfolio, find pain points and fix them. Help them understand the message you are sending.

Remember that a portfolio is about projects, so aim to find the right balance and remove everything that gets in a way of a clear, concise message. The goal of a portfolio is to showcase your work to potential clients and impress them. They need to find a quick and easy path to the information they want, so think of a way to provide just that.

3. Tell a Story

Engage potential clients by telling a story. For instance, explaining the process behind a project could come a long way. Showcase not only a finished product but also the way you solve real problems. This will help clients appreciate the time and effort invested behind the scenes and get to know you as a web designer. Explain your role in the project and mention the techniques and technologies used to demonstrate the value of your work. Your skills should be reflected in the images you provide.

If you were a member of a team, mention and promote the success of the entire team and the project, not only your role. Are there some detailed UI problems you solved which you can share? What deliverables were produced and why? Which of the major KPIs can be used to demonstrate project goals and success? Was there a part of the project that was not a success and why was that the case? Try to be objective and honest — not every step of the project is without flaws and no web designer is error free. Honesty might just be the best policy and it might impress clients. While you could do all this in a Skype meeting with a potential employer, why not save yours and their time and tell a story in your portfolio? It’s a definite win-win situation.

4. Don’t Make Your Clients Think

“Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug is one of the most famous web design books and, generally speaking, lessons in web design. Avoid being vague to let clients accomplish their task without hitting roadblocks. Make sure your work, as well as personal and contact information is easy to understand and digest. Present goals, results, and features in a direct and concise, intuitive fashion. If your project is live, make sure to provide a link to the website and let the client discover more. The browser is the natural environment for any website, so it only makes sense to let clients view your project in it. If the project is not online, maybe you can provide a link to a detailed case study, a front-end prototype, or a style guide. This might be your only opportunity to make a lasting impression, so invest extra effort.

5. Be Professional

The final tip may be obvious, but is by no means insignificant: be professional in your presentation. Assure clients you are not willing to gamble with the quality of their projects.

There is a number of ways you can do this. Here are a few:

  • Use spell-check software to avoid spelling errors and come off superficial.
  • Consider specifying the start and end dates to provide additional information and add to the credibility.
  • Optimize images without sacrificing quality — no-one wants to see pixelated images, but no-one wants to wait for them to load, either. After all, we’re web designers and therefore no strangers to image optimizations.
  • Be honest when stating your work experience and job title.
  • Give credit where credit is due. If other agencies and team members were involved in a project, mention them and their role.
  • Select only your strongest portfolio pieces — quality will always win over quantity and you may well be judged by your weakest work.
  • If the project was a success, ask the client for a testimonial and add it to your portfolio.
  • Ask peers for a review to find ways of improving your portfolio.
  • Much like any website, your portfolio is never finished, so remember to update it regularly and keep improving it.

This wraps up our tips for creating a top web design portfolio.

Source: Toptal.

Who Knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe?


Wireframing is a major step in designing any user interface whether a website, application or software product. Without distraction in the form of visuals, colours, typography, styles and effects you can be more focused on defining content hierarchy and user experience.

Doing low fidelity wireframes and prototypes will help you test and iterate more often and in earlier phases, work faster and develop products that your users will love.

There are a lot of different wireframing tools to choose from in the wild. Which one you choose will depend on your personal preferences and workflow style.

Just like a lot of designers moving to digital design from the print world, I’m an expert in the Adobe applications like Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. I can use them efficiently, everywhere and at any time (even if someone wakes me up in the middle of the night and refuses to give me a cup of coffee). However, these have also become the tools I use to do web and application visual design. So, for my workflow to be the most efficient I use them for wireframing too.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

With every project, I usually start designing by doing very rough sketches on paper, or lately more often, if not near my office desk, on my iPad or smartphone screen. These sketches are there only to focus my thoughts regarding the chosen concept and the client will probably never see any of them. When I feel confident enough that my idea works, I jump right away into wireframing. I usually use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign combined. Illustrator for creating most of the UI kit elements and InDesign for wireframing itself.

In this article, I’ll explain a step by step process of how to incorporate those tools into your wireframing workflow as well. But, before I go into details, let me show you what the strengths and weaknesses are of using InDesign as a primary wireframing tool.

The Pros and Cons of Using Adobe InDesign as a Wireframe and Prototyping Tool

For some time now Adobe InDesign has been not only a desktop publishing application, but it’s also widely used for digital publishing and EPUB creation, and there are also some reasons why it is a suitable tool for wireframing too:

  • Master pages – You can quickly and consistently apply global design elements like navigation, headers, footers and so on. You can create as many master pages as you need, and on top of it, one master can be based on another.
  • Solid grid support – Allows you to create easily and apply different kinds of grids, complementing columns, horizontal and vertical guides to create modules, and subgrids for greater complexity and precision.
  • Alternate layouts – Enables wireframes for multiple devices and orientations in the same file.
  • CC Libraries – Give easy access and reuse different assets like commonly used objects, colours, character and paragraph styles. Create assets in InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop or with the Adobe Capture mobile app, whichever you prefer.
  • Layers – Provide you the ability to organize, group, show/hide and lock/unlock objects and content selectively in the wireframe. Every page of a multi-page InDesign document has the same number and order of layers. All of the changes you make to layers are reflected on all pages, like visibility, stacking order or deletion.
  • Styles and tables – Give complete control over the look of your text, objects and tables through the use of InDesign styles. Styles can be based on each other providing the ability to cascade desired formatting easily throughout the document. Creation and formatting of tables that you can use as wireframe content elements or even helpers for layout purpose is very simple.
  • Typekit integration – In high fidelity mock-ups, you can use any of the Typekit fonts that sync to the desktop.
  • Interactivity and animations – You can use Adobe InDesign built-in interactivity and animation features to create different states of the web or application design for interaction. Most people use these features while creating magazines for Digital Publishing Solution and fixed layout EPUB export but they can be suited for prototyping as well.
  • Export options – InDesign can export the wireframes and prototypes you create in a variety of formats. Interactive PDF will probably be your format of choice in the majority of cases, but you can also use quite new Publish Online Feature to convert your document to interactive HTML that can be viewed in modern desktop and mobile browsers. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over the export using Publish Online, and exported file is hosted on Adobe servers. You can share the prototype URL to your client, or embed it into your site. For more control and direct export to HTML5 you can use the in5 extension from Ajar Productions.

Adobe InDesign has many pros to be used as a wireframe and prototyping tool, but it also has some disadvantages:

  • Lack of predefined wireframe templates and elements – Since InDesign is not meant to be a wireframing tool, you have to create and prepare templates and object assets by yourself. (I’ll show you how to make that preparation step later in this article.) The good news is that most of this work will be done only once and after a few hours of work you’ll be ready to jump start your InDesign wireframing. Also, there are a lot of assets and wireframe kits that you can download from the internet, so there is no need to draw everything yourself.
  • Interactivity and animation features are limited and can be time-consuming – Although you can easily connect pages and add some interactivity and animations that process sometimes takes a long time. Some of the simple interactions can not be achieved simply, and you have to figure out how to do it. If you haven’t been using InDesign interactivity features yet, you’ll have a slight learning curve before you’ll be able to apply them efficiently.
  • InDesign documents can’t export directly as layered PSD files – If you do your visual design in Adobe Photoshop and want to have separated wireframe elements from building your design on, then you have to export your wireframes to PDF first, then open that PDF in Illustrator and export as layered PSD. People working on the Mac can also use a free script written by Rob Day to save InDesign files as a layered PSD.

Good Wireframe Preparation is Half of the Work

Start by fine tuning your working environment. If you do not already have a saved Workspace in Illustrator and InDesign for this kind of work, create one. In Illustrator start with predefined Web workspace and adapt it to your convenience: close panels you will not use often and open the ones you will, then rearrange them to suit your work style. When done, save the workspace by choosing Window > Workspace > New Workspace… Do the same thing in InDesign using Digital Publishing workspace as a starter.

Assembling Wireframe/Mockup/Prototype Kits

Efficient wireframing workflow using Illustrator and InDesign requests that you invest some time in making your user interface assets kit first. Since the introduction of Adobe Creative Cloud, CC Libraries are the best way for storing all your UI kits components.

You can create one or more Libraries for wireframing and prototyping purposes. For example, you can create one Library for websites wireframing, other for iOS application, third for Android applications and so on.

To create library Open Libraries panel and choose Create New Library from additional drop-down menu. Assets you put in libraries can be made and used in different Adobe desktop or mobile apps on all devices you log into with your Adobe ID. That means you can start with the project on your iPad or iPhone, continue on the desktop computer in the office and made last minute changes on home laptop with all the same assets available on all devices. If you work as a part of a larger team, library assets can be shared between team members and you can collaborate on them. Libraries can contain colours, graphics, layer styles (Photoshop only), paragraph and character styles. You add asset in library by clicking on the corresponding button at the bottom of CC Library panel with respective element selected. You can also add graphic assets by dragging them directly from your artboard to Libraries panel. Assets in libraries are organized by categories. To stick with good practices, rename each asset with meaningful name. Libraries are searchable, and finding an asset in a hip by typing beginning of it’s name will save you tons of time, especially when you have many different items in libraries. You can search only current or all libraries created. To change asset name just double click on it and type a new one.

Creating Kits Components

Although Adobe InDesign has some basic drawing tools that are pretty similar to Illustrator’s, Illustrator is a much better choice for drawing different kinds of elements in your wireframe. As a rule of thumb, make all kit elements that request some drawing beyond basic geometric shapes in Illustrator and simpler elements, that contain text you’ll need to change in layout, like simple buttons, in InDesign.

For starters, make a list of all the elements in the wireframe you’ll need, like navigation elements, page elements including images, video frames and text boxes, icons, avatars, form elements and all other interface elements. After your list is completed you can head to Illustrator and InDesign for elements creation. Start by creating a new document for wireframe or mockup kit components. Double-check that you choose either Web/Devices Profile in Illustrator or Web/Digital Publishing Intent from New Document dialog box, so pixels are used as units, and color mode is RGB.

Make wireframe kit assets as simple as possible, because they need to give fast visual cues for what they represent without been too much detailed. You should use very limited colour palettes of preferably a few shades of grey. Visually accentuate elements that are more important by coloring them with darker shades, or by giving them bigger contrast. For higher fidelity mockups or prototypes, you’ll create UI kits with more detailed elements that use each project’s respective color palette. For easy access to color palettes add them to CC Libraries too.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

Adobe Illustrator assets in CC Libraries

Assets you add to Libraries from Illustrator are linked by default (since Adobe CC 2015). That means that when you modify a library asset in Illustrator, changes are reflected in all instances used. If you want to add unlinked asset to document press Option/Alt key while dragging it from the panel.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

When you use linked Illustrator assets in InDesign they have little cloud icon in the upper left corner when document is viewed in Normal mode and they are all listed in Links panel. If you modify Library asset in Illustrator changes in the InDesign document won’t be done automatically. Cloud icon will be replaced with Modified Link exclamation mark icon, and you’ll have to update these links.

InDesign assets you place in InDesign document are not linked. That means that you can edit instances independently of the original, and when the original asset is modified those changes are not reflected on assets you already put into layout.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

Use those properties when creating wireframes on your behalf: add assets to Library from Illustrator when you assume they’ll need to be modified and updated globally or add them from InDesign when you know you’ll want to modify them individually. Note that you can also make graphics in Illustrator and then Copy/Paste them to InDesign, modify if needed and then add to Library as InDesign asset.

If you happen to forgot which graphic asset is created by which application look at the right side of each item in Library panel while using Show items as a list preview more.

Adobe InDesign Flexibility with Texts

Since you’ll probably want to be able to easily change texts and its formatting create text based assets in InDesign. InDesign has a nice feature for filling text boxes with placeholder text. When you draw text box just make a right mouse click on it and choose Fill With Placeholder Text. You can easily add text box to Library like any other graphic element just by dragging. When you use those text assets later as a part of your wireframes layout you can modify text box itself or text it contains however you like.

Consider to make button UI elements in InDesign too. To create a button, make text frame first, type respective text in it and then use Object > Text Frame Options to define Inset spacing. Adjust Vertical Justification of text inside a box by choosing desired option from Align drop-down menu. Switch to Auto-Size tab and choose appropriate Auto-Sizing (that would probably be Width Only), and convenient reference point. If you do not want let InDesign break your text in more than a one line check No Line Breaks option.

Give Yourself a Hand

There are lot of Adobe Illustrator wireframing and prototyping UI kits available on the internet you can buy or even download for free if you want to fasten your wireframing preparation phase. Maybe you already have lot of those elements drawn that you can dig from your achieved projects. Open those documents, tweak any previously made elements if needed, and put them into respective Libraries.

If you are designing for a particular platform, for example iOS or an Android application be sure that you carefully read their human interface guidelines and use appropriate assets. Don’t put pressure on yourself that every asset possible has to be in your Libraries before you start with actual wireframing process because you can also add assets to your libraries later and on the go.

Creating InDesign Wireframe Templates

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

There is another important preparation step left that you also need to do: create InDesign templates you’ll use for making wireframes. Start by creating a new document with Web or Digital Publishing Intent and define appropriate page size for the screens you are designing for. Since it is recommended that you use some kind of a grid for laying out your wireframe elements set up the margins and create column grid by setting number of columns and the gutter space. You can change those settings later from Layout > Margins and Columns with respective master page (or pages) selected in Pages panel. If you need horizontal guides and complementary vertical guides, create them manually or make additional grid by using Layout > Create Guides… When creating grid you can help yourself with one of the online grid calculator tools like the Gridulator.

You can also create additional templates for presentation purposes with device mockup as a frame for your wireframes. Since one InDesign document can be placed into another, you can create wireframes in one InDesign document and then place it into another one for presentation purposes. Although it might seem complicated at first it is actually very simple and offers effective workflow. Keeping actual wireframe in separate document makes it easier to continue building from approved wireframes to polished visual design. On the other hand, you have presentation ready template to place wireframes into, add labels and comments and you are all set up to show your best to the client. When you make modifications on wireframe file just update it like any other link in presentation document, and ta-daaa! all changes are in your presentation too.

In the Layers panel you can prepare separate layers for different kind of the content: user interface elements, interactive features, gestures, labels or notes. If you’ll need more layers for a specific project you’ll be able to easily add them anytime during the wireframing process.

When you are done with creating save your templates as InDesign .indt template files. After all the templates you need are saved you are finally ready to start with wireframing efficiently.

Building Wireframes

First things first – start with the Master page. Drag all elements that will be the same on all screens of your project from Library. If you are designing website those are usually headers with logo and navigation and footer. Since you can make more than one Master page and they can be based on each other don’t forget to take advantage of that feature. For example, depending on the project, you can create a Master page for one website category, then make new Masters based on the first one and change on them only elements that need to be different for other categories you’re also having.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

You can’t select, change or delete Master elements on regular document pages unless you click on them while holding Command/Control + Shift to override the master. Once your element is overridden you can change any of its parameters or completely delete it from layout. Keep in mind that even when you override the element, it’s parameters that you haven’t change are still dependent on the Master. For example, if you override an element and change it’s color, it’s size is still connected to Master’s and if you change it on Master page it will also be modified on that element you previously overrided. When inserting additional pages to your wireframing document remember to base them on the respective master. If you need to change the Master for pages already in layout, select them in Pages panel, make a right click and choose Apply Master to Pages… When you are finished with Masters, move along with pages for all screens of your project. Use Library assets and arrange them using Smart Guides and Align options to create final UI wireframe layout.

If you are making design for more than one screen size, make alternate layouts from Layouts > Create Alternate Layout or Pages panel. You can use liquid layout rules when creating alternate layouts to automatically or semi-automatically adopt page elements from one size and orientation to another or you can manually control them. For applying and testing Liquid Layout Rules use Page Tool or open panel: Window > Interactive > Liquid Layout.

Who knew Adobe CC Could Wireframe

Adding interactivity

Adobe InDesign has a bunch of interactivity features that you can take advantage of when creating wireframes or prototypes. Which features you’ll include depends on the final format you plan to save your wireframes, prototypes or presentation into. If you are exporting as PDF, interactivity is limited but you can at least make links between screens work. You’ll use Hyperlinks panel to create them. Select the item you want to behave as a link and click on New Hyperlink icon. From Link To drop down menu choose Page and enter desired page number. Repeat that action on all items you want to behave as links between the screens. You can also add hyperlinks to objects residing on the Master pages, and that can be a real time saver: create links on Master page once and they will work on all screens of your document.

Another interactive feature that you can use in interactive PDF format is button with Show/Hide action and that you can use to build all kinds of pop-up content.

You can create button from any graphic, text, image or a group. To create a button from a selected object use Window > Interactive > Buttons and Forms panel and click on the Convert to Button icon. Buttons can have different states created for Normal, Rollover and Click appearance. To add rollover or click state to button click on them in Buttons panel to activate and then edit button appearance for that state the way you want it to look. To add an action to a button, click on a plus sign and choose it from the list. Take into account that actions under SWF/EPUB will not work in interactive PDF. For creating popup elements choose Show/Hide Buttons and Forms. To hide buttons until triggered check Hidden Until Triggered option. You can include multistate objects in interactive PDF, but only if you export them as SWF first and then place those SWFs back in InDesign layout for PDF export. That workflow is tedious and those PDFs can not be properly seen in all PDF readers so you better avoid doing this unless really necessary.

If you want to convert your document to HTML prototype using InDesign CC 2015 Publish Online feature you can use much more interactive options like animations, multistate objects, multiple button actions, including all those intended for SWF/EPUB export.

You can add simple animations using Animation panel and choosing one of the built-in Presets from drop-down menu and setting its properties. One object can have only one animation applied, but if you need to add more of them, group your object with empty box and use the new animation on that newly created object. And repeat that few times if needed. For objects you need to show different states create multi state object. Create object for each state. Object can be a single element (picture, text box, graphic) or a group of different elements. Open Window > Interactive > Object States panel, select all objects you created for multi state object and click on the New button at the panel bottom. After your multi state object is made you’ll need to create buttons to go from one object state to another. Go To Next State or Go To Previous State actions reveal the specific object state with Go to State action.

If you want to have scrollable frame in your wireframe/prototype easiest way to create one is by usingUniversal Scrolling Frames extension from Ajar Productions. After you download and install extension you can use it as InDesign panel. For scrollable frame you’ll need to make content and one frame for container. Content can be text frame, picture, or more elements combined. If using more than one element as a content don’t forget to group them. When you are finished with making content and container box select the content and do Edit > Cut. Then select container and paste content inside by using Edit > Paste Into. Select container and using Universal Scrolling Frames adjust desired scroll direction.

By combining buttons, multistate objects, animations and scrollable frames you can achieve rich interactive experience.

To test interactivity in InDesign use EPUB Interactivity Preview panel. You can preview single page or whole document. Enlarge preview panel to your convenience.

If you haven’t being using Adobe InDesign interactive features yet be prepared that they have some learning curve, but with a little practice and few trial and error attempts you’ll quickly master them.

Exporting finished documents

When you are done with the wireframe and presentation file making all that is left is show your great ideas to the client in best way possible. For that purpose you’ll need to export your wireframes in one of the formats your client can preview. Although InDesign files can be exported in variety of formats you are probably going to use the most common Interactive PDF, or Publish Online feature if testing functional low or high fidelity prototypes. To save as interactive PDF choose Adobe PDF (Interactive) from Format drop-down menu in Export dialog box and adjust properties as needed. Do not forget to tick Forms and Media if there are interactive elements that you want to include. Clients can view PDF wireframes in free Adobe Reader and write all their comments in that same file.

You can also use PDF document you export from InDesign to create InVision (or some other tool that supports PDFs) prototype. If your standard prototyping tool, perhaps Marvel, can’t import PDF export your InDesign wireframe pages as JPEG or PNG images.

To export interactive HTML prototype that can be seen in modern browsers on different devices go to File > Publish Online or click on the Publish Online button from Application Bar. After the document is prepared to be published online and then uploaded you can copy document URL to share with all the stakeholders and start with reviewing process. You can also embed that published prototype on your site.

Downside of Publish Online feature is that it doesn’t have any additional control over the export and files are always stored at Adobe’s servers. Also it’s still preview feature and you can’t be sure in which direction Adobe is going to develop it or even discontinue.

Once your wireframe/prototype is exported it’s time for testing, reviewing and iterating process to start.

This article was written by  IVANA MILIČIĆ, a Toptal freelance designer.

How To Communicate The Value Of User Research


The beginning of a new project: Your client needs help with a redesign of its website or application.

“We want to improve the user experience, it has to be jaw-dropping for our customers, we want them to fall in love with our product.”

Here is the good news: Your client is aware of User Experience (UX), cares about customers’ needs and sees the value in investing in a great user experience. They asked for an expert with UX skills to help, but do theyreally understand what it means to deliver an exceptional user experience?

User research is a vital component of UX design. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

User research is a vital component of UX design. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

UX is more than a bunch of rules and heuristics that you follow in your product design process. UX is subjective, as the name suggests. It is the (subjective) experience that a user gets while using a product. Therefore, we have to understand the needs and goals of potential users (and those are unique for each product), their tasks, and context.

As a UX expert you should already be familiar with the maxim, It all starts with knowing the user.

Now for some bad news; this is the point when you discover your client’s misconceptions about UX.

UX expert: “Ok, let’s start with your users: Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? What are some of their pain points? I would like to talk to them, observe them, learn from them…”

Client: “Oh, we don’t need user research, that’s a waste of time.”

Wrong!

In this post I will try to explain why, and hopefully, help fellow UX specialists in their efforts to convince clients that good UX is next to impossible if it is not preceded by good user research.

No Need For User Research? There Is Always A Need For User Research

You cannot create a great user experience if you don’t know your users or their needs.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Don’t simply accept the common argument that there is no time or money to do any user research for your project.

User research should shape your product design and define guidelines that will enable you to make the right UX decisions.

User research should shape your product design and define guidelines that will enable you to make the right UX decisions.

User research will shape your product; it will define the guidelines for creating a product with a good experience. Not spending any time on research, and basing all of your design decisions on best guesses and assumptions, puts you at risk of not meeting your user needs.

This is how senior UX architect Jim Ross UXmatters sees it:

“Creating something without knowing users and their needs is a huge risk that often leads to a poorly designed solution and, ultimately, results in far higher costs and sometimes negative consequences.”

Lack Of User Research Can Lead To Negative Consequences

Skipping user research will often result in “featurities,” decisions that are driven by technical possibilities and not filtered by user goals.

“My wife would really enjoy this feature! Oh, and I heard from this person that they would like to be able to xyz, so let’s add it in there too.”

This leads to things such as overly complex dashboards in cars, where the user’s focus should be on driving, not on figuring out how to navigate an elaborate infotainment system.

Many users find automotive infotainment systems overly complex and distracting. Identifying the target audience is crucial to good UX design.

Many users find automotive infotainment systems overly complex and distracting. Identifying the target audience is crucial to good UX design.

Tesla’s cutting edge infotainment system, based on Nvidia Tegra hardware, employs two oversized displays, one of which replaces traditional dials, while the other one replaces the center console. Yes, it looks good, but it was designed with tech savvy users in mind. In other words, geeks will love it, but it’s clearly not for everyone. It works for Tesla and its target audience, but don’t expect to see such solutions in low-cost vehicles designed with different people in mind.

Poorly designed remote controls are not intuitive, so casual users tend find them overwhelming, resulting in a frustrating user experience.

Old remote controls are another example of hit and miss UX. There is little in the way of standardization, so each one takes time getting used to.

Old remote controls are another example of hit and miss UX. There is little in the way of standardization, so each one takes time getting used to.

But what about the purely digital user experience? Too many fields in a form, or too much information may overwhelm and drive your users away.

Poorly designed digital interfaces can drive users away. Even if they don’t, they will annoy users and feel like a waste time.

Poorly designed digital interfaces can drive users away. Even if they don’t, they will annoy users and feel like a waste time.

Instead of creating the opposite behaviour, poorly designed and implemented interfaces are more likely to scare off potential users.

Start User Research With Sources For Existing Information

Yes, user research will expand the timeline and it won’t come cheap, but both time and costs can be minimized. You can start with existing, and easy accessible, sources of information about user behaviour to gain a better understanding of user needs. These are:

  • Data Analytics
  • User Reviews and Ratings
  • Customer Support
  • Market Research
  • Usability Testing

Quality user research requires time and resources. However, you can start by using existing information to get a sense of what your users need.

Quality user research requires time and resources. However, you can start by using existing information to get a sense of what your users need.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these sources.

Data Analytics

If you are working with an existing product, your client might have some data and insights about its use. Data analytics assist with getting a good overview about general usage: How many visitors are coming to the website, what pages are most visited, where do visitors come from, when do they leave, how much time do they spend where, and so on.

But here is what this data is not telling you: How does the experience feel? What do users think about your service, and why are they spending time on your website? Why do they leave?

For example, your data indicates that users are spending a lot of time on a specific page. What it doesn’t tell you is why. It might be because the content is so interesting, which means users found what they were looking for. On the other hand, it could be an indication that users are looking for something they cannot find.

Data Analytics is a good starting point, but it needs further qualitative data to support the interpretation of the statistics.

User Reviews And Ratings

Your client’s product might have received some user feedback, already. There might be a section for feedback or ratings on the website itself, but external sources may be available as well. People might have talked about it in blog posts or discussion boards, users may have given app reviews in an app store. Check different sources to see what users are saying.

However, be aware of limitations. People tend to leave reviews and ratings about negative experiences. Don’t take this as a reason to shy away from user reviews or to ignore feedback!

“All these complainers… These aren’t the users we want, anyway!”

Instead, try to look for patterns and repetitive comments. Here are a few tips for making the most from user input:

  • Check whether any action has been taken on negative comments.
  • Compare the timing of negative comments to releases and changelogs. Even great apps can suffer from poor updates, leading to a lot of negative comments in the days following the update.
  • Do your best to weed out baseless comments posted by trolls.
  • What are users saying about the competition? Identify positive and negative differentiators.
  • Don’t place too much trust in “professional and independent” reviews because they can be anything but professional and independent.

User reviews are a good source for collecting information on recurrent problems and frustrations, but they won’t give you an entirely objective view of what users think about your product.

Customer Support

Your client might have a customer support hotline or salespeople who are in touch with the user base. This is a good resource to get a better understanding of what customers are struggling with, what kind of questions they have, what features/functionality they are missing.

Setting up a couple of quick interviews with call center agents, and even shadowing some of their calls, will allow you to collect helpful data without investing too much time or money.

Customer support provides you with a good opportunity to learn about potential areas for improvement, but you will have to dive in deeper to get detailed information about problems.

Market Research

Your client may have some basic information about the customer base, such as accurate demographic information, or a good understanding of different market segments. This information is valuable to understand some of the factors behind the buying decision.

It does not offer any information about the usage of the product, though.

Market research is a good source of information if you need a better understanding of how your client thinks, what their marketing goals are, and what their market looks like. However, it won’t reveal all relevant details about user goals or needs.

Usability Testing

If you are lucky, your client might have done some usability tests and gained insights about what users like or dislike about the product. This data will help you understand how people are using the product and what the current experience looks like.

It is not quantitative research, and therefore you won’t get any numbers and statistics, but it helps you identify major problems, and gives you a better understanding about howyour user group thinks.

There is also the option to do some quick remote testing session by using services such as usertesting.com.

Usability tests are another good way of identifying key problem areas in a product.

How To Educate Your Client About The Value Of User Research

The budget might be small and the timeline tight, but ignoring user research will eventually bite you. Help your clients avoid pitfalls by making them aware of the benefits of user research.

What’s the ROI of good user experience? Knowledgeable UX experts must be able to communicate the value of user research to clients.

What’s the ROI of good user experience? Knowledgeable UX experts must be able to communicate the value of user research to clients.

Here are some common arguments against user research and how to deal with them:

  • We don’t need user research. We trust in your skills as a UX expert

As a UX designer, you need to view user research as part of your toolkit, just like a hammer or saw for a craftsman. It helps you to apply your expertise in practice. No matter how much expertise you have as a designer, there is no generic solution for every problem. The solutions always depend on the user group and the environment, so they need to be defined and understood for every product.

User research will help get an unbiased view, to learn about users’ natural language, their knowledge and mental models, their life context.

You are the UX design expert, but you are not the user.

  • Just use best practices instead of research

Best practices originate from design decisions in a specific context; the digital industry is evolving at a rapid pace, design trends and recommendations change constantly, there is no fixed book of rules. We need to be able to adjust and adapt. Those decision should be made based on research, not practices employed by others, on different projects.

  • We already know everything about our users

Invite your client to a user needs discovery session to observe how users are using the product. Start with small tests and use remote usability testing tools such asusertesting.com to get some quick insights and videos of users in action.

The outcome might be a user journey map or a user task flow. Aim for a visualized document that identifies outstanding questions so you can define areas that need more research.

  • We have personas, we don’t need more research

Personas are a good tool for making your target group more tangible, and for becoming aware of different needs, key task flows and and how that might vary for different groups. It’s the common ground and a good starting point.

However, to redesign a product you need a better understanding of the usage. You need to know how people work with your product, what they do with it, when they get frustrated.

Ask for further details about user stories and task flows to make use of personas.

  • We don’t have the budget for it

The above list of sources for information about user behaviour should give you a good starting point for sharing ideas with your client on how to gain user information on a (very) tight budget.

Make your client aware of the risks if product design decisions are made without a good understanding of the user.

User Research Is The Basis Of Every Good User Experience

User experience is still a bit of a “mystery” in many circles: Everybody talks about it yet it is hard to define, as a good experience is in the eye of every user.

It is, therefore, key to gaining a sound understanding of the context, the user goals, and the thinking necessary for designing a truly exceptional user experience.

The more transparent you are with your work process, the better your client will understand your tools and the information you need to make good decisions.

While some clients may not be open to the idea of using additional resources on research, it’s necessary for experience specialists to explain the value of user research, and to argue for further research when necessary. To accomplish this, UX designers will require negotiating skills to make their case.

Luckily, proper user research is beneficial to clients and UX designers, so convincing clients to divert more resources towards research should be feasible in most situations. Reluctant clients may be swayed if you manage to devise a cost-effective user-research method, and I hope some of the tips and resources in this article will help boost user research, even if money is tight.

The original article was written by  FRAUKE SEEWALD, a Toptal web designer.

Are All Trends Worth It? Top 5 Most Common UX Mistakes That Designers Make


As web designers, we are constantly trying to create a great user experience and help users achieve their goals. In our daily work, we are using all kinds of common patterns and trends. In my experience, I have seen how those patterns and trends can easily steer both clients and designers/developers in the wrong direction. It’s no secret that from time to time we all get sidetracked with things that seem or look cool. I admit, I’ve fallen into those traps on plenty of occasions myself — I’ve opted to create something visually appealing and sacrificed the usability because of it. Why did I do it? I presumed a wow moment will happen and magically engage the user. I hoped this wow effect would make a long lasting impact. The sobering moment came when I found out my users had a hard time understanding the interface I had created and was proud of. Sometimes you learn the hard way.

Top 5 Common UX Design Mistakes

The lesson I learnt was that to avoid a bumpy ride for our users, we must always ask ourselves what is under the shiny surface of the user interface we are creating. It’s worthwhile to stop before embracing any patterns or trends and think about the value they provide. As Kate Rutter brilliantly said, “ugly but useful trumps pretty but pointless”.

Please don’t get me wrong — I am not suggesting we shouldn’t make things pretty — I am suggesting we should aim to make things usable and pretty. The key with patterns and trends is to find a balance between what looks nice and the value behind them.

In this article, I will list several common UX mistakes I see on a daily basis. While they are not all bad per se, they can be dangerous if not implemented with caution. I’ll also share some insight on how you can improve the usability when implementing those trends or even suggest an alternative solution. Without further ado, let us get on with the list.

Common Mistake #1: Large, Fixed Headers

We’re seeing more and more of tall, sticky headers — branding blocks and menus that have a fixed position and take up a significant amount of the viewport. They stay glued to the top and often block the content underneath them. I’ve seen headers on high-production websites that are over 150 pixels in height, but is there real value behind them? I might be pushing it a little bit, but large, fixed headers remind me of the dreaded and now ancient HTML frames. Yikes! Fixed elements can have real benefits, but please be careful when dealing with them — there are a number of important things to take into account. When implementing sticky headers, bear in mind a couple of common mistakes you want to try to avoid:

Too Large for Comfort

If the decision to design a large, fixed header has already been made, do some testing to find out if large is too large. Make sure not to go overboard and stuff the header with too much content, which will result in a super tall element. With the fixed header in place, browsing should still be comfortable and fast for your users. If you are having doubts about the sheer size of the header, try making it smaller without sacrificing too much of the visual appeal and brand presence. Failing to find a good balance could result in a somewhat claustrophobic experience for your users and leaving a small amount of room for the main content.

Last year, I have been working on a project where the client insisted on a sticky navigation bar on the desktop resolution. Even though the bar was not especially tall, I feared some users might get that claustrophobic feeling of being boxed in. My workaround was simple — by giving the nav bar a slight transparency using CSS, the users were able to see through the bar, which made the content area feel bigger. Here is that small piece of CSS code, so why not try and see if that works for you too.

.header { opacity: 0.9; }

Here is an example I found in the wild. Recently, I stumbled upon ATP’s player profile page on Roger Federer.

Its fixed header has a height of about 110px, and when you scroll down the page, a sub navigation appears, making the header 160px high. That is over 30% of the entire page height on my MacBook Pro with the dock open.

Not Fixing The Problem on Mobile

Granted, a lot of users will be using a huge screen, and sticky menus could be a plus on super big resolutions, but what about the smaller resolutions and the mobile world? Bear in mind that a significant portion of your users will be using a small resolution device, so for mobile, position: fixed is probably not the way to go. Thankfully, responsive techniques allows us to design a different solution and stick with the sticky for large resolutions only. The mobile-first approach will provide a lot of the answers — start with the mobile resolution, with only the essential content, and work your way up.

Coffee with a Cop also has a fixed header, but much smaller — less than 80 pixels.

This is arguably a good solution on large resolutions, as it enables quick and easy navigation. On small resolutions, the header is also fixed and takes up a considerable amount of the viewport. I would advise against a sticky header on mobile and suggest a sticky hamburger icon, which would open up a menu when tapped on. Although this pattern is not a universal problem solver, it does free up a significant amount of space. On smartphones and tablets, space can be precious.

Common Mistake #2: Thin Fonts

Thin fonts seem to be everywhere — numerous native mobile apps and modern websites. With screen technology advancing and rendering improving, a lot of designers are opting for thin (or light) fonts in their designs. They are elegant, fresh, and fashionable. However, thin type can cause usability problems. One of the main goals of any text is to be legible, and thin type can affect legibility in a major way. Keep in mind that not everyone will be using your website on a display that will render the thin type well. For instance, I have found thin type extremely difficult to read on my iPhone and iPad with Retina display. Before thinking about the look and feel of font, let’s step back for just a second.

If users can’t read the words in your app, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the typography is

From the Apple Human Interface Guidelines:

Above all, text must be legible. If users can’t read the words in your app, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the typography is.

Apple is referring to mobile apps, but the exact same principle applies to all websites. As Colm Roche said,legibility ≠ optional, but mandatory for good usability. There is no point putting content on a website if most of your users can barely read it, is there?

Here are some of the common mistakes you might want to bear in mind before putting your type on a diet:

Using Thin for Thin’s Sake

As with any trend, it is dangerous to use it simply because others are using it. Fonts should not only look good. First and foremost, they should be legible and provide a stepping stone to good usability. The decision to use thin type simply because of the fact that it looks good is bound to backfire. In his excellent talk More Perfect Typography, Tim Brown talks about a sweet spot at which a typeface sings. This sweet spot would be a combination of size, weight and color where you set the foundation of your website.

To make sure you have found a good body font and hit that sweet spot, do some testing in various environments. Which leads us to the next mistake worth avoiding:

Not Testing the Legibility on All Major Devices

Thin type may look good on your display and you may not have a hard time reading it, but be aware of the fact that you are not your user. Invest in usability testing to find out if your real users are happy with the typography on all major devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. While doing mobile testing, have your participants use your website on mobile devices in daylight — your real users will not always have perfect browsing conditions. If you had to read something on a mobile device on a sunny day, you probably know how difficult it can be. If you decide to use a thin font on your website, there’s a simple way to adapt to mobile users. I will show a solution on a website I saw recently:

Oak does a fine job of adapting to the needs of the users — on the desktop resolution, their H1 heading has a very thin font weight. Since the heading is large and had a good color contrast, I suspect legibility does not suffer. On mobile, where the size of the heading is significantly smaller, the weight is slightly thicker, which surely aids legibility. Clearly, they have spotted legibility issues with thin fonts on small sizes and implemented a greater font weight through media queries. Their solution is simple, but very effective.

Common Mistake #3: Low Contrast

Low color contrast has become somewhat of a trend in user interface design in recent years. We have already covered thin fonts, which create a low type contrast, but there is much a bigger trap you can fall in — a combination of thin type with low color contrast will make yours truly really scratch his head and think have we lost our minds? Of course, not all low contrast is bad. It can even add to the visual appeal if designed with care. But as is the case with all UX mistakes, it is important not to go over the top and keep usability in mind.

A couple of major mistakes you might want to avoid while dealing with contrast are:

Low Color Contrast in Body Copy

While low color contrast is not exclusively bad, it can have quite a bad impact on the usability of your website and make text very hard to read for some of your users. If this article inspires you to increase color contrast on one thing only, make that your main body copy. It is most probably the least favorable area to experiment.

Cool Springs Financial uses a thin variant of Helvetica for body text. While it looks elegant and contributes to an aesthetically pleasing user interface, it is difficult to read on a number of platforms.

I did a quick test on a MacBook Pro with retina display, as well as an iPhone and an iPad with retina display. The screenshot is from my MacBook Pro which reveals contrast and legibility problems. I had a hard time reading the text on the website on all of my devices.

Not Testing the Contrast

Consider doing some user testing to avoid issues down the road. I already hear some of my clients and colleagues go “Bojan, user testing is time-consuming and expensive”. It can be, but it really does not take an awful lot to test the contrast on your website. Start with body copy and work your way up. There is a nifty tool called Colorable which will help you set a correct text contrast according to the WCAG accessibility guidelines. Once you know you are using correct text contrast, adjust other colors on your website and do quick user tests to make sure most of your users have a pain-free time. I doubt low contrast will cause a rebellion, but it could frustrate a lot of your users.

Common Mistake #4: Scroll Hijacking

Another trend we’re seeing a lot of is the scroll hijack. Websites that implement this trend take control of the scroll (usually with JavaScript) and override a basic function of the web browser. The user no longer has full control of the page scroll and is unable to predict its behavior, which can easily lead to confusion and frustration. It’s a risky experiment that could hurt the usability, so I advise great caution.

If you’re set on implementing a scroll hijack, you might want to try and avoid the following mistakes:

Using the Hijack Just Because It’s Trendy

Some websites can get away with scroll hijacking, but that is no guarantee your website can. Trends and patterns can’t be blindly followed and implemented. For example, we’re seeing many designers follow Apple’s presentational pages with scroll hijacking, parallax effects and high resolution images of various devices. Apple has their own reasons, their own users, a unique concept, and unique content. Since every website has unique problems, it also must have solutions tailored for those problems.

Not Testing on Actual Users

To avoid issues when borrowing ideas or patterns, make sure to test the prototype of your website on users. Simple usability testing will reveal whether the implementation of the scroll hijack is feasible or not. Testing will surely answer a lot of questions and provide clues on how you can improve upon your idea. Without testing, you have no way of knowing which way to go and developing websites based on assumptions are often costly in the long run.

Tumblr uses scroll hijacking on their current homepage. While their implementation could also be a risky one, it seems they understand their target audience, the content and concept supports it, and that they have addressed many of the user needs. When the user attempts to scroll down the page, the scroll is hijacked by the website, but the user is then quickly taken to the next section of the homepage. The content is broken into several sections or blocks, which are clear to distinguish and big indicator dots are fixed on the left side of the viewport. As a result, the homepage feels like a huge carousel you have control over, rather than an experimental website with a mind of its own.

Common Mistake #5: Ineffective Carousels

Carousels are very common on the web, and have been for a long time. While they can be effective, they can also turn into a nightmare if not designed and developed carefully. The nightmare for your users could be the fact that they are having difficulties understanding it. The nightmare for you could be the fact that your users are not seeing the important content in some of the slides of the carousel.

Carousels with no content of importance: not the most effective use of space on your website

Carousels with no content of importance: not the most effective use of space on your website

A lot of carousels I’m seeing have similar downsides. Some of those are:

Lack of Real Value for the Users

What is the real value the carousel offers to your users? If done right, a carousel should engage your users and help them achieve their goals quickly and pain-free. I often see carousels that do not provide additional value, but appear to be mere decoration. Here is a quick test you can do: take a post-it and write down three benefits of the carousel for the user. If you fail to think of three, there is a good chance your carousel needs more work.

Too many slides could have a negative effect on the users and they might simply choose to ignore the carousel. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen suggests the following:

Include five or fewer frames within the carousel, as it’s unlikely users will engage with more than that. While more than five could be too many, less than three could indicate a better solution is well-advised. One of the premises for a carousel is the fact that you need a lot of content fitted into a small amount of space, but with just two slides, why not show both slides at a time and forget about sliding altogether?

The previous and next Arrows and Slide Indicators Are Not Obvious and/or Accessible

Make sure you are making your precious content accessible. Important information in a carousel could remain hidden if the next and previous arrows are not obvious and large enough for a comfortable click. Oh, and do not forget the tap — your mobile users will thank you.

Sometimes, there are no arrows in a carousel, and the indicator dots are links for jumping between slides. Remember that you need to provide a nice, big clickable and tappable area (I recommend 35x35px at the very least). Otherwise, the small targets might lead to a very frustrating target practice and an exit from your website.

The Floresta Longo Foundation website has a carousel of images in the header. It has an autoplay and slides through five photographs. The previous and next arrows are small and are transparent which makes them both hard to spot and hard to click or tap. There are no indicators of the slide you are on and no labels showing what the photograph represents. The images are not links and act as a decoration. While the carousel may hold some value of engaging the user, it certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

Conclusion

I have listed several common UX mistakes in some of the current web trends. If you have implemented or are thinking about implementing any of them, I sincerely hope this article has provided something you will find useful. As a UX designer, use your best judgement and do not be afraid to improvise, but always remember to keep your users in mind.

Feel free to start a conversation below. I would love to read about your experiences, points of view, or suggestions on how to make things better.

The original article is from Toptal. Find more UX resources here.

The 5 Most Common UI Design Mistakes


Although the title UI Designer suggests a sort of departure from the traditional graphic designer, UI design is still a part of the historical trajectory of the visual design discipline.

With each movement or medium, the discipline has introduced new graphic languages, layouts, and design processes. Between generations, the designer has straddled the transition from press to xerox, or paper to pixel. Across these generations, graphic design has carried out the responsibility of representing the visual language of each era respectively.

Therefore, as UI Design makes the transition out of its infancy, what sort of graphic world can we expect to develop? Unfortunately, based on the current trajectory, the future may look bleak. Much of UI Design today has become standardized and repeatable. Design discussions online involve learning the rules to get designs to safely work, rather than push the envelope, or imagine new things. The tendency for UI Designers to resort to patterns and trends has not only created a bland visual environment, but also diminished the value of the designer as processes become more and more formulaic. The issue is precisely not one of technicalities, but of impending visual boredom.

Thus, the Top Five Common UI Design mistakes are:

  • Following Design Rules
  • Abusing the Grid
  • Misunderstanding Typefaces
  • Patterns and the Standardization of UI Design
  • Finding Safety in Contrast

UI Design Rule Book

Understand principles and be creative within their properties. Following the rules will only take your where others have been.

Common Mistake #1: UI Designers Follow the Rules

The world of graphic design has always followed sets of rules and standards. Quite often in any design discipline, the common mistakes that are made can closely coincide with a standard rule that has been broken. Thus, from this perspective the design rules seem to be pretty trustworthy to follow.

However, in just about any design discipline, new design movements and creative innovation has generally resulted from consciously breaking said rule book. This is possible because design is really conditional, and requires the discretion of the designer, rather than a process with any sort of finite answers. Therefore, the design rules should likely be considered as guidelines more so rather than hard and fast rules. The experienced designer knows and respects the rule book just enough to be able break the box.

Unfortunately, the way that design is often discussed online is within sets of do’s and don’ts. Top mistakes and practices for design in 10 easy steps! Design isn’t so straightforward, and requires a much more robust understanding of principles and tendencies, rather than checklists to systematically carry out.

The concern is that if designers were to cease ‘breaking the rules’, then nothing new creatively would ever be made. If UI designers only develop their ability to follow guidelines, rather than make their own decisions, then they may quickly become irrelevant. How else will we argue a value greater than off the shelf templates?

Be Wary of Top Ten Design Rules

The issue with design rules in today’s UI design community is they are so abundant. In the interest of solving any problem, the designer can look to the existing UI community and their set of solutions, rather than solve an issue on their own. However, the abundance of these guides and rules have made themselves less credible.

A google search for “Top UI Design Mistakes” yields a half million search results. So, what are the chances that most, if any of these authors of various articles agree with one another? Or, will each design tip that is discussed coincide accurately with the design problems of a reader?

Often the educational articles online discuss acute problems, rather than the guiding design principles behind the issue. The result is that new designers will never learn why design works the way that it does. Instead, they only become able to copy what has come before. Isn’t it concerning that in none of these sorts of articles is something like play encouraged?

The designer should have a tool kit of principles to guide them, rather than a book of rules to follow predetermined designs. Press x for parallax scrolling and y for carousels. Before choosing, refer to most recent blog post on which navigational tool is trending. Boring!

Trends are like junk food for designers. Following trends produces cheap designs that may offer some initial pay back, but little worth in the long run. This means that not only may trendy designers become dated, or ineffective quickly. But, for you the designer, don’t expect to experience any sense of reward when designing in this way. Although working to invent your own styles and systems is a lot of work, it’s so worth it day in and day out. There’s just something about copying that never seems to feed the soul.

Common Mistake #2: Allowing the Grid to Restrict UI Design

Despite my treatise against rules – here’s a rule: there is no way for a UI Designer to design without a grid. The web or mobile interface is fundamentally based on a pixel by pixel organization – there’s no way around it. However, this does not necessarily mean that the interface has to restrict designers to gridded appearances, or even gridded processes.

Using the Grid as a Trendy Tool

Generally, making any design moves as a response to trends can easily lead to poor design. Perhaps what results is a satisfactory, mostly functional product. But it will almost certainly be boring or uninteresting. To be trendy is to be commonplace. Therefore, when employing the grid in a design, understand what the grid has to offer as a tool, and what it might convey. Grids generally represent neutrality, as everything within the restraints of a grid appear equal. Grids also allow for a neutral navigational experience. Users can jump from item to item without any interference from the designer’s curatorial hand. Whereas, with other navigational structures, the designer may be able to group content, or establish desired sequences.

UI Design Rule Book

Although a useful tool, the grid can be very limiting to designers.

Defaulting to the Grid as a Work Flow

Dylan Fracareta, faculty of RISD and director of PIN-UP Magazine, points out that “most people start off with a 12 – column grid…because you can get 3 and 4 off of that”. The danger here is that immediately the designer predetermines anything that they might come up with. Alternatively, Fracareta resides to only using the move tool with set quantities, rather than physically placing things against a grid line. Although this establishes order, it opens up more potential for unexpected outcomes. Although designing for the browser used to mean that we would input some code, wait, and see what happens. Now, web design has returned to a more traditional form of layout designer that’s “more like adjusting two sheets of transparent paper”. How can we as designers benefit from this process? Working Without a Grid Although grids can be restricting, they are one of our most traditional forms of organization. The grid is intuitive. The grid is neutral and unassuming. Therefore, grids allow content to speak for itself, and for users to navigate at their will and with ease. Despite my warnings towards the restrictiveness of grids, different arrays allow for different levels of guidance or freedom.

Common Mistake #3:The Standardization of UI Design with Patterns

The concept of standardized design elements predates UI design. Architectural details have been frequently repeated in practice for typical conditions for centuries. Generally this practice makes sense for certain parts of a building that are rarely perceived by a user. However, once architects began to standardize common elements like furniture dimensions, or handrails heights, people eventually expressed disinterest in the boring, beige physical environment that resulted. Not only this, but standardized dimensions were proven to be ineffective, as although generated as an average, they didn’t really apply to the majority of the population. Thus, although repeatable detail have their place, they should be used critically.

If we as designers choose to automate, what value are we providing?

If we as designers choose to automate, what value are we providing?

Designers Using the Pattern as Product

Many UI designers don’t view the pattern as a time saving tool, but rather an off the shelf solution to design problems. Patterns are intended to take recurring tasks or artefacts and standardize them in order to make the designer’s job easier. Instead, certain patterns like F Pattern Layouts, Carousels or Pagination have become the entire structure of many of our interfaces.

Justification for the Pattern is Skewed

Designers tell themselves that the F shaped pattern exists as a result of the way that people read on the web.Espen Brunborg points out that perhaps people read this way as a result of us designing for that pattern. “What’s the point of having web designers if all they do is follow the recipe,” Brunborg asks.

Common Mistake #4: Misunderstanding Typefaces

Many designer’s quick tips suggest hard and fast rules about fonts as well. Each rule is shouted religiously, “One font family only! Monospaced fonts are dead! Avoid thin fonts at all costs!”. But really, the only legitimate rules on type, text and fonts should be to enforce legibility, and convey meaning. As long as type is legible, there may very well be an appropriate opportunity for all sorts of typefaces. The UI Designer must take on the responsibility of knowing the history, uses, and designed intentions for each font that they implement in a UI.

Consider a Typeface Only for Legibility

Typefaces convey meaning as well as affect legibility. With all of the discussion surrounding rules for proper legibility on devices etc, designers are forgetting that type is designed to augment a body of text with a sensibility, as much as it is meant to be legible. Legibility is critical, I do not dispute this – but my point is that legibility really should be an obvious goal. Otherwise, why wouldn’t we have just stopped at Helvetica, or maybe Highway Gothic. However, the important thing to remember is that fonts are not just designed for different contexts of legibility. Typefaces are also essential for conveying meaning or giving a body of text a mood.

Typefaces are each designed for their own uses. Don’t allow narrow minded rules to restrict an exploration of the world of type.

Avoiding Thin Fonts At All Costs

Now that the trend has come (and almost gone?), a common design criticism is to avoid thin fonts entirely. In the same way thin fonts came as a trend, they may leave as one also. However, the hope should be to understand the principles of the typefaces rather than follow trends at all.

Some say that they’re impossible to read or untrustworthy between devices. All legitimate points. Yet, this represents a condition in the current discussion of UI design. The font choice is only understood by designers as technical choice in regards to legibility, rather than also understanding the meaning and value of typefaces. The concern is that if legibility is the only concern that a designer carried, would thin fonts be done away with entirely?

Understand why you are using a thin font, and within what contexts. Bold, thick text is actually much more difficult to read at length than thinner fonts. Yet, as bold fonts carry more visual weight they’re more appropriate for headings, or content with little text. As thin fonts are often serifs, its suitability for body text is entirely objective. As serif characters flow together when read in rapid succession, they make for much more comfortable long reading.

As well, thin fonts are often chosen because they convey elegance. So, if a designer was working on an interface for a client whose mandate was to convey elegance, they might find themselves hard pressed to find a heavy typeface to do the job.

Not Enough Variation

A common mistake is to not provide enough variation between fonts in an interface. Changing fonts is a good navigational tool to establish visual hierarchy, or potentially different functions within an interface. A crash course on hierarchy will teach you that generally the largest items, or boldest fonts, should be the most important, and carry the most visual weight. Visual importance can convey content headings, or perhaps frequently used functions.

Too Much Variation

A common UI Design mistake is to load in several different typefaces from different families that each denote a unique function. The issue with making every font choice special, when there is many fonts, is that no font stands out. Changing fonts is a good navigational tool to establish visual hierarchy, or potentially different functions within an interface. Therefore, if every font is different, there is too much confusion for a user to recognize any order.

Common Mistake #5: Under/Over Estimating the Potential of Contrast

A common mistake that appears on many Top UI Design Mistake lists is that designers should avoid low contrast interfaces. There are many instances in which low contrast designs are illegible and ineffective – true. However, as with the previous points, my worry is that this use of language alternatively produces a high contrast design culture in response.

Defaulting to High Contrast

The issue is that high contrast is aesthetically easy to achieve. High contrast visuals are undeniably stimulating or exciting. However, there are many more moods in the human imagination to convey or communicate with, other than high stimulation. To be visually stimulating may also be visually safe.

The same issue is actually occurring in sci-fi film. The entire industry has resorted to black and neon blue visuals as a way to trick viewers into accepting ‘exciting’ visuals, instead of new, creative, or beautiful visuals. This article points out what the sci-fi industry is missing out on by producing safe visuals.

Functionally, if every element in an interface is in high contrast to another, then nothing stands out. This defeats the potential value of contrast as a hierarchical tool. Considering different design moves as tools, rather than rules to follow is essential in avoiding stagnant, trendy design.

Illegibly Low Contrast

The use of low contrast fonts and backgrounds is a commonly made mistake. However, rather than being a design issue. This could potentially be discussed as a beta testing mistake, rather than a design mistake.

How the design element relates as a low contrast piece to the rest of the interface is a design concern. The issue could be that the most significant item hierarchically is low in contrast to the rest of the interface. For the interface to communicate its organizational structure, the elements should contrast one another in a certain way. This is a design discussion. Whether or not it is legible is arguably a testing mistake.

The point is that in only discussing contrast as a technical issue resolvable by adjusting a value, designers miss out on the critical understanding of what contrast is principally used for.

Conclusion

As with the previous 4 mistakes, the abuse of patterns will rarely result in a dysfunctional website, but rather just a boring one. The mistake is in being safe. This overly cautious method of design may not cause the individual project to fail. However, this series of safe mistakes performed by the greater web community can mean greater failures beyond the individual UI design project. The role of the designer should be to imagine, thoughtfully experiment and create – not to responsibly follow rules and guidelines.

The original article is found on the Toptal Design Blog.