Working in the digital space for a while now, I have seen growing focus more than ever on the design side of building all things digital. At first, it was web design but of course this soon shifted to mobile web and then applications. This is not about the design of the site in a pretty colour, the elegant font or placement of some pictures and where you put the functions so that people can find it, the shoft has truly intensified on the design of the user experience and then aligning that to the design of your digital landscape.
Design needs to be focused right through the project
While the fundamental principles remain the same across all things digital its astonishing just how many are ignoring the importance of spending time on this design area and getting that right well ahead in a project and then translating it continuously throughout each part of the project. Thats right, this is about continuing to address the design right into the preparation of code stages, the implementation of each area of the application or site and goes right through to user testing and remediation of defects. Many times stakeholders are hard to convince of the benefits of getting time for design and the importance of getting that right. Perhaps its the eagerness to touch, feel and view the new ‘pretty visuals’ but in any case, we are forgetting the other side of the ‘value of good design’ coin and its time to consider the ‘cost of bad design’ instead.
Bad design does come at a cost, when the placement of content, legibility of the text and ignorance of the sites character is compromised the people that suffer are those that visit the site or use the application. This is perhaps a reason why time for good design is ignored, the decision makers are not immediately aware of the costs. But these costs are real, sites wil need ongoing redesign, a new approach is needed each time a section is refreshed often resulting in breaking away even further from the original design intention. Users will vote with their fingers and move on if the design is not working and the ones that persevere end up having a bad user experience.
How is it that we can appreciate good design when we see it, even if we can’t explain it, the affects of good visuals and an overall great experience (everything is easy to use, its easy to read and the information flows naturally) we still continue to see designs and user experiences that are simply bad. There are certainly improvements, but the transition to focus on good designs is simply not consistent. Many decision makers argue that design is personal taste and style but once that argument is whittled away the next line of defence becomes that it adds cost to the development process. There is not enough value to justify additional costs that are brought along with it and we need to dispel this myth.
Design in other industries
Looking towards other industries for comparitors we can see volumes of books and lives spent studying the value of good design in the building business. Way before the architects get to designing the building itself much time will be spent designing the ‘user experience’ when the building is approached, when people walk through it, around it, utilise everything about it and eventually leave. For many retail businesses, the building, the flooplan the layout of the shops themselves will be studied, planned for and tested well ahead of the building part.
Apple knows the experience they want when their customers go into their retail stores, from the first approach to making the purchase and leaving the building. They have spent so much time looking at this aspect, opening a new Apple store comes with a lot of pre-requisites for the building, the floorplan and the location well ahead of actually signing a lease and getting the building underway. They have spent the time up from to get the design right, and refuse to compromise on this. Local Bunnings hardware stores have a consistent layout for any of their outlets. The same products, in the same aisles at any store and this works for their user base. They know tradies will be coming through looking for a widget and what aisle or section they should go to in order to find it. So why is designing a website or application any different? We should be placing the same emphasis on getting that experience right for users, consistent across the site and in a way that is consistent with the brand experience.
It makes perfect sense that good design leads to happier users and ultimately they will purchase, transact or consume more content on the site. Its a win and the benefits of good design there are clear. So it therefore must be equally true that bad design leads to a poor experience which leads to drop off rates and less consumption of content.
What is Bad UX Design
Good design is not a question of taste and style. It can happen in many styles and appeal to some tastes and not others. We can judge whether a design is good by testing its functionality, its durability and whether it is visually attractive and the principles we apply to judge good esign allows for changes in technology and taste. Bad design is therefore the opposite and that which does not have these positive characteristics are not well designed. An economist would call this a negative externality – when someone does something that doesnt cost them, but creates a cost for other people. This is a consequence of bad design.
Its important that as digital practitioners we spend some time with the decision makers to get them to appreciate this important view. While it might be nice to keep building new sites all the time and lay the blame of poor peformance on bad design, the reflection on our own capabilities becomes tarnished when we are working on sites that simply have bad design. The mission needs to change somewhat and include not only the value of good UX design, but the cost of bad design.