It is not another design article. It is just a confession about my pain. My personal belief is that everything in the design must be logical. No matter if you create the UI for the application or you are designing a chair. Designers need to understand that good design is not the one which hits the eye with colors, textures, or sizes. The best design is one that makes users’ life easier.
My position is a client engager at Dashdevs company. I’m a liaison between the production team and clients in the outsourcing company. I get the requirements and help designers to create a product that meets specifications. I work with in-house and external designers all the time, so I deal with many people having different backgrounds, mindsets, and environments. And I face the bunch of the same logical problems all the time, too. From time to time, I have long conversations with designers about the product and its requirements. Below are the most crucial and painful for me points often touched during such talks. Some of my explanations may sound too blunt, but these issues truly hurt me and my common sense:
- The wrong choice for expressing creativity. Every application has its purpose and target audience. Sometimes we need a simple design with native platform elements for a small application. But the designer acts as an idea hamster. As a result, I can get a design with custom elements and animations which increase the cost of a project. Any animation may cause problems on the old devices and old OS versions. And the main issue is that the design doesn’t meet the goal of the application. Some designers think that if they create extravagant designs every time, it will highlight their individuality as professionals. But this is a wrong hypothesis. A skillful designer can create UI that is needed for the user. Ego-maniacs should go to Art.
- Evaluate designer results by elements on the screen (or the number of screens). I understand that a designer might have been working the fingers to the bone on the creation of a masterpiece. However, many hours of hard work do not mean that you need more elements on the screen. It is a personal bias. I cannot stop wondering why do some designers estimate the value of their work in the number of elements they create?
- Create their vision of ordinary things. This issue conforms with the previous one. For example, some designers for some reason decide that they need to create a totally new icon for usual sharing functionality. Such a creative approach results in the situation when a newly created unusual element is neglected by users and left just unused. Since people are already used to familiar icons. For features related to messages, they are waiting to see an envelope, for notification — a bell, for logout — a door with an arrow pointing to the right.
- The design must communicate with a user… with words. A real issue is when a designer starts to explain everything with words. One of the latest examples was with one of our applications. A user of the application can send some money using a special payment method. The flow after the authorization to the application is the following: 1. select the special section => 2. select a type of the payment => 3. select the account from which you want to send the money => 4. select the payee => 5. input the amount to send => 6. confirm the payment. The issue was with the 5th step of this process where I had a long copy on the screen like “Now you are going to send the money to XXX person… enter the amount you would like to share… and so on.” I asked the designer why do we need this wordy prompt. The answer was that the lengthy wording is for the case if a user does not understand what he/she is doing. My point, in this case, is pretty clear — users are not that stupid as you think about them. But in case, the user really doesn’t understand that he/she is going to send the money on the fifth step of the action in the feature which is called “money transfers” — run away from such a user.
- I can see the extra space! I need to use it! This one, precisely, is the craziest one. Most of the designers are afraid to leave some white zones on the screen. They add texts, illustrations, buttons and so forth. Empty space is good. It won’t hurt you. It helps you. A focus on the screen is highlighted not with colors, but with space.
These recurring issues sometimes drive me mad. Especially when we work on a complex project. The design accompanied by similar issues as described above can complexify the product even more.
First of all, as the creator of the design, you need to remember that your vision is a disadvantageous one. You know how the application must work. And for this reason, everything could seem so obvious to you. But it is just your cognitive bias. I suggest you read about the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. So, rethink the design from another point of view — the user ones’.
The second problem is that designers tend to protect their work and are not capable of seeing issues in it. Criticism is perceived as a personal affront. (Rolling eyes.) Creative personalities, nothing to add. :)
If you want to escape the mentioned common issues, here is a simple logic-protecting checklist for your mobile design:
- How does this screen make users’ life easier? — May sound a little bit like philosophic. But what is the goal of the screen? Can the application live without it?
- What are three things on the screen you can delete? — Please note that the answer NOTHING is not applicable if there are already more than five elements on your screen. There is always a way to simplify the screen without losing the logic/functionality. Find it and review the design once more. All the things that you can delete from the screen must not be in the center or thumb zone of the screen.
- Will the aim of the screen be clear if I delete all the text from it? — The design should speak without words. Imagine that your application is in the hands of a foreigner. Will it remain comprehensible for this user?
- Do you have a text with font size less than eight? — Such a text is almost unreadable to the user.
- If I change all the texts to XXX, can the user recognize buttons and interaction zones? — Some designers like to include a button in the text or create lots of “text buttons”.
- How many words are there on the screen? — The average speed of reading for adults is 200-250 words per minute. If the text is small in a font size these numbers are decreasing. If the color does not contrast to the background the speed of reading decreases, too. Is your screen so important that it worth 60 seconds of users’ life to get it?
- How many buttons are there on the screen? — The number must be less than three. With every additional button, you are losing users’ concentration.
- How many buttons with the primary action style do you have on the screen? — I hope you have a StyleGuide and there are particular styles for different kinds of users’ actions. Anyway, you need to have one primary button on the screen. Please, do not create extra confusion for the user.
- Are the tappable zones of the buttons overlapping? — Add extra 15 px to frame each button from all the sides and check it.
- Do you have any gestures the user can use? — The usual case when the application has a lot of hidden functionality with gestures. A user will never find it until you prompt him.
- How many colors are you using on the screen? — If you have more than 3 colors on the screen and each of them covers more than 15% of the screen, you don’t have clear accents on the screen.
- Do you have the same type of screen somewhere else in the application? — Keep consistency throughout all the application.
- How many words are on buttons? — This one is my favorite. Especially the buttons like “Confirm your application” on the mobile device. The mobile screen is small, so this button can “eat” all the space.
- How many words/buttons are on the navigation bar/ toolbar? — The point is almost the same as with the buttons. What I want to highlight with this point, is that such mobile elements as navigation bars or toolbars usually include at least one button. In some cases, there are up to four buttons. If you have more than four buttons, your user and your developer will likely hate you.
- Do you have a design of this screen with an open keyboard? — We usually have some forms or input fields that require some information from a user to input into apps. But the keyboard can cover buttons or all the essential information. Challenge your design with opening the keyboard.
- How many shadows of gray do you have on the screen? — It is not a joke or an allusion. Many designers yield to the temptation to have more than three different shades of the gray color on one screen.
I have no doubt that design is important and hard work. Designers are creative people who need to be empathetic and think out of the box to solve users problems. The main goal of this article is to help designers to grow over themselves. I consider that useful design is the logical design which can be created only if we ask ourselves thousands of questions. We need to be self-critical to our work when it is needed and reasonable. In Dashdevs, we do ask a bunch of questions and apply unbiased vision to our created design.
Let us know what are the most common design bugs that you faced. You have just read my confession. Now it is your turn, and you are welcome to share your pains in design. ;)