Although Oxford Creative is a shiny new company, the team consists of a bunch of very experienced Digital Media professionals. The mix of youth and experience really works – we wouldn’t want it any other way.
But there’s a potential pitfall in being surrounded by designers and developers every day – it can be easy to lose perspective, and to become detached from the ‘real’ world.
And that’s what makes the team I work with so interesting – and so good at what they do. I think it’s part of what makes any team a successful one – our mixture of youth and experience, different skill-sets, backgrounds and outlooks gives us character. It makes us who we are – and it allows us to pull back and look at each other’s work from differing perspectives.
The perception of what constitutes good design can be highly subjective. For example, one of our Flash developers recently found a ‘really cool’ Flash site that uses cutting edge AS3 (apparently). He (very enthusiastically) showed it to a passing client contact, who looked at him funny and wondered what all the fuss was about…
Know your audience
The point is, if you’re building a site for Flash developers, your visitors will be visiting your site to check out your Flash skills. They will, in the main, have the latest version of the Flash player installed. They’ll happily wait for a few seconds for your intro to load and for your Flash interface to build.
The flipside is that on any other type of site, for any other type of audience, your sexy animation had better add value.
When we put together a team to create a website, our starting point is to ask ‘why‘. Why will visitors come the site? What are they looking for when they hit the homepage? How easy is it for them to find it? If you don’t take the time to think about these questions, and to build the answers into your design, they’ll be off before your whizzy Flash intro has loaded.
Site visitors spend an average of 30 seconds on a home page. In that brief, 30 second window, you have to draw them in – intrigue them – offer up the information they’re looking for, and an easy way for them to find out more about it.
Pulling it all together
But usability isn’t just about a fast loading interface or a good use of typography. A really well designed website, or product, or piece of art, draws you to it. It makes you want to look around, pick it up or keeps you staring at it for a little longer.
In his book 1 Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, Don Norman talks about the 3 levels at play in design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective:
Visceral design is about look and feel. One of his examples of visceral design is the 1961 E-type Jaguar: it’s the kind of car people fall in love with and want to own. How well it works, and how much it costs, are afterthoughts.
“Behavioural design is all about use,” says Norman. “Appearance really doesn’t matter: performance does.” Behavioural design is about getting products to function well, and about making that functionality easily accessible – an area where technology products often fall down.
Reflective design about creating things you want to show off to your friends. An example is Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif, about which Starck reportedly said: “My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations.”
Needless to say, it’s quite a challenge to create anything that satisfies all 3 of these criteria. It’s even more of a challenge to push every button inside that 30 second window…
But at the risk of repeating the mantra of every CSS guru on the web, I think the route to success, from a web design perspective, is to truly separate design from content.
If we work to tick the first 2 boxes – if we strive to design websites that draw users in, matched with functionality and ease of use, then ultimately it’s down to the quality of the content to determine how ‘cool’ it is, and whether visitors stick around.
That leads us to another aspect of website ‘stickiness’ – the content. The art of creating website content will be the subject of an upcoming post, but suffice to say, if designers can be too close to the design to recognise its flaws, that risk applies equally to content creators…
Which brings me back to our in-house team, and their part in our usability testing.
You know that if Sophie, Video Producer and all round non-techie, looks at your monitor and a frown starts to wrinkle her brow, you need to have a rethink.
We can bleat as much as we like about visitors being used to this type of interface or that particular technology. Sure – we have to keep up with the latest tech. But it has to work for the consumer. Sometimes we’re too close to it to make that call. So if Sophie can’t find it, our visitors won’t either.
1 Source: The Guardian