As we move deeper into the 21st century, a world which is “super-connected”, the designers are no longer a bunch of nerdy loners, confined to their sketch pad and own limited imagination. Yes we are still nerds, but we now have access to 100s of collaborative tools, resources, guidelines, inspiration decks etc.
The designers toolbox keeps growing and it is hard to keep up. Just last year I learned about The Noun Project – an absolute game changer when it comes to iconography. Other favorites of 2016 included Colour.co, Invision, Lingo, and Codrops – just to mention a few. It can be overwhelming to try and keep up with what is out there, but to remain at the cutting edge you have to at least try stay in touch with these tools and trends.
Another interesting thing that has happened as a result of this barrage of connectivity and connectedness, is the trend to start setting out guidelines for design standardization. The most obvious examples that come to mind, of this are Google Material Design and Twitters Bootstrap. These free educational, resource based websites aim to create uniformity across the interwebs, and have come into great use. The obvious advantage of this is the unity across teams and companies that it creates. You can have two different teams in two different corners of the globe, working on a similar compontent and the results will be relatively predictable and uniform.
Is there a downside?
Well I guess the digital design has been criticized of late for becoming too predictable and uniform – logo top left, navigation to the right, slider with hero image and message, contact button, icons explaining services and so on…. you get where I am going with this. Where is the creativity, the blank canvas splashed with oil paints, the new, cutting edge, out of the box? Has this been strangled?
Although I concur with the fact that the creativity is forced into the grid so to speak, I do want to argue that the thought behind it is completely sound. A website designed to these norms creates comfort for a user. Users should feel comfortable when they visit your site. They should feel that your site is designed, arranged, and filled with logical information that they know how to get to. When you are consistent, you make your users happy which will compel them to return.
The majority of sites out there are there for a purpose beyond just the art – be it selling, promoting, engaging, curating, etc. The goal therefore is to firstly get new visitors to come, existing visitors to stay and repeat visits from the same person. And if this is the goal, then the predictable, simple user experience, needs to precede the design teams need for creative licence.
In short, I am pro-conformity if the goal is to improve the user experience and in doing so drive sales / engagements. I do think that this needs to be synthesized with a beautiful and well thought through UI – and the two components should live as one.