Minimalism in Web Design

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As web designers we must resist the urge to keep adding. Clients often want more features and we struggle with how to do that tastefully, and in a user friendly manner. We also want to make our designs “prettier” by adding more “stuff” to it. This tidbit of advice from Coco Chanel for women resonates with me as a designer.

Do the hair. Do the makeup. Get yourself fully dressed and then, before walking out the front door, pause by the mirror and remove one item. Maybe it’s the hat. Maybe it’s the piece of jewelry you really don’t need. But the line, according to Ms. Chanel, between knockout and near miss could be found in a single overdone object.

link here

With that in mind, I’ve started to really think about the current project I am working on and what I can remove.

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Conversations with Steve Krug, Author of “Don’t Make Me Think”

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Tonight, I had the great pleasure of meeting Steve Krug, one of today’s leading experts on web usability design and author of the famous book “Don’t Make Me Think.” I’ve actually read this book about 3 years ago on a plane ride. It was a very quick read of about 100 pages, but very very easy to digest, practical and applicable. My background is development and being a typical developer at the time, I was very much an engineer who built software for other engineers. Of course this always leads to software and applications that ordinary people hate because it’s hard to use and not intuitive. Anyways, his book opened my eyes to the world of user-centric design methodology. This wasn’t design mumbo jumbo in the creative sense. This was design in the sense of “make something easy to use, easy to learn, and hard to screw up.” His book made it easy for developers to understand how *good* designers applied basic understanding of users to create user interfaces (UI) that made sense.

Anywho, I was able to meet Steve Krug because RoundArch hosted a happy hour for Steve Krug and Lou Rosenfeld *who I did not get to meet :( * because they were in town for some usability workshops. Steve was always swamped it seemed and I finally got a chance to go up to him and introduce myself towards the end of the night. I told him I loved his book, and he mentioned he had another one coming out at the end of this year about doing user testing.

I asked him if there was one thing that he could tell people to educate them on usability what would it be? He said “watch users.” He said you’d be amazed at what you can learn and garner from the simple act of watching how your users interact with your software without you intervening. He’s made CEOs sit down and watch users fumble through bad websites to show them how little they know about their users. Often times too, a simple change such as placement or color can have a huge impact on the usability of a website.

Ever since I’ve read his book, I often test my web applications with non technical people. I just let them drive. Lately, my guinea pig has been my wife. She’s super smart but she’s not technical, although that’s slowly changing. Anyways, I put the computer in front of her and let her figure it out. She’ll say, “but I’m not technical, I won’t get it.” to which I reply, “if you had to be technical then I’ve failed.” So she’s a quick and easy litmus test for me when I make stuff. It’s the same principle as designing a car. It should be easy enough for the average person to learn how to drive. If I had to know the inner workings of the car in order to drive it, that’s a bad car design.

Anyways, I highly recommend his book, especially to developers because you’ll see things differently. You’ll be able to empathize not only with designers more but also your users. And when you create software that users love, that’s a very rewarding feeling.

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