Category Archives: Design

Grids, Blocks, Behaviors and Attributes

Occasionally I work on projects that I know will turn out horribly.

This usually doesn’t slow me down, since I’m pretty confident I can turn it into something very cool.

Case in point, the shuffling block site I’m working on now. The projected behavior of the site reads like a list of UX no-no’s.

There’s a grid that doesn’t expand, despite the number of objects within, just starts scrolling downward.

The grid is filled with boxes of various sizes, interaction with the boxes makes them either grow larger, or link to other grids. No visible difference in boxes, just random behavior.

The grid re-shuffles every time a box is opened or closed, in a random order, like the system playing Tetris. Things that were there, are now over there.

Oh, but some boxes don’t move, and some boxes only have one size, and some boxes need to be marked so that on every shuffle, they get preferential treatment.

And somewhere in all of this is content.

If it turns out good, I’ll post a link. If it’s a magnificent failure, I’ll post a link.

If my worst fears come true and it’s sort of ordinary, you won’t hear another peep about it.

Core Concepts of the Ruthless Monk

The Ruthless Monk is my general approach to site conceptualization. Here is my general overview of the tenets of hitting something Monk Style.

The user’s current position is considered the center of the site. Wherever the user is, they are in the right place. Bring content to them, don’t use your navigation as advertisement. This only makes the user feel they are in the wrong place, and all other places are better.

Items that are of more relevance are closer to user. This means, stop carrying navigation and global elements around the site. If the user chooses a path, their focus is on that topic or action. Leave shit behind when it’s not needed.

The degree to which items are presented and the visual and cognitive impact they will have. Not everything can be cranked to 11. A simple visual inspection of every screen should reveal the top 2-3 actions you want a user to take. These are the items with the loudest volume, the rest need to be turned down.

Discreet modal shifts within a current space. I call these ‘Flips’ they are nothing more than div layers that contain a complete and concise task. They are called when needed, and should adapt to user position and mindset.

Story Shaping
Arranging user opportunities through a story metaphor. If I asked you to tell me about your new camera, it’s unlikely you would organize your thoughts in the same manner as a camera maker’s site. Think about how a conversation evolves, how people will interrupt at moments of interest and change the course of the discussion. This is real time Story Shaping.

Content will always beget an action. If it doesn’t provoke action, it is likely useless. Also, ask yourself what questions a user would have based on a piece of content. That is likely to inform your choice of actions you provide, and think ACTION, don’t always think movement.

If it doesn’t add something, remove it. Be ruthless in your dislike for every object on the screen. Strong, single and simple actions will always beat complex, wishy-washy activities. At some point, everyone is a uni-tasker… realize the power in this.

My Favorite Video, pt. 1

This is usually the type of thing that goes on inside my brain everyday. I have a strange surreal thing happening to me these days.

Mercury Rev – Opus 40 by the remarkable Anton Corbijn

Is Ugly Better?

There’s been a bit of discussion on the merits of “Ugly Design” lately, (Scoble | GoJobby | 9Rules) and the value of Effectiveness vs. Aesthetic.

As a designer, I put no faith in this. As a UI architect, there was some validity. As the owner of a project that is only becoming successful as the site becomes more ghetto, I am a believer.

I believe design is nothing more than the communication of an idea. This idea can be an emotion, a belief, a set of instructions, or a transaction between a user and a system. Additionally, I believe that the more refined and aestetically pleasing that communication, the better a user would respond and comprehend.

I may have been incorrect on that second point.

Oddly, I’ve always been a fan of DIY art, publishing, etc. and hold the early punk design in very high regard. The vehicle became less important than the communication. As Heller describes (talking about an entirely different phase of ugly design) : “Ugly design can be a conscious attempt to create and define alternative standards. Like warpaint, the dissonant styles which many contemporary designers have applied to their visual communications are meant to shock an enemy – complacency – as well as to encourage new reading and viewing patterns.” Link

So why am I so hesitant to embrace Ugly Design? Perhaps because it’s so randomly successful. Or perhaps because I’m far too egocentric a desginer to believe any user would adopt something so shady looking.

My project is currently about to test a version of the site with a design based on the well-performing, but ugly, design. The pages were given to an accomplished designer, who turned out a predictably pleasing version of the same pages, using the same content and transactive elements.

Should this test show the ugly version to be preferred. I’m not sure how I will feel.

One last word.. as Ugly Design becomes a trend in itself, let’s take some advice (also from Heller)

“The problem with the cult of ugly graphic design…is that it has so quickly become a style that appeals to anyone without the intelligence, discipline or good sense to make something more interesting out of it.”