Category: Design

Looking for design inspiration somewhere else

I always enjoy browsing the web in search of new design inspiration, but after browsing Dribbble, Instagram, Uplabs, etc. it’s hard not to feel that all designs look very same-y. And it’s only natural, it’s hard not to unconsciously follow trends. When you see design patterns everywhere as they become popular, they seep into your thought process without you even noticing.

Also, it’s not realistic to expect radical, new designs to be coming out all the time. For one, it’s hard to think of something completely new, and for another, you might not want to do that in the first place because when you trade the familiar for the new, you also trade previous knowledge for some learning curve. Using familiar design patterns reduces the burden on new users to learn how your product works since they’ve probably used something like it before and they can just focus on doing what they need, instead of puzzling over your innovative design.

But you can find ample design innovation in the details. You’d be surprised how often little details are behind people sticking with one product over another. One way I love finding design inspiration is from adjacent fields. For example, in the quote below, Jared Sinclair suggests borrowing an aspect from game onboarding design.

In Friday App Design Review – eHarmony, Jared Sinclair writes [emphasis mine]:

There are ten screens to choose from in the basement menu, and each screen has its own subcategories and sections. It’s difficult to figure out which, if any, is the main screen of the app.

Again, a solution could be to take a cue from video game design. Character abilities are rarely available all at once. They are unlocked as the gamer progresses through an in-game tutorial. New abilities are announced with little moments of fanfare, creating a sense of accomplishment and expertise.

That’s a great example of finding inspiration in an adjacent field. By the way, borrowing from game design in this case shouldn’t be confused with gamification. This is strictly onboarding design, not a gaming mechanic with trophies and such.

What’s the lesson here? Keep your radar on even when you’re not looking at design content. That’s where you’ll find the best kinds of inspiration. Happy designing & hunting. ❤︎

Chris Do on working while in college

In today’s entrepreneurship craze, studying is seen like the lame/lazy thing to do. You’re encouraged to drop out and start your own thing. So you’d think that Chris Do would go with the trend and advocate that designers do the same and skip school or focus on working while in school to get a headstart and prepare for the real world.

But it all comes down to this: don’t do half-assed work. If you’re gonna go to college, go to college and give it your all. Maybe some people are better off skipping college and that’s fine too. Pick one. Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to do too many things at the same time. Chances are you’ll only do them all mediocrely and be great at none of them.

→ Watch the video on YouTube

Sweating the details in design

Businesses prioritize what they can measure. Because what you can measure, you can improve. But not everything can be measured easily. If you only focus on what you measure, you miss out on the small stuff. The stuff that doesn’t make sense from an ROI perspective. But it just makes your product a joy to use.

Jared Sinclair writes in his post Friday App Design Review – Code Review, an Inbox for GitHub Pull Requests:

I like that when I tap the segmented control at the top, the master list animates in the direction of the selected tab. It creates a strong spatial memory, an important component of a comfortable app.

Jared Sinclair is an experienced designer and so he was able to explain why that little detail is worth having and how it makes the experience of using the product better. Few people can articulate their thoughts about a design with such clarity, but people will still pick up on those details. They might not be able to say why they like a product so much, but they know that it’s polished, that it was made with care. People can always tell when something was made with love and care, and it always results in a positive experience. No matter what you do, whether you work in design or not, put care into your work and you’ll be happier for it. You’ll be proud of what you made, and your customers will appreciate and respect it, maybe even love it.

Jared Sinclair’s design review of AnyList from 2014 is still worth your time

Design trends move quickly, so you might think that an app review from 2014 would be irrelevant today. But good design principles are timeless and you can still learn from old content if it’s good. iOS designer Jared Sinclair has a great series of design reviews from a few years ago that I find myself going back and rereading them every once in a while to get into a critical design mindset.

From 2014, Jared Sinclair, Friday App Design Review – AnyList, Shared Grocery Lists:

Implied borders are accomplished through the visual rhythm of multiple elements, identical in size and proportion, spaced at regular intervals. Elements of different sizes or shapes, or with an irregular arrangement, result in fuzzy implied borders. In an iOS app, fuzzy borders should be avoided, especially when arranging tappable elements.

The lesson above is a good, practical lesson that’s still valid today and you can apply it in your everyday design. It’s not some vague nonsense about color theory or grids that you come across all the time on Medium and Twitter.

Another snipped I liked:

This stock look doesn’t do AnyList any favors. As a subscription service, AnyList aspires to build a long-term relationship with its customers. Just like a dating relationship, this story will begin with visual attraction.

Not only does Jared talk about the importance of aesthetics but he also approaches design from a business mindset, and using aesthetics as a differentiator and value-add, not for self-indulgence or designer ego.

Make sure to read the full review.

Alan Cooper on the ROI of UX

Alan Cooper writes in What’s the ROI of UX [emphasis mine]:

Return on investment is a manager’s term. Understanding it, tracking it, and increasing it are a manager’s job, not the practitioner’s. The designer’s job is to design, to make the product effective and desirable. It’s the manager’s job to make sure that money is made from its being desired. And yet, managers continue to ask the practitioners about ROI. When they ask, they aren’t seeking enlightenment. They are expressing their doubts. They are voicing their skepticism. They are building a case against the discipline.

And the practitioners take the bait every time.

Alan Cooper is a household name in the UX space, but I disagree with him that it’s not a designer’s job to think with a business mindset. The way I see it, a designer does their best work when they align the priorities of the business with those of the customers, and they can only do that if they think with a business mindset.

User-centered design should be a means, not an end. The end is building a sustainable business. What good is a great design if the company can’t sustain itself, has to shut down, and asks its customers to find alternatives? That’s the worst possible outcome for customers. The way you build a sustainable business is by aligning the business and the customer and building a longterm between the two. That’s where user-centered design comes in. You can’t get customers to keep coming back if you go with bad tactics for short term gain. Instead, you solve their problems and show them you care about them, hence user-centered design. But design should flow the business and what it does best, not the other way around.

Remote design sprints: proven tips by seasoned sprinters at AJ&Smart

If you’re trying to learn anything about design sprints, it’s hard not to come across content by AJ&Smart. In less than 2 years of putting out content, they’ve managed to become the authority on all things design sprints, whether it’s their generous free content on YouTube and their CEO’s podcast with Sprint author Jake Knapp, or their premium offerings such training or masterclass.

What makes their content good & relevant is that it’s all based on real, on-going design sprint experience. They didn’t run a few design sprints and then pivoted to preaching & teaching. They’ve run over a hundred sprints and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon, so I wouldn’t worry about their content becoming out-dated or out-of-touch with how the design sprint process evolves over time. All this to say that when they talk about design sprints, you’re going to want to listen.

AJ&Smart CEO Jonathan Courtney just published a long post detailing how they did remote design sprints to completely redesign Kevin Rose’s meditation app Oak. The whole post is a good read because you rarely see companies talking about their internal projects, but Kevin Rose & AJ&Smart were nice enough to share that publicly. Here are the tips about running remote design sprints:

Be extra-specific when making notes and writing the likes of the How Might We postits — these may need to be read by someone on the other side of the world when you’re not there to explain what you meant.

Double-down on alignment check-ins: there’s a lot more scope for misunderstandings and confusion in a remote Design Sprint, so it’s important to make time for extra check-ins to make sure everyone is on the same page

Extra focus on the Lightning Demos: again because there’s scope for confusion, it’s important to realllllly understand the client’s mindset and what they[re envisioning. It’s harder to do this while not in the same room so we’ll always put a lot of emphasis on them showing us what inspires them, and we’ll also do a bit of extra work on this too (like the Pinterest board)

Have the right toolbox: tools become very important when running a remote Sprint. Don’t let technology ruin your Sprint or let important stuff get lost in emails. See below for what we use when running a remote Sprint

Read the full post here.

How designers can use their skills to get a seat at the strategy table

Luke Wroblewski, 2006, Defining the Problem: Q&A with Jamie Hoover (emphasis mine):

Q: From my experience, defining problems has been a doorway for designers into the world of product and corporate strategy. Have you experienced similar results

A: By having success at bringing an awareness and clear description of actual problems to others through visual narrative, I became viewed as able to analyze what was really the problem and communicate it. Communicators are who get invited back to the table when its time to shape direction. I think this worked for me because I was invited to be a part of many crucial projects at eBay after this point.

Good design goes hand in hand with good communication. Whether it’s fine art or interface design, a design artifact is always trying communicate something visually. The Luke Wroblewski‘s interview with Jamie Hoover presents a real example of how designers can use their visual communication & storytellings skills to make them valuable at the business table, where they get to influence strategy & direction, rather than be confined to a production role and just “making things pretty.”

Design for communication within a company

Luke Wrobleswski, 2005, Design is communication. Use it as such:

However, as designers and design organizations move up the design maturity continuum (outlined by Jess McMullin) from pure stylists to problem solvers and framers, they’ll have to increasingly apply their skills toward communicating strategic direction to high-level stakeholders. At which point, understanding how to effectively communicate with design artifacts is a very useful skill.

Luke Wrobleswski makes excellent points for how designers can communicate vision, provide context, and illuminate internally. Read the full post here.

Luke Wroblowski on the unique perspective designers can bring to business strategy

Luke Wroblewski, 2006, Defining the Problem:

how can design become part of the strategic process? As outlined above, my response is “by helping to define (or redefine) the problem your business needs to address.” Because they research and dissect user needs, designers are in a unique position to define a problem through the eyes of customers. Because they think and act holistically, designers are able to articulate relationships within a market, across product ecosystems, and between customer needs and business goals. Because they can communicate visually and with narrative, designers are able to effectively articulate these definitions to product teams and stakeholders.

If you’re a designer and you follow Jonathan Courtney (you really should), then you know that he’s been hammering the point that designer can no longer exclusively concern themselves the user while neglecting the big picture of the business and how it works, lest they be relegated to a production role. Luke Wroblewski was making a similar point above back in 2006. What I found further interesting is his articulation of how designers can bring a perspective to the table when discussing strategy that is unique to them and their relationship to the customer across product ecosystems and with relation to business goals.

The simple fix to the iOS media control buttons in control

Ever since Apple introduced Control Center iOS 7, they’ve pretty much updated it with each OS release. While iOS 8/9 had minor updates, iOS 10 was a major one which moved to using different cards for system, playback, and HomeKit controls. Then in iOS 11, they gave it another overhaul which moved everything back to one card, sort of. You had to long press/3D touch some controls to get all the options you had in iOS 10. But I was happy to see them move back to the one card metaphor because I hated swiping around to pause my audio in iOS 10.

Source: MacStories

Source: MacStories

But while the iOS 11 Control Center was definitely an improvement, I’d hoped that iOS 12 would fix my major annoyance with it: media playback controls. Alas, it’s not going to, based on the iOS 12 preview Apple showed in WWDC ’18. The problem with the media controls in iOS 11/12 is that they’re too small and too close to each other. Combined together those two factors make it very easy to tap the wrong button. When you’re listening to music, it’s annoying to accidentally tap next when you meant to pause because someone is talking to you. And it’s doubly annoying when you accidentally fast forward 60 seconds in a podcast/audiobook and have to rewind back to where you were when all you wanted to do was pause! The nightmare scenario is when I’m jogging and trying to hit one of those damned buttons. I either have to twist my thumb to try and touch as little of the screen as possible or I have to 3D touch the play controls to some reasonably spaced controls. Both solutions suck.

For some inscrutable reason, Apple decided to jam the previous/play/next buttons with only 3mm between each button and the next, with the buttons themselves not exceeding 4mm in width. The problem is that most people use their thumbs for most their interactions with their phone, and a thumb’s contact surface area with a screen can easily take up 7–10mm.

Source: Luke Wroblewski - Conversions@Google 2018

Source: Luke Wroblewski – [email protected] 2018

As you can see in the chart above, touch targets under 5mm cause an exponential increase in tapping error rates. What drives me nuts about this is this isn’t a hard problem to solve: make the buttons bigger and space them apart! It’s really that simple. Apple had it mostly right in iOS 7 through 9, and even 10 if you ignore the annoyance of having to swipe to the Now Playing card. I get that they have reasons for the new designs but that doesn’t mean they have to make it work worse than previous versions. They can still easily fix the current design by moving the buttons around a bit:

Left: iOS 11/12 - Right: Concept Solution 1

Left: iOS 11/12 – Right: Concept Solution 1

Does that look as nice & symmetrical as the current design? Maybe not. But would it work better? Heck yes! No way in that design could you accidentally tap the wrong button unless you had very shaky hands. Apple is known for caring about accessibility but the current incarnation of their playback controls is not an instance of such care.

Don’t like it? Alright, we can do better. Who said we need a square anyway? Why not a rectangle:

Left: iOS 11/12 - Right: Concept Solution 2

Left: iOS 11/12 – Right: Concept Solution 2

There, nice and symmetrical. Again, problem solved. Down sides over current design: none (that I can think of). Take a look at all 3 designs and tell me you still think the current design is better, I dare you:

Left: iOS 11/12 - Middle: Concept 1 - Right: Concept 2

Left: iOS 11/12 – Middle: Concept 1 – Right: Concept 2

What do you think? I’m curious to know if you have a better design in mind or if you can think of good reasons to justify the current design over my proposed solutions. I’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever experienced similar pains as I have with media controls in iOS 11? If so, please share this post around so that maybe Apple would notice and fix it. Thank you!