Invisible Design: The Unsung Hero

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Invisible Design: The Unsung Hero

Design is generally considered to be a purely visual attribute of any given product or experience. Yes, aesthetic design is worth your consideration, but it’s certainly not the only ingredient in the pot, nor is it the most important in most cases. The focus of user experience (UX) design forgoes aesthetics in favour of more subtle methods of influencing the habits and feelings of users. For the experience to be authentic and effective, it’s very important to strike a balance between aesthetic and function.

Think about a product at the forefront of design: cars. Different models all look stylistically unique, but the everyman can usually step into a car he has never driven before, and drive it. The steering wheel, gear stick, and dash are always in the same habitual spots, and that locks in the motions and the memories that make that interaction with the vehicle a reality. This isn’t something a driver ever thinks about, because those elements of the design are always where they’re expected to be, and what’s what makes the product a familiar, approachable, utility - luxury comes second. Position the gear stick on the opposite side of what is familiar, and the entire experience will be disrupted.

The same is true of UX design. Certain elements have come to be expected to work in particular ways and live in particular locations. If they don’t, the initial reaction on the user’s end will most likely be confusion or frustration - but don’t let that bar you from trying subtle new things. These patterns emerge and evolve over time. Consider the three horizontal bars now commonly seen as the button to open and close a menu. This relatively new idea has become a standard due to widespread use. The more users engaging with the trend, the more designers will employ it in their development. Before you know it, you have a new standard on your hands.

You know the button means ‘open the menu’, but you don’t remember how you learned that meaning. This is the invisible side of design, meeting or influencing the expectations of a user. Sometimes these are expectations they never even knew they had, until you define them. In this way, designers are often the unsung heroes, meticulously creating something that (if successful) should go unrecognized.

Users will generally arrive at a website looking for something specific. A web designer’s job is to anticipate this search and make the target easy to find. If that target can be used to direct users to other key destinations - be they promoted content or a related product - then all the better. To understand these demographics’ thought processes, an involved look at analytics, click maps, and actively vocal communities has become a must. A silent guide is a guide none the less, and must know what the audience wants to see.

If a website is designed well, at it’s core it will ‘just work’ as the user expects it to. Attention is drawn only when something is broken or confusing. Because of this, the invisible aspect of design is highly important to the user’s overall experience, and will determine whether or not the feeling is premium and intuitive. Once it is, we can guide the user, by seeing where and in what order or context the users will engage with the website. We can specifically target content or a call to action, to get the highest rates of interaction and conversion. For these reasons, that feeling that the user experiences is the golden ticket that designers try to access. It gives us their trust, and the reins to their navigation, in a sense.

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