When she taught writing, Jen Dary would start with a quote from Steven King describing writing as telepathy: “I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds.”
“You forget that someone is on the other end reading,” Jen, a Web 2.0 Expo New York speaker and designer, said. “It’s communication… You’re communicating something through your words.”
If writing is telepathy, Jen said, we should consider design a haunting. “I think a lot about not getting to the point in the design where you’re looking at the statistics of the page and no one is clicking the orange button. You’re as good as a ghost in a room. You’re yelling at them to click the button, but they can’t hear you obviously… Your design has to be strong enough to hold that time lapse and that distance.”
She’ll discuss this more in-depth at her Web 2.0 Expo session, UX Designers: Ghosts in the Room, on Wednesday.
At some point a designer gets locked out and must let the user figure it out on her own. You can prevent the frustration of confused users with some serious pre-production work.
Jen recommends you first consider your approach to solving the problem. At this point, it’s about the conceptual issues, not aesthetic concerns like color or typography. A wireframe or white boarding is a great starting place. One of her team’s first conversations during a project focuses on the target audience’s demographics and what they want or expect. You need to understand how a non-technical person looks at your UX compared to a web savvy user.
She recommended dailymile, Groupon (depending on the page), Jetsetter, Mint, and Zipcar as examples of web designs she admires for their UX. “Mint is great because it’s boring content, but they make it really clear and fun to look at,” she said. “Every single other bank site… is so horrific and you have no idea how much money you have.”
“Don’t assume that because a company is successful means they have a good UX.”
Things start to go wrong in the design process when the edge cases suffocate the room, she said. Everyone on a team may agree on the main reason for a site, but they can come up with ridiculous ideas for what would happen in random use cases. It could also be an issue of competing interests. An airline website might want to promote their credit card or rewards program on the main page, when really 99.9% of people only care about travel dates and prices. “So much is going on that it detracts from the main purpose. As a designer, you have to say it’s possible to do that, but you can’t compromise.”
She used Google.com as an example of simplicity at its best – the main focus is the search function, and everything else is white space or at the very top.
Learn more about being a good design ghost this week at Jen’s session. Register with code BLG20 to save 20%.