Part 4 – Deflating the Ego: Letting the user drive your choices in design

This 4 part series was written by the talented UX design team here at Charity Dynamics. To learn more about their awesome nonprofit focused design work, visit our portfolio!


You have great ideas. You have a great design concept. You’re wrong. If you’re not letting the user influence and drive your decisions, you need to let go. Today we’re learning the five biggest ways you can filter your ideas for your project through the most important factor: the person who will actually be using your design.


Don’t Be Afraid of the Scroll:
When the internet was birthed and went public, print was king. Many print design concepts were carried over into this new form of media and while it made sense in the beginning, many of these old habits are just holding you and your user back.

There is no “Above the Fold”. This was a popular concept brought over from print because it was a tried and true way to grab someone’s attention with a big headline and important stories on the front page and above the literal fold in the newspaper. The internet is not a newspaper and treating it as such will increase the ease of use in your users by not trying to cram everything into the top of your website, email or other project. Scrolling is a natural habit by now. In fact, 66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold. The top is still important, but it’s time to free it up and let it breathe because a well designed project will actually invite a user to scroll down the page where they absorb your story and dig deeper.


Bigger is Better:
Another influence from print is boxy, cluttered design. This is leftover from having a lot of real estate to fill with content on a printed page. However, with increasing variations in screen sizes for desktop, tablets and mobile to everything in between, this style remains the most inconsistent across all platforms in digital formats. This is also another reason that there is no above the fold anymore -because it has become increasingly difficult to know where the fold even is with so many screen size variations out there today. In fact, there is no longer a gap in the range between screen sizes from smartphones to desktop. To remain consistent across platforms and become responsive we need to break free of small, boxy design and move to Big Design.

It may seem counterintuitive to go with a bigger design since, in many cases, people are increasingly using smaller screens. However, it actually frees us from the clutter and let’s us create a more pleasant user experience. By making these elements bigger, you are able to get maximum impact once your users land on your site because you are giving them a focus on the page. Instead of trying to control your user, you get out of their way and let the story you’re trying to tell take center stage instead of getting lost. This more unified, satisfying user experience has shown to yield higher conversion rates, decrease bounce rates and encourage sharing, not mention improving accessibility.


Desktop and Mobile Are Different (But the Same):
Desktop and mobile are different, but also are not mutually exclusive. You’re no longer just designing a desktop and mobile version of your project since there are so many screen sizes and no longer a gap between them. You need to design your project to be responsive and the best responsive designs remain consistent across all devices with just changes in how your content is viewed. Your content and navigation should remain the same, although the form and function in how it’s displayed should adjust to the screen size. For example, the three bar “hamburger” menu is a good, intuitive option in smaller screen sizes but a more traditional expanded menu is more intuitive for larger screen sizes because the user expectation is different.

The navigation is the anchor for your project and confusing the user, in this area especially, will just lead to higher bounce rates. Speaking of consistency and not confusing your users, creating a style tile for your project and, on a larger scale, a style guide for your organization will help keep things consistent visually for a pleasing user experience. Integrate it into your workflow because it’s also very important to actually stick to these guides on future projects. If you send an email for example that uses fonts, colors and visual themes that are totally outside of your established guides, your user is going to be confused and even skeptical therefore less likely to engage.


Content is King:
Way back in 1996, Bill Gates wrote an article called Content is King. “[Users] need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines,” is one quote from this article and not much has changed since then.

If you are designing out your page or site without any real content in mind you’re not getting a product with any real substance. “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” – a quote from another visionary, Jeffrey Zeldman. Basically what these two quotes are telling us is that design decisions should be driven by content and the layout should be created to support the content. Without content in the beginning of the process, the best layout isn’t being created and and the client isn’t getting the best product. Your flying blind with the user experience and the last thing your want to do is confuse or annoy your user.


Micro-interactions Are Classy:
In a great example of the internet being it’s own type of media and removing the influences of print once and for all, micro-interactions help involve the user and humanize the user experience. A micro-interaction is a small moment of functionality that accomplishes one simple task, like a Facebook like, rating a song or triggering a type of animation when scrolling. Make no mistake; these animations are not flash animations. A flash animation gets in the way of the user experience whereas a micro-interaction is an integrated part of the user experience. If done well, you can take what is usually a dull and forgotten task and make it something enjoyable and memorable, triggering an emotional response that increases the pleasantness of the user experience that leaves a lasting impression therefore increasing adoption and customer loyalty.

So what did we learn? Make sure your great ideas and design concepts bow down and serve your master, the user, because they are ultimately the ones who will decide if it is great. Think big and don’t think “above the fold”. Think responsive and interactive, but don’t you dare forget about the content.