It’s a more exciting time than ever to be designing the digital frontier. And why shouldn’t it be? Americans on average are spending upwards of 10 hours of time looking at digital content on screens a day. For better or for worse, digital design is the future.
It’s fitting then to focus on bringing digital design into the future. Namely, by looking at what we need to leave behind.
The constantly rotating powerpoint slideshow featured on all your least favorite websites. This is the asbestos of web design. It’s easy, it’s versatile, it’s cheap. But this cancerous trend needs to be, like asbestos, carefully removed from any and all places it still remains. Or at least put up a warning sign or something.
Carousels are better at hiding content from your users than anything you could do intentionally. Honestly, you’d probably be better off actively hiding your content in some really subliminal way so that your users think your site is some elevated avant-garde work of art.
Put simply, the carousel doesn’t work. The numbers don’t lie. 89% of your users won’t engage with anything past your first carousel item.
I understand the desire to use a carousel. I’ve used a carousel for a client before. It’s very tempting. You have 10 different things you want to show off on the front page of your site and you can’t fathom only having one? The obvious solution, use a carousel.
Understanding that carousels DON’T WORK is the first step in creatively looking for another solution. Here are some of my suggestions:
- Limit your content. This one is hard (especially when you are “designing by committee”) but ask yourself, if I could only display one thing in this space, what would it be?
- Test your content. Perhaps you couldn’t decide what to cut and what to keep. Look at your numbers. What are your users going to your site to do? Find it out and highlight that content as opposed to that and 6 other things.
- Tell a story. Maybe all the content in your carousel is essential to communicating your brand, product, business, services, etc. In that case, cut the slider but find a way to tell a story with your content that will engage your users into discovering it naturally instead of on an ever rotating snorefest.
“But Mac, I have to put my content in a slider! Otherwise it wouldn’t be above the fold!” 😱
Back when newspapers existed… wait, they still exist? Oh.
Newspapers fold down the middle. When deciding to buy a newspaper, you typically only see what is above that fold line. If it doesn’t engage you, you probably won’t buy it. So newspaper editors try to only put the most engaging articles and headlines “above the fold” to entice people into buying their paper. It’s basically your grandfathers version of clickbait.
The web is different from a newspaper. While it’s still important to try to engage your users with interesting content from the get go, we needn’t concern ourselves with a magical fold line determining whether our users engage with content or not.
The web is interactive. And the ability and understanding to scroll is second nature. Don’t believe me? Hand an iPad to a two-year old (you should probably put a case on that bad boy first) and see how long it takes them to understand scrolling. I’m assuming you will only be waiting a few seconds.
The movement to forget about the page fold in digital design is nothing new. But if you’ve been in any meetings with a client or a part of a dreaded “design by committee” project, the page fold keeps coming up. Maybe this can be the year we officially move on from treating our digital designs like something that just came off the Gutenberg Press.
Here are some of my suggestions to easing your anxiety about placing anything below the fold:
- Tell a story. Similar to why you should remove your carousel, if you are able to tell a compelling enough story with your content, your users won’t need to be sold on your site with the first 1024×500 pixels they see.
- Try some peeking content. Have just a little bit of your additional content peek above your “fold”. This will give your users a visual cue that they can scroll (not that they need it, but this is for YOUR anxiety 😉) but still give you the freedom to let the content at the top of your page breathe.
This is something that really REALLY needs to end. It won’t, but it needs to. In fact, I predict that dark UX patterns will only continue to get more and more pervasive. A dark pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things they didn’t intend to.
We have all experienced dark patterns. They can range from relatively innocent to insidious. Maybe its just a website using somewhat manipulative language to get you to sign up to their mailing list. Or maybe it’s a site deliberately set up to trick you into downloading malware. Or maybe it’s a Nigerian prince offering you money over email. Regardless, dark patterns are everywhere.
Digital designers are in many ways building the future. There is an inherent responsibility that we are not designing things to harm our fellow-man. The temptation to take the easy way out and make design decisions that are detrimental to the end-user is always there. But we cannot allow this to become the norm.
Here are my suggestions to avoid falling into using dark patterns:
- Just be honest. People are smart and can spot a snake oil salesman from a mile away. Be genuine with what you are designing. If not, you’ll be losing more than users.
- Be brave. As a designer, we are sometimes pushed by higher-ups into implementing dark patterns. You can either compromise your values and do it or you can choose to be a good designer. Choosing the latter will probably get your farther in life.
- Study dark patterns. Sometimes, we are designing dark patterns and we don’t even know it. Familiarize yourself with what dark patterns exist and ensure you aren’t using them. Ask your users if they are feeling manipulated by your designs at all. You may be surprised at what you find out.
I recently came across the picture below via @timcaynes on Twitter. It’s a handful of screenshots of different marketing and design agency’s home pages. Startling, isn’t it?
I try hard not to objectively state that a design is either good or bad. Each and every design has its merits (unless a carousel is involved). What’s more important than determining if something is a good design is determining if it is the right design. But with how similar the web looks nowadays, I believe that designers have come to a consensus on what “Good Design” is. It’s not uncommon for an industry to come to this point. Look at the auto industry nowadays.
So why does everything just look the same now? I think the problem comes down to fear.
Once we decide objectively whether something is good or bad, creativity gives way to fear. Why would you try something new when you can be wrong? Most of us are not often in positions where we are able to take risks with a design that doesn’t conform to norms. If a car designer came up with something totally new and it didn’t sell, millions of dollars and jobs could be lost.
Risk is scary in the design world. But without it, we are slowly working our way towards a future where every website, car, home and person looks the same. 2017 needs to be the year where we truly overcome our fear of design risks and take innovative steps towards the future. Here is how we should do it:
- Test early and often. If our problem is fear of risk, we need to take as many steps into mitigating risk as possible. Testing a design is exactly how we do this. There should be no more grand reveals. Get feedback the second the pencil hits the paper.
- Understand your strengths. What makes what you’re designing different? Consider how you and what you’re designing for are different from the rest of the pack and run with it. In a world where everything is looking the same, anything that differentiates you will be an asset.
- Practice risk taking. You can’t expect to be a master risk taker right off the bat. Try to do something daily that is outside of your comfort zone. Whether it is a design, hanging out with someone, saying something. Just try it. It will make you better!
So take that risk, prove me wrong about carousels and be great!