Saturday, April 28, 2007

Web design solutions

The key to any successful marriage is compromise. While things may not always go the way you want them to, in the end, coming to an agreement helps you to achieve a greater good. The same holds true for user interface (UI) design. After all, what else is the user interface if not a marriage of form and function?

To effectively evaluate the cost and benefit of each web design solutions that affects the UI, you need insight across many fields, from cognitive psychology to human factors to graphic design.
Designing the UI is fundamentally an exercise in compromise—not compromise between designers and other project stakeholders (usability should never be sacrificed as a result of office politics)—but compromise between the drawbacks and benefits of design decisions. Every UI decision, from a pixel’s precise placement to the entire site’s information architecture, should be made judiciously. Careful consideration of the benefits each design decision affords and costs its users is essential. It’s the sometimes-subtle expense that many people often overlook, and every UI decision does have expense. Educated compromise across all UI decisions is essential to creating the best interface possible, and is, ironically, required if you are to avoid designing a compromised interface.

Compromise does not end with screen-level design, either. It’s threaded throughout larger issues in UI design, including supported web demographics (which browser, platform, monitor resolution, etc. the application will operate on), thin/fat/rich client architecture, development time, and cost issues. Usability still plays a large role in evaluating such compromises, but other real-world mitigating issues start to creep in. For example, if one design solution is clearly superior to another, does that justify an additional ten thousand dollars in development expenses? Is a particular piece of functionality (the good) worth the monetary cost (the bad)? Or conversely, is the budget savings (the good) worth the decrease in application usability (the bad)? Such decisions need to be evaluated as what they truly are, compromises, and acted upon accordingly.

Simply recognizing the fact that UI design is based on a foundation of compromise can go a long way in getting the project team to understand the why behind designs. Doing so will reduce the risk of derailing an optimal UI design that is inaccurately critiqued by those who only see one side of the story. By clearly showing the costs, the benefits, and the corresponding net value of your designs, you can educate others while championing your vision. After all, if we can all just compromise, we can live with the good and the bad. Just don’t give us the ugly.

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Web Designer