Design has become increasingly more complex. We’ve gone from simply worrying about what typeface to use and what grid to put it on, to thinking about how accessible our design is, how well it enhances the underpinning layer of UX, how it reduces customer effort, and how well it’s advocating a better brand. In my quest to become a more conscientious designer in this busy, complex world, I’ve found a few invaluable resources that I’d like to share. Specifically, I’ve found three books to make anyone a better UI designer.
I know, books take time to read but they are so worth prioritizing in your day. One chapter at a time, one night a week and you are armed with the tools to bring some order to the crazy.
"Don’t Make Me Think Revisited" by Steve Krug.
One of the biggest problems with designers is that not only do we need to give the user the information they need, but we feel the need to add a billion bells and whistles and throw in a few streamers too. Embellishment. It has a place but that’s not always in UI design. Sometimes less is more. I like to live by these bold words of advice: strip out everything from the experience and add back in only what the user needs. Or, as Luke Wroblewski once aptly said, "Any visual element that is not helping your layout ends up hurting it".
Set those bells and whistles on the shelf for another day.
Steve Krug tells us a thing or two about making things obvious to our users in a humorous, concise book that you could read in a Saturday afternoon. He’s got basic rules of thumb to help simplify your process, “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice. – Krug’s Second Law of Usability.” He’s even got tips to incorporate usability testing into your process on just 10¢ a day! An invaluable resource that will enhance your approach, give you some good ammunition in your presentations, and just make your work better.
It’s disheartening to see how many terrible forms there are out there. Just the other day I ordered some labels for my daughter, from the same site I’ve been ordering from for 4 years, Applied Labels. Now, I do love these labels or I wouldn’t bother with the form in the first place. Every single time I need to purchase these labels, I’m entering so much information in the checkout process that I feel like I’m applying for an insurance quote! Does it save my information? No. Does it allow my browser to auto populate the fields? Another resounding no.
We can surely do better.
Forms are one of the most interactive elements on your site. So much time is spent making delightful experiences with beautiful photography and micro-animations while the transactional aspects of an experience frequently suffer, according to Jessica Enders. Enders gives us helpful tools and the right questions to ask to start designing better forms in “Designing UX: Forms.” From researching what data needs to be collected in the first place to thoughtful layouts and finally writing everything in concise and simple English, this book is a wonderful resource.
"Time slips away, now there’s no return. Say goodbye to yesterday…" chants Chris Whitley on his 2001 album Rocket House. Time is the one thing we all seem to throw away, yet is our most valuable resource.
Consider how easy it is for our users to use the tools we design for them. They will complete that long form if it’s simple to understand and, you guessed it, easy to get through.
Forget the success metric of 3-5 "clicks", they will move through those 5 or 6 or 7 clicks on your site in no time if they are obvious. Users will follow the sweet scent of information we like to call it. We can be more thoughtful stewards of time by carefully considering what elements we add to our experiences and how simple we make them to get through.
Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd have spent 40 years collectively researching the science of time and how it affects your outlook in life in "The Time Paradox". They teach to balance your past and present with healthy dose of future planning. Making choices in your life from a place of balance can yield a more fulfilling and happy life. Learning about the effects of time on our choices can help us simplify our experiences too.
Simplicity. One book at a time.