Recently I read the excellent Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. One of the key points Krug makes is that a good website should be invisible. A user has a goal to reach and that is their focus. The website is a pathway to their goal alone. This reminded me of an article I read whilst undertaking my Visual Communication degree – The Crystal Goblet also known as Printing Should Be Invisible by Beatrice Warde.
Warde uses the analogy that a true connoisseur of wine would chose a clear, crystal, wine glass from which to drink their wine because this vessel has been specifically designed to hold the wine in such a way that it displays, and enhances all the wines qualities; the colour, the smell, and the taste. Its own beauty does not hide that of the wine which is the thing that we wish to consume. In the same way a website should be designed specifically to display and show the information that the user requires from it. It should not hide the information with needless flashy graphics and images.
Krug states that a good, clear website design is one that does not make the user think, it guides them clearly and quickly to the information they seek without hindering them in any way. The designer, who keeps their users’ needs at the forefront of their mind, is the designer who will produce a website that will function so perfectly that the user will not notice they have taken a journey at all.
Too cool to be called for
‘Without this essential humility of mind, I have seen ardent designers go more hopelessly wrong, make more ludicrous mistakes out of an excessive enthusiasm, than I could have thought possible… It is not a waste of time to go to the simple fundamentals and reason from them’.
Sometimes, in the quest for innovative design, the true purpose of our project can become obscured and forgotten; this purpose being the need of the end users. We often spend more of our time worrying about the ‘wow’ factor and how to make a website really stand out, than focusing on how we can achieve what the consumer needs in the most efficient, and effective way. Many users will not appreciate the skill of a great designer, as the design works so well it is invisible, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted. The majority of the time we only seem to notice when things are wrong.
Look for the invisible
If we spent our time looking for the things that make a website good, and appreciate them more regularly, we would be able to learn from them and use similar principles in future designs. The next time you use a website for the first time, and get straight to the information you need, try and actively remember; note down what made it easy for you to use and how this was achieved, and consider it the next time you work on a design.
For Beatrice Warde’s full talk on the importance of good typography and invisible print click here;
About Samantha Harvey
Sam recently graduated from Visual Communication. She joined our team in April 2011 and has been conducting user research and has been making sure our user interfaces follow good design principles. She's keen to point out our poor selection of fonts... er I mean typography (sorry Sam). Follow Samantha on twitter @samharvey_ux