Beauty in Web Design

Friday, March 12, 2010 at 2:00pm
Cennydd BowlesClearleft Ltd

Cennydd Bowles leapt into the world of user experience eight years ago and hasn’t shut up about it since. He now works for Clearleft by day and moonlights as a UX blogger, mentor and community evangelist. Cennydd is a regular public speaker (IA Summit, Design By Fire, EuroIA), a widely-published writer (A List Apart, Johnny Holland, .net magazine) and co-founder of the UX London conference. He is currently writing his first user experience book with fellow Clearleftie James Box, to be published in September 2010.

The underachieving web.
We’re underachieving on the web. A blog post: Landmark Web Sites, Where Art Thou? Where are all the web masterpieces? The web has shaped generations, but the sum is greater than the parts. Look at popular sites (google, facebook, etc), they’re great successes, but not great, not truly beautiful site.

Automotive design brings beauty, emotion, passion. Guitars at the same way. Architecture also has this. Information design, graphic design (fedex logo) also have beauty and passion.

What is the point of beauty? It effects us in profound ways – the emotional aspect. We react better to beauty. Beauty makes things easier to use (not think it’s easier to use), it actually makes it easier. Our brains respond better to aesthetically pleasing objects. Apple really understands it. Look at the original imac, and how it brought beauty to computers that was never there before. Beauty gives us positive emotions and helps us use things. It’s why we put art on walls. The most powerful aspect of beauty is that it can change our world.

What is the power of beauty in our web word?

Beauty Evolves.
Look at the evolution of art. The renaissance is a gateway to beauty in things – things mankind can create.

Websites aren’t tangible – they’re just data. They change all the time. They’re replicated thousands of times. It could be said to be different for every user (what browser, OS, screen res?).

Three types of beauty.
Universal – crosses all cultures – symetric.

Social-cultural – using standards of a particular time or particular place.

Subjective – personal encapsulation of beauty. Your personal likes and dislikes.

Three modes of design.

  1. Visceral design – entirely sensory, we feel positive to something. It’s attraction. To design for visceral response, we need to design for shape and color. On the web, visceral is entirely visual. It rewards attraction over usability.
  2. Behavioural – It’s about use. Does this thing in front of me work? Does it sustain flow, and work in the way I expect? Make sure your design has proper dimensions, and sends clear messages about its functions. Jacob Nielson’s work is based on this area. It’s all about what a user wants to achieve. Usability can make sites usable and profitable, but not always beautiful.
  3. Reflective – does this design fit in as I am as a person? Does this fit my life? What does the brand stand for? Successful reflective design makes us feel good, and changes the way we think about things. This isn’t just usability, but true user experience design.

Make the web beautiful.
The medium is still pretty young, and changing very quickly. New behavioral approaches are coming into play.

  1. Get emotional – claiming a website is easy to use it like claiming your restaurant servers food you can eat. We need to tell a story.
  2. Think bigger – User and the business are the typical sites. Are we truly trying to make a difference in things, or just making what  client asks for?
  3. Lead – a strong individual needs to be there. "When was the last time you saw a statue of a committee? Too many cooks do spoil the broth.
  4. Think long term – keep people excited about the designs we make. Spice things up, and bring unexpected joy – vary things to keep it interesting. Add a surprise.
  5. Broaden horizons – find those life changes things – notice the world around you. Expand your horizons, look outside your comfort area.
  6. Be brave – start making statements. Stand for something and convey our ideas through our work. Where are the schools of thought for web design, philosophic approaches in web design.

Caveat: sometime this is hard when you need to get a job done. Reflective shouldn’t be dogma – should be used appropriately.

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