There is a problem that I think most designers encounter at some time or another, and I have unilaterally decided to call it Design by Homeopathy. You deliver a strong design - something memorable,hopefully, and with a bit of character. You take this design and give it to a client, who wants to dilute it with a large quantity of blandness. Maybe there are some overall guiding requirements from higher up in the organisation, or requirements from internal stakeholders, but your exciting design is getting seriously watered down. But you bite the bullet and mix in the blandness, and take the result and give to the client again. Again it gets diluted with more blandness. This can happen any number of times, but that's OK, because the blandness 'remembers' the initial great design.
I've recently been reading a fairly lightweight, factual book on our Kindle. It's probably been about six months since I've done this, as my wife has had sole custody of the thing for an age, apparently reading Agatha Christie's entire back-catalogue. Anyway, as when I first bought the thing, I have been marvelling at what a nice user-experience it provides. So light, so easy to read, so comfortable to have my thumb by the next-page button and so romp through any given book, never seems to need charging, and so on. It would be fair to say that, as far as I was concerned, the user-experience lacked nothing.
Having recently finished making a vast set of built-in bookshelves for our living room, I have finally got around to unpacking all of our books from their hiding place in the loft. To be fair, we have only been living here for two-and-a-half years...! One of the books unpacked was a rather nice hardcover version of the same book I'm reading on the Kindle. I now seem to recall buying it, nearly new, from a bootsale shortly after it came out. This seemed to be a good excuse to try out a back-to-back comparison, so that night I read the next 3 chapters from the book instead.
What do you do when you need to convey some information using iconography, and no pre-existing design pattern seems to fit? This was a challenge we recently faced whilst modifying the user interface on a piece of software.
The section of the UI (user interface) was a nested collection of tick-boxes. That is to say, there are parent tick-boxes, and a little [+] symbol on the left of each to click, whereupon the child-items appear, and some of these may also have child-items and so on. What we needed was a way of indicating to the user when a child-item of a tick-box was selected, even though the parent item was not. And given that some of the categories ran up to 5 levels deep, we couldn't simply rely on the user opening out the tree of items to check what was or wasn't ticked.
Today I'd like to say a few words about what isn't needed on a website, and about how leaving out some of the things that you think might be needed can actually make for a better user experience. But first, you'll need to have a look at a favourite site of mine. I've been visiting this particular site for months, and if you're at all into web development you've probably already seen it. The site is 'Today's Guardian' (or Observer, on a Sunday), created by Phil Gyford using the Guardian Open Platform. It's a brilliant example of how a great interface combined with a 'less is more' attitude to page content can result in a really great user experience.