"What makes a designer is the inability to resist solving problems."
At Groove I am part of a team of "Dev Shop Heroes". My title is "Front End Developer". However in the pre-Groove days I was more graphic and web designer. I'm not actually sure what I was. People called me the "Web and Art Stuff Guy". Having worked on both sides of the line between form and function I question the schizophrenic nature (as I perceive it) of the website as a medium. From year to year I see what feels like a teeter totter going back and forth from sites that are well designed, unique and invite exploration to ones that are minimalist and direct. I'm sure there are many factors driving this, from conversion metrics and site speed, to how enjoyable it is for a user to view and navigate.
It's no surprise that Apple.com has become a driving influence for todays trends and standards. Maybe the grey and white and glossy look was around before Apple but I sure noticed it more after they came along.
I'm not saying any of those sites are copying the style that works for Apple (or Amazon), but they seem to embrace the same "Spartan aesthetics" in order to facilitate customer purchases. The fact that rounded elements and glossy buttons have higher conversion metrics is a proven concept and I can understand its popularity given the success of sites like Apple and Amazon.
(http://uxmovement.com/thinking/why-rounded-corners-are-easier-on-the-eyes/). From a development and a business standpoint these things make sense. From a design standpoint I am interested in how I can make a site stand out from it's competitors. Standards and trends are the enemy and I always like to fight the power.
"ME NO LIKE CHANGE"
I think people as a society are highly resistant to change. The goal is always to create a website that will please the greatest number of users. However trying to take all of the users of a website and filter their likes and dislikes out into one mass profile is probably going to result in a profile that is very conservative. I came across a TED conference video by way of http://onextrapixel.com where Malcom Gladwell retells a story about how the food industry was changed when it was realized that trying to take a single product and market it to its basic user profile is only going end up pleasing 50%-60% of its users, but by taking that single product and breaking it up into multiple products marketed to sub-sets of that overall mass group can please 75% or more of the users. (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html). I think the same applies loosely to website design and development.
One specific example I will give of how I see this working in web development is how we deal with customer site navigation options. There are different options and different arguments as to what works best and we as a team must decide which option to use on a project. The most common options we pick among are:
- Top Nav with dropdowns
- Top Nav with dropdowns and flyouts
- Left Nav with flyouts
- Static Top or Left Nav
- Top or Left Nav Mega Menu
Each of these options have perceived strengths and weaknesses. After using all the options I am convinced that the only option that works for the general user is a Static Top or Left Nav. Hiding items until a mouse event happens is typically used to improve organization and efficiency, but I still feel like a good majority of users don't like them. Flyouts can be difficult to navigate and Mega Menus become visually overwhelming when a large amount of categories are needed. Static navs are also visually overwhelming if you have a lot of categories and pages to display.
WHAT ABOUT OPTIONS
What if we could apply the ideas from Malcom Gladwell speech to the problem of constructing site navigation and we potentially give the user the option to pick between static nav or mega menu. Or between simple design and crazy design. What if we could raise that ceiling for user experience from 60% to 75% by designing and developing multiple versions of the same site that are targeted to sub-sets of the overall user demographic?
Would that rock the world? I say maybe. Who wants to be the first to try?