In design words are not only use descriptively, but also to set a mood, to conjure emotions, to steer thinking. But we use and see so much of it, especially online, that words can seem trivial.
I was transitioning a social website from a symmetrical “friends” relationship, to a Twitter-style “followers.” And because we are a health and fitness related product I suggested that “supporters” would be a better fit for the reasons above.
But somewhere along the way “supporters” was reverted to “followers.” The argument being that, technically, “followers” was a more accurate description of the relationship, and one that has already been established by Twitter. I disagreed with this decision, knowing that a lot of context and emotion will be lost. But in my complacency I thought, “It’s just one word. How much harm can it do?”
Now this is contrary to what I was taught in design class. A fundamental rule to modern design, at least in advertising, is to communicate concisely and powerfully for impact. I learned how “Just do it,” three little words, have made Nike billions of dollars. And that words are not merely descriptive, but aspirational, comforting, and many, many other things.
So we relaunched our site with “followers” taking the place of “friends.” And the shit-storm that follows in our support forum took us all by surprise. Users are outraged. They do not want to think of their friends as followers, and they find the notion of following someone creepy, akin to stalking. We explained our decision, but to on avail. So I took this as a sign, and changed “followers” again to “supporters,” and the complaints subsided.
Some people still want their old “friends” back, but others understood the importance of the change in words. Quoted from one of our user in the support forum:
“I understand your feelings, but for me I think the words “Supporters and Supporting” fit the purpose better than “friends” we are all here because we need a little help or “support” if you will. Friends are great but they don’t always understand the problems we deal with. Supporters are people who cope with similar issues and can empathize with you as well as offer useful information on how to overcome the problems we face. They celebrate our successes and commiserate our failures. They give us perspective.”
I am reminded the power of a single word. And promise to be more vigilant in my work.
On Responsive Web Design - No One Wants to Experience a Desktop Site, Only Narrower, on Their Phone
I think Responsive Web Design is a misnomer. It is only responsive insofar as the screen size of a device, which is, in my opinion, the least interesting characteristic of any device.
It certainly doesn’t respond to any of the cool hardware in modern devices, like touch screen, camera, or GPS. And worst of all, it doesn’t respond to how differently people interact with different devices.
Full screen mode - Your standard desktop website with plenty of room for ad space, and fully descriptive navigations.
Tablet mode - Identical to the full screen mode, only slightly narrower. Yawn!
Phone mode - By far the most interesting design choices are made on this level. The designer can do one of two things, to reproduce the content and multi-columns layout of the original by stacking everything top of each other into one column (and pray that it will translate well), or forgo the original altogether and adopt the mobile app paradigm that Apple has established (so much for responsive design).
The thing is, point-and-click, hover state, are staples of desktop interactions. As is ample real estate for a large amount of content to live comfortably onscreen together.
None of that is true for mobile touch screens, where size-able buttons are preferable to text links, and space-saving icons in the place of descriptive navigations. Where multi-touch and gestures are slowly being naturalized, and location-based services all the rage. All this is just the beginning.
In trying to apply a universal design across all platform, Responsive Web Design sets unnatural limits on each device, and therefore limiting their potential.
Consider Facebook’s and Twitter’s mobile sites. They are one and the same as their mobile apps (location-based, photo sharing, all of it). Now consider their desktop sites, and imagine it smaller and in one column.
What a fun word to say, and even more fun in practice.
Skeuomorph. It’s a word that only recently enter my vocabulary when it begins trending within the web design community. But of course skeuomorphism has always been an essential tool for designers, and not only in the practice of design, but more importantly in visualizing solutions.
Windows, tabs, desktops belong to physical objects way before becoming a part of our digital design vernacular. And each metaphor provides a rich set of tools and possibilities when applied in a digital context. Therein lies the true power of skeuomorphism.
But lets assume for a second that skeuomorphism is purely decorative. There is still tremendous value in it.
Function is not the only thing under consideration. Often designers are tasked with conjuring emotions. We want to make our product “fun,” “exciting to use,” “trustworthy to customers.” And to those ends skeuomorphism is an excellent tool.
As I was designing an iPad app, and choosing a familiar fabric pattern for the background I thought, “Yes, I get it. What was cold, hard, and glassy is now visually transformed to a warm, tactile, comforting surface, inviting to the touch.”
But there is a fine line to all of this where skeuomporphism begins to detract. So when my product manager asked for each frame to fold like paper, I asked him, “What happen when you click the fold?” “Nothing. It just look cool.” To that I said, “No.”