Dear creative. Five books that will change your perspective.

Now, I’ve never really been much of a reader. I tend to get distracted easily and my imagination flies away from me (not always a bad thing!). I’ve always found it easier to digest information visually, but over the last couple of years, I’ve begun to understand the importance of reading, and writing as well…

With the rise and on-going success of artificial intelligence technology, chatbots and interactive design, communication is being brought even further to the forefront of product design. In my opinion, a lot of the reason behind successes and failures in these mediums is down to the interface language that is presented before the user, in combination with a lack of research conducted to actually understand the audience. One clear way to solve this would be learning to write in a way that connects with your user and learning to read and research in a way that enables you to understand them.

A big problem with this though, is that few designers are actually trained to ‘write’. When I was studying at university, we were tasked with a dissertation and a few additional essay assignments over the course of the three years to get us in the mind-set of writing, but it wasn’t until I actually started doing this job that I realised the importance of writing as a crucial skill that needs to be displayed on my CV. Writing is a way of communicating and clarifying your thoughts, it gives you a voice no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

I think a way for us designers to become better writers, is not only with practise but by reading as well, which brings me to the main point of this article. Reading the wisdom and work of others, getting a better understanding of how language is used and how ideas are articulated will all help with curating your own way of writing and perhaps even opening your mind to different ways of thinking a long the way.

Here are a few books that I would recommend to get you started…

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini

The ultimate guide to understanding the reasons why we say “yes”. This book is a winner for me as it offers you a profound insight into making decisions and what motivates us to make the decisions we make. This is something that can be brought across every aspect of your life.

Ways of Seeing
John Berger

This book was recommended to me by one of my old university tutors and it took me a couple of reads to get my head around it, but when I did it just blew me away. This book in my opinion is one of the greatest insights in the way we perceive art that I’ve ever come across. This is summarised for me in the book’s opening sentence…

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”

The Art of Looking Sideways
Alan Fletcher

This one is not for the faint hearted. Coming in at a whopping 583 pages (give or take) this book offers a comprehensive exploration into the workings and the relationship between the visual and verbal languages. I confess I’ve not been able to get through this one cover to cover yet, but I’ll get there!

Six Thinking Hats
Edward de Bono

Another book recommended to me by my tutors and funnily enough has been brought up recently here at work. Edward de Bono breaks down the different thinking modes of the brain and deliberates on how we can use them to be more productive and decisive. A true classic.

Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons
Dugald Steer

I borrowed this once off a friend but unfortunately still don’t own it myself yet! This one’s more a personal favourite of mine, as 1) ever since I was a child I’ve loved the idea of dragons and 2) the sheer amount of thought and imagination that has gone into this one is simply mind blowing! A perfect example of creativity at it’s finest…

Thanks for the read! Until the next time…

Why research is critical to the design journey

When beginning a new design project, whether it be a website, a logo or a brochure etc., the main challenges always lie within the problems brought to the table…

The role of a designer is not simply just an artist who draws nice pictures. A designer is a problem-solver… a thinker. Somebody who is delegated with the task of creating design solutions that are fit-for-purpose, and meet the specific needs of the client and the user. So how might a designer even begin this task?

As humans, one of the most important and key things to us is visual perception, and it is the purpose of a designer to build and mould their audience’s visual perception through the means of design in order to create a meaningful and sustainable product.

There are many key stages within a design process that all aid a designer towards the creation of this successful product for their client, and one of these key factors is something I would like to talk to you about in more detail: Research.

Without an in depth exploration, or even at least a basic understanding of your target audience or users, there is no way you will be able to create a successful piece of sustainable design. The key word here is understanding. Understanding and empathising with your user allows a designer to build a story, a design story. A journey that takes your user step by step through the visual perception that you have created for them, and in this understanding we begin to see the design start to take a more real and meaningful form.

So how might we begin this critical research stage of every project? Here are a few stages that always have, and always will be part of the foundation of my own design journey for when starting any project…

1. Ask the questions

Your design project should always start with a face-to-face meeting with your client, and in this meeting you should ask questions and get to know them. Get to know their business, and how they came to be, understand what it is they do and where they are headed or want to be headed. This information is key as you get a feel for what is it you need to achieve for your client, and what it will mean to them if this product is a success. What you design needs to meet the needs of this person, this company and if you don’t know them, how could you possibly begin to understand what you need to do for them?

2. Follow the story

This is where you get to delve deeper… after meeting your client you are now in a better position to start understanding them and the user, but you now need take things one step further. You need to look further into the answers given to you to try and gauge the current visual perception of your client, user and the current design climate, and what the problems are. Is there currently a gap in the market? What else is out there? What’s not working? Talk about your findings with your team as well… I talked about collaboration briefly in my last blog post, collaboration is always a key factor, and the perhaps the main factor in any design project.

3. Understand the audience

Next you need to conduct some user research to get in the mindset of your target audience. What makes them tick? What are they looking for? How do they make decisions? These are all important questions you need to consider. By understanding who we need to talk to with our design we can then make informed decisions about how to target them. With this, we can begin tailoring the message, the culture and the visual perception to suit the audience’s needs.

4. Analyse the competitors

What are the competitors doing? It is important to understand what is currently out there to give you a sense of awareness of your surroundings, and who are your current challengers. However, although this important, you should never make a critical design decision just primarily based on the competitors. Just doing something because your competitors aren’t doing it may in fact not solve the problem put in front of you. A design decision should be based around whether it is right for your user, not just for the sake of beating your competitors. This is obviously a goal, but if it is the main goal then you will never be different, you’ll always be chasing the challenge. Become the challenger.

5. Involve your user

No matter what stage you are at with a design project whether it is at the beginning or at the end, you should always ask your user questions. Does this work for you? Do you understand it? Testing and feedback is probably one of the most critical parts of any design journey, as you are putting your design within the live environment and seeing how it fits. This also goes for the stage after a project is “complete”… a project is never truly complete. As the market is always moving and challenging, continuing the testing process allows you to continually help your client, offer improvements as things progress and keeps the relationship going.

Thanks for reading! Catch you next time…

Five factors to consider during logo design

The importance of a logo should not be underestimated. When it comes to rebranding or branding, understanding how your logo visually translates your organisation’s ethos is paramount to ensure you get the right message across. Here are 5 important factors to consider during your logo design…

1. Ensure your colour schemes have a purpose

It’s important to pick out colours that will set the right vibe for your company. For example, paler colours sometimes create a clean and corporate look, whereas reds and blacks can evoke edginess.

2. Visualise your branding

When people see your logo what do you want them to think?
Draw, make notes and write down words you would like people to associate with your organisation when they see your branding. When you have some branding options ready, ask colleagues to do the same. Are they interpreting the branding differently?
When you’re all heading in the same direction you will have the foundation to create a logo that will appeal to your target audience.

3. Simplicity is key

A logo should be simple – it should not confuse consumers. Fear not, you still can be creative and limit yourself to two fonts or two colours – this will create a memorable and clean logo.

4. Research

When creating your logo, it’s natural to look for inspiration online. When you do this, it’s a good idea to write down why you like the logo and how it works well.
You should also look at your competitors’ logos and think about what you can do to make your logo stand out from theirs.
Remember, your logo must be unique – it’s your opportunity to stand out.

5. Hire a professional

When you have an idea of what you want, take this brief to a professional. Yes, it will be more expensive than a DIY job, but is often a worthwhile investment. Your logo is the symbol of your company – it’s so important to get it right first time! For many, it will be the first impression of your organisation.

How I achieve successful web design

I’m a strong believer that everything has a purpose and I’m not the only one. Charles Eames says “design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”.

So with this in mind when it comes to designing, I aim to find out what the purpose is of each page first. This enables me, as a web designer, to meet particular needs for the site and can help to meet the users’ requirements.

I think it is important for a web designer to know what the user’s looking for and what their expectations are. They may want their website design to represent their business, is the site more information based, how much interaction does the site need. What sorts of engagement tools or methods are best?

Clear information
Most users like to find information easily with as few clicks as possible, this is why it’s vital that the information is easy to read and absorb. I make sure the information is straight to the point and also structured with the headings and sub-headings; making them stand out using different font weights and using bullet points help too. Using Sans Serif fonts makes the content easier to read while choosing a good font size can indicate the relevance of the information. Sticking to a maximum of 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 font sizes to keep your design streamlined.

Clean and colourful
Selecting the correct colour palette will boost the user experience. Suitable colour combinations that complement each other can create the correct vibe for the site. I make sure I’m using the right colour palette that suits the user needs. I always make sure I use contrasting colours for the text and background; this makes it easy on the eye, therefore it is easy to read. I’m always careful when I use vibrant colours, as it can be brash. I use it for call to actions or even for buttons to allow it to stand out. My little trick when it comes to creating a modern but clean look is to add white space and structured margins.

Imagery imagination
Images can have a massive influence on brand position and can help to target your audience as images can be interpreted in many ways. This is why selecting the appropriate images for a website is important. Sometimes I don’t have high quality professional photos, so I buy images from iStockphoto to enhance the look of the website. I would also use videos, graphics or even infographics as they are a really good way to communicate in comparison to written text.

Click code
A good navigation allows users to move around your site freely, after all “the navigation bar was born right along with the Internet” ― Kendra Gaines. Devices for an effective navigation includes using a logical page hierarchy, using bread crumbs, designing clickable buttons, and following the ‘three click rule’, which means users will be able to find the information they are looking for within three clicks.

Layout laws
Structure when designing your site is important. “What separates design from art is that design is meant to be… functional” ― Cameron Moll. Content should be placed attractively. Using a good structure ensures content does not appear messy and overload users. Using the grid layout we can arrange the content into logical sections and columns, which align nicely and create an aesthetically pleasing site.

Being responsive
As technology has improved, accessing websites has become expected from most devices. An effective designer will account for this by creating a responsive website. Ensuring that the content is accessible on all devices and the user experience is the same across different platforms.

Speedy site
Finally, when designing we must consider loading times. By using optimised images in both file type and size, we can reduce loading times as a designer. Also from a coding perspective we can use techniques such as a single CSS file and also compressed CSS, JavaScript, HTML files.

Written by Nima Sultana Miah, Web Designer at ExtraMile Communications.

At ExtraMile we try to take an hour out each week to look around us at what others do and to gain inspiration and to admire people’s creativity. Each post in this series is one staff member’s take on the world of web, design and things online. We hope you enjoy it.

Wearable tech and the future of web design

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months you should have heard about Google Glass the ‘smartspecs’ that give you a heads-up display of data, whether it’s information that your train is running late or the latest football scores.

Google believe this will change the way we interact with data and information in a huge way. We have seen a huge transformation with the way we interact with information in the past two decades with the internet, mobile phones, smartphones and more so it’s easy to see why Google believe this to be a ‘game-changer’.

Google Glass is not the only technology that promises the next big change with the way we use information. The Pebble smartwatch, JawBone’s UPdevice and various other wearable technology all promise (and to an extent deliver) that they will change how we view, gather and distribute information. With products like these becoming mass-market it’s an important point for web designers and developers to consider the impact that these devices (and their future iterations) will have on the web – the biggest information source available.

The future of information
Whilst we may scoff at Google Glass as ‘the future’ something will take the ‘augmented reality’ crown and fulfil the promise Google Glass offered (before people started using it and realised it wasn’t quite up to scratch). As evidence of this we only need to look at the tablet market. In 3 years tablets have gone from a very sidelined facet of the PC market (anyone remember the Microsoft Tablet PC?) to the very future of it with the launch of one device, the iPad.

I believe that responsive design is an important step forward to allowing the web to be viewed on new, emerging technologies and devices. Hopefully by now you know all about responsive design (if not give James a call, he’d love to guide you through it). Just a few years ago it was common practice to develop separate sites (or even apps!) for visitors accessing via mobile device. Imagine the complexity of continuing with that approach with computing products/markets maturing at an ever increasing pace. There would be a glut of different screen sizes, resolutions, hardware and a huge increase in stressed out web developers trying to cope.

What does this mean for the web?
The question is what does this mean for web design now, and how responsive (excuse the pun) do developers and designers need to be? Well the smartwatch market is very new but it’s likely to reach maturity quickly – I’m currently wearing a Pebble and it’s a black and white, low resolution screen and a long way off accessing the web in its current format. Yet Pebble is a start-up company focusing on the very edge of the technology available. Samsung and other big technology companies have already started developing their own smartwatches, with their bigger budgets I’m sure the approach and technology will advance quickly.

Right now the best a Pebble user can hope for is an application that would pull very basic text data in terms of connection to the web. If you remember browsing the web via WAP on an old mobile phone I imagine it would be a similar experience – but with less buttons and even more difficult. The other thing to remember about the smartwatch is that nearly all of the models on the market require a link with a smartphone. With that in your pocket why would you try to surf the web on a smartwatch?

Reverting to older technologies
Despite the almost ubiquitous availability of the smartphone it’s important that web developers consider the implications of the newer devices utilising older technologies (like monochrome displays) and consider some techniques to allow access from this kind of device. Simple data/content feeds will be crucial, with RSS being an obvious example – by opening up your data/content in this way it allows it to be presented in any way necessary which will be great for getting simple data (e.g. weather information, news headlines etc.) onto any device regardless of size. It’s also not hard to imagine that in a few years time you’ll get a notification on your smartwatch, hit a button and start viewing the content on your smartspecs.

By ensuring that feeds are set up correctly and as accessible as possible now this data can then be mined by developers for the current wearable technologies but also any future technologies that develop with non-standard screen sizes/formats. This also has the added benefit for sharing your content across the web.

The future impact of mobile data price gouging
The next thing to consider is mobile data – in the future are we going to have a personal mobile data bubble that will allow us to connect our smartspecs, smartwatches, smartphones to the cloud. If so you can guarantee that the mobile companies are not going to make the mistake they made of unlimited data when the smartphone market took off (and that they’re now frantically trying to recover from see the US market as an example). If that’s the case with so many devices consuming data then data limits are going to become more relevant. By stripping out all styling, imagery etc. then designers could make their content much more appealing to the data conscious consumer, it could be a real opportunity to increase usage and take a step beyond competitors.

Let your content run free!
I think developers need to consider the short-term future of wearable technology as a step forward for the consumer and a step backwards for the developer. Whilst mainstream technology is making enormous leaps in compatibility (after Microsoft officially killed off IE6) the emerging technologies will take time to reach an agreed set of standards – if it’s taken browser manufacturers 20 years or so to get this far it may be some time before development for multiple devices is simplified.

Perhaps the ultimate thing web developers and designers need to acknowledge with the future of wearable technology is to make the content as accessible as possible, without restriction on design, formatting etc. Continue to design for the full web and make sites look good and easy to navigate on devices that can handle it but to allow that content to be reformatted and redesigned for use by anyone on any device. Then it’s up to each device’s development team and community to manipulate that information/data into an accessible format for that specific device.

Great questions to ask about your website’s navigation

Getting people to the information they need in the shortest possible time is an exercise that combines psychology, user interface design and topology. Bad navigation hinders the user’s ability to move smoothly from interest to enquiry to result: a flow that underpins our interactions with much of the web.

So where do we start in order to get to grips with site navigation?

The key elements are:

First, we need to understand the top levels – what are the categories of information, product or facility that will populate the site. This will be evident from the original site planning – but what do we call them?

Some are easy and are almost default conventions: Home, About, Contact. Semantically, describing in one or two words the facilities that lie underneath any given element is a challenging exercise. Is what you think “Shop” means, the same as your website visitor will think? Given that it’s a moment’s decision for a visitor to “bounce” out of your site and on to another, being clear about what is available under the navigation is critical. If “Shop” actually means “Online store where you can purchase our goods” then that’s fine. If it means “Our premises at 14a High Street” then you have probably seriously misled the majority of visitors.

Some sites like to use icons to represent the menu choices – great if you are a visual communicator. Awful if you have no sense of the meaning that lies behind your artfully designed images. And then again, you can associate the icon with the words, but isn’t that just taking up rather a lot of space in the real estate that is your website interface?

Then there is consideration of the mechanics of the navigation. First of all, where does it sit? Along the top, below the logo banner, down the left side, down the right side? Echoed at the bottom? Much of this decision has to do with the complexity of the top level categories: do they feature long names (for example, Members’ Directory) or are there actually many top level elements? In which cases, the navigation needs to be to the side in order to accommodate the space that the elements will take up, particularly if the menu features sub-categories in dropdowns.

Menus across the top take up less real estate in theory, but again, if the sub-categories feature drop-downs then we need to take into account how that will appear when the dropdown occurs: what will it drop over, how will it look, how readable would it be (for example if the dropdown box is semi-transparent).

Or, we abandon the whole metaphor of pointing at words and create icons that form part of the design of the site and are fully integrated yet clear to the user – check out below.

Finally, what technology drives the navigation bar and will it work consistently on all platforms? The wildly extravagant Flash-based animation navigation systems that used to populate many sites have now fallen by the wayside as certain devices do not support Flash. In addition, sites that are responsive need to flex their navigation to move from point and click with a mouse to point and jab with a finger. That change has to be consistent within the design of the site, yet functional for the user.

All of this is not to say that navigation cannot be fun. Here are some great examples – a bit wild for me, but what do I know?