Design – What works, what doesn’t – Basics

Working at a startup would teach you many things. A founder is supposed to don many hats and simultaneously handle many jobs. Unlike well established companies, where you always have a specialized team at your disposal for each big or small task, a typical startup would never afford such liberties. It’s always the one man show where each founder is playing multiple roles of the programmer, the designer, the marketer & the financier.

When we first contemplated Fachak, we were lucky to have partners who were from different backgrounds. All of us had skills that complimented those of others and hence we thought that there will be well defined responsibilities from day one. But so I thought.

Initially, as we thought, my major contributions were supposed to be in marketing & product strategy as those were the parts i had some experience at … but a start up is bound to surprise you with the vocations it has in store for you. As it folded out, soon after we started, I found myself working closely and all most full time on design – first with Jasginder and now with Jetin. I also had luck of interacting with Nandini  recently and she brought some completely different user behavior insights.

During course of designing for Fachak, we did a lot of mistakes. All of us were inexperienced and learnt a new thing everyday. There were a lot of hit and trials and we got to know a lot of things the hard way.  Looking back, we went through a lot of cycles.  I have tried to condense what all i have learnt about good design in these 5 observations:

KISS your design

Good design should be about simplicity. Any design team would always have a zillion choices but more often than not, what is best is also the simplest of the choices. Make sure that design doesn’t make the users think; as their primary aim of being at your website is not to enjoy the design but to use the website. Strive for the KISS (Keep it simple stupid).

Open your PSD’s and see what all places there is a choice between effectiveness and design. Remove all unnecessary components without sacrificing effectiveness. See if there are simpler methods with design to achieve the same results. Iterate this process a few times. What you would get at the end would be much better than what you started with.

Nutshell – A great design should be almost invisible.

‘Design is not an art’ 

Your design team members are working 24 by 7 on your project with all their hearts into it. It’s but natural that some emotional connections would take roots. It’s very humane to feel attached with your creations and design is no different. Only that it’s an ambush a good design team can’t afford.

Design is not an art, it’s not a form of personal expression. It’s all about users. It doesn’t matter what you think, what matters is what users think. Give users what they want. Even if it means scrapping what you have worked on for past 4 months and starting from scratch, do it. Usability and not design is the primary factor behind success or failure of a website. So if it’s not usable, it may as well not exist.

Nutshell – A design is always about solving problems and if its not solving what’s intended, scrub it, stash it, slice it … do whatever but ensure that it starts solving what its supposed to solve.

Lead your user around 

A great design should be able to lead the user’s eye around the screen to the information he wants to get. So decide what the important parts of your website are from a user perspective and decide their visual weights in your final design.

For example, in Fachak, the first thing a user  want is to know where he is … so he should see our logo. Then, of course, the most important thing for him would be content, so our design should lead him to what he is here for. After he had a look at the content, he may wish to vote or share the content and hence our design should lead him to those options, uniformly, easily and without hiccups.

Typical web users don’t read, they scan or at worst they skim. They use websites in glances. Back to Fachak’s example, our design has to ensure that logo gets the first glance. So it gets a big chunk on the top left. Content gets a warm white space covering most of user screen space, hence making it easy for the user to focus there … voting and sharing options get bold colors and icons to capture user attention after he has seen content.

Nutshell – Discover the most valuable actions for your users and place them at the most valuable places in your website.

Maintain Consistency

Design is like a symphony. Even if one tone is bad, it spoils the whole experience. Everything has to be orchestrated and has to be perfect. Similarly in design, everything has to be perfect. So what that means is: match everything – headings, colors, buttons, photos, icons. Make sure that there is one unifying and coherent theme throughout the website. Make sure that all the changes that you did during later iterations of your website are reflected in pages that were frozen weeks back. Make sure that while jumping from one page to another, user still feels the part of same website. Make sure that there is no inconsistency anywhere in your design.

Nutshell – Inconsistencies lower the quality perception and hence lower the user experience.

Test Early, Test Often 

This is one lesson we have learnt the hard way at Fachak. We waited for Fachak’s design to be finished before showing it to the outside world. And when we first showed it, feedback surprised us. We were expecting the feedback to be very positive and when it wasn’t so it bit us. big time We had to go back to drawing board and it took us quite some time to get it right again.

Don’t stay in shell. Start taking user feedback as soon as you have something to show. Complete your logo and show it to your friends. Do your first cut and get some feedback. After a team has worked on a design for few weeks, its almost impossible for them to observe it from a fresh perspective. Hence  get some people who were previously unexposed to your design. User feedback will always bring some new insights.

Nutshell – Design something, take feedback, fix it, take feedback, fix it again, take feedback.

I have started calling the above observations as C-Salt (pronounced as sea-salt) principle. Consistency, Simplicity, Art but NOT THE ART, Lead your users & Test your designs.

These were the few learnings that we had over last few months. With the expert consultancy we have now on board with us, I am sure there would be a lot more in future. C ya till then !

One thought on “Design – What works, what doesn’t – Basics

  1. Well being a part of team fachak , i have seen Vaneet work very passionately on design , i still remember how excited we are when Jassi (Jasginder) designed the logo for us ……… last few days i have been more actively involved with design then ever before , one thing i can vouch for as Vaneet said is the design should be invisible ,users should be directed in the most non intrusive way possible because design is an enabler not the core for any product .

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