Design like no-one's watching

Web designers frequently suffer under the illusion that other people look at their web pages the way we do.
This is wrong. Designers need to develop the skill of looking at their designs through naïve eyes.

Designing web pages is an artifical activity. We're creating something that will be used in a fast-paced, frantic online browsing environment, but we design it more as though it will be hung on a wall in a gallery.

As we dwell in this illusion, we can start to imagine that consumers out there actually care how cute or modern or thematically consistent their web pages are, or that they're impressed by the cutting-edge popup navigation and the quality of the underlying code.

It sounds weird, but no-one's going to look at that web page design you're sweating over!

Really! 99% of the time, when a web site works, the people using it aren't looking at the design.

Sure, they're looking at the pages, but looking past the design. They're busy consuming, interacting.

That gives us designers a great opportunity - it means that we can design quickly and cleanly, with the aim of helping our visitors do what they want to do - interact cleanly with the site content, achieve what they came for with the minimum time and effort, and get the heck out of dodge.

Perversely, when we design well, we're helping people to do the opposite of what we're doing when we design - staring at the screen like it's a work of art.

That's the paradox of designing: how do you design something for people not to look at? Are we meant to design a web page without looking at it, so that we're in the mindset of our users? No, that's not feasible. In creating a design, we're already too close to be able truly to approach it as though for the first time.

Designing like no-one's watching

To succeed despite this tendency, we need to learn new skills.

The first goal is to understand the context in which our web design will be consumed.

We also need to be sympathetic to the user's goals, know what they're looking for on each page, anticipate what will help them succeed and what will get in their way.

Then, we need to learn and practice techniques that are proven to help web designs succeed.


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