reinvent the wheel for functional imagery.
Concentrate creative effort on imagery that adds value
in branding or message (content).
General guidelines for
Use imagery to add meaning: either to
the brand, or to the content.
Try to be as economical as possible,
and get more meaning from fewer graphics. Imagery that has meaning
(Primary imagery) should be the focus of a page design.
Concentrate primary imagery in the
- Site id / Logo
- Primary content
- Primary navigation
Where other graphics are used, they
should support the primary imagery, by helping the eye move over
lower-priority elements. This does not mean that non-primary areas can
not be rich and subtle, but they shouldn't be attractive,
in the literal sense. Flat colours, subtle contrast, gentle gradients,
smooth curves, and fresh white space can help the user focus, and look
Remember the site's goals and the
users' goals, and apply graphics in a suitable proportion.
Effective use of imagery: Firewheel
©Firewheel design, see www.firewheeldesign.com
Firewheel's site is an excellent
example of energy well spent, creating a pure, focused experience.
This screenshot is 2/3 real size, and
it's still clear what's what.
Navigation is simple text - there's
nothing clearer or more intuitive.
Background/Interface imagery is
concise. The designers clearly knew what brand image they wanted to
project, and did it simply with confidence.
What draws your eye? Initially, the
Firewheel logo is attractive but simple.
Secondly, the page title
"Professional-grade.." stands out because of its boldness, colour and
You are then drawn to the other
imagery on the page, all of which carries value, reinforcing the
company's credentials, giving the user good quality information on
Firewheel's products and services, as well as looking good!
The page is also relatively quick to
Problematic use of imagery: Yaxay
is a popular (and highly recommended) community site for designers.
Its pages are graphically intense,
which is typical of the design target sector. Most sites aimed at a
web-designer audience employ very rich graphics, in order to
demonstrate a level of graphic design skill to pass a supposed level of
The downside is that the content of
this site definitely comes second to the background/interface. It
doesn't prioritise the user's goals, and I think the user experience is
I go on Yaxay nearly every day, but
find it quite a tiring experience, compared to an energisingly fresh
design (like Firewheel.com).
- Heavy use of obscure icons
increases clutter and reduces content clarity
- Sheer amount of contrasting, busy,
contrasting shapes pulls the eye all over the place
- The content area has less contrast
than the interface, which makes it harder to look at
- The content text is unnecessarily
small, which makes it harder to read
It is quite possible that the
designers of Yaxay were clear on their goals, and had decided that
graphical richness was the right approach in order to hit a goal of
gaining respect from their target audience. If so, they succeeded - it
would be hard to criticise their graphic design ability. The initial
experience of the brand is "skilled, rich, modern"..
However, I think they failed to
prioritise the user's goals highly enough. Sites that fail to serve the
user's goals will tend to fail.
Clarity is more important than
attractiveness for navigation (and other functional controls). Controls
should be easy to identify, and their purpose should be obvious. The
easiest way to achieve both of these qualities is to use established
Don't reinvent functional controls
You're more likely to reduce
usability by spending on designing functional and iterface controls.
It's very difficult to create effective icons, and time-consuming for
Icons are incredibly powerful, when
they work! A good icon is a compact visual shorthand that represents a
complex idea in the minimum space. A good icon doesn't need decoding -
its meaning is so unambiguous or familiar, e.g. Printer means "Click
here to print", or an exclamation mark in a yellow triangle means
"Warning" or "Alert".
However, it is extremely difficult to
design an effective icon, and harder still to design a consistent set.
Think hard about your reasons for using an icon. If it's justified to
use them, go for established 'iconic' images.
Don't try to reinvent the wheel. An
image doesn't just become an icon, in any sphere of design. It has to
be used over a period of time, adopted by more people, and become
established in the community consciousness. (See 'The pursuit of the
New conventions are being established
all the time, e.g. the two round-faced people, originally from MSN
Messenger, are becoming global shorthand for 'buddies' or 'contacts'.