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How to Get Dark Mode Design Right

Dark themes are everywhere these days. 

As human beings continue to spend more of their time interacting with technology, dark themes provide a more relaxing way to engage with the digital world. More often than not, these themes are easier on the eyes, more attractive, and perfect for the dedicated user

Throughout 2020, countless leading brands have debuted their own version of the dark theme. Google has a solution for your Drive, while Apple and Android have built dark theme performance right into their operating systems. 

If you haven’t learned how to make the most out of dark mode yet, then you could be missing out on an excellent opportunity to differentiate your design skills, and earn more clients going forward. 

Why Dark Mode?

Before we dive too deeply into the possibilities of creating your own dark theme, let’s examine what dark mode is, and why it’s so effective. 

Ultimately, dark themes are created to reduce the amount of luminance emitted by everything from your desktop and laptop, to your smartphone and smartwatch. Dark themes help to improve the visual ergonomics of design, by reducing eye strain, adjusting brightness to suit current lighting conditions, and more. Additionally, many dark mode offerings are also fantastic at conserving battery life. 

Here are some of the main benefits of adding dark themes to your design portfolio

  • Better user experience: A focus on user experience is one of the most important trends of the digital age. You need to be willing to deliver incredible experiences to everyone who visits your website if you want to stand out today. Dark mode reduces everything from eye strain, to battery power consumption. This helps to keep customers on a website for longer.
  • Innovation and cutting edge appeal: Most companies want to prove that they can stay on the cutting edge of their industry. The ability to offer an opt-in dark mode version of a website theme or appearance can help your clients to stand out from the crowd. As the environment becomes more mobile-focused, more companies will be looking for designers that can provide the best mobile experiences. 
  • Support for universal design: Dark mode isn’t just great for people who have light sensitivity at night. This solution could be more comfortable for visually-impaired users who would struggle with eye strain when visiting your websites otherwise. If you want your content to be more inclusive for a wider range of viewers, then learning how to design for dark mode is a good way to start.

Best Practices When Designing for Dark Mode

Designing for dark mode is easier than you’d think. Most of the time, it involves simply thinking about how you can replace some of the brighter, more overwhelming aspects of your site, with something deeper and darker. 

Here are some useful tips that will get you moving in the right direction. 

1. Experiment with Colors

A big issue for a lot of web designers when it comes to developing a dark mode solution is that they get too caught up with things like pure white text against pure black backgrounds. However, this high-contrast option can be a little much after a while. 

It’s often much easier to use a dark grey as your primary surface color, instead of a true black. Additionally, rather than using bright white, think about slightly off-white alternatives that will be warmer to the eye.

Experiment with surfaces and color combinations that are unlikely to cause too much eye strain. Dark grey foundations often offer a wider range of depth, too, because you can demonstrate shadows on grey. 

Additionally, when you are experimenting with colors, remember that saturated colors often vibrate painfully against very dark surfaces, making them harder to read. Desaturating your colors will help to reduce the contrast and make your websites more welcoming. 

Lighter tones in the 200-50 range will have better readability on dark themes. However, you can always experiment with your choices. Google Material Design recommends using a contrast level of around 15:8:1 between your background and text. 

2. Consider the Emotional Impact

Much of the effort involved with dark mode design is figuring out how certain colors work together. It’s easy to get carried away with stark contrasts, particularly when you’re used to working with a white background. However, you need to remember that you’re designing for a user that’s primarily looking for an easier and more subdued browsing experience.

While you’re working, remember to consider the emotional aspect of the design too. The emotion in colors can make or break a buyer’s journey in any environment. However, an often overlooked-aspect of color psychology, is that people perceive shades differently when they’re on a black background

For instance, think of the color green. On a light background, it conveys nature and even financial wealth. However, on a dark background, the same green could come across as something venomous, toxic, or even sickly. It’s important to think about the kind of impressions end users are going to get when they arrive on your site.

3. Give Users the Freedom to Choose

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you begin designing for dark mode, is thinking that you should focus entirely on your dark themes, and nothing else. This lines you up for a problem if you interact with users who want the best of both worlds. If you’re designing for apps in particular, you’re going to need web pages that can switch naturally between light and dark themes. 

Learning how to implement both a dark mode and a light mode option into the desks you create will help you to reach a wider selection of customers. Remember, you’ll need to test the performance and impact of your designs in both themes, to check that they deliver the same kind of experience, no matter how your user chooses to browse. 

Although dark mode should offer a different experience to end-users, it still needs to feel as though they’re browsing on the same website. That means that you’re going to need to experiment with the most natural combination of light and dark mode options.

4. Remember the Basics

Remember, although the three tips above will help you to get on the right path for dark mode design, you’ll also need to consider the opportunities and limitations of the platforms that you’re designing for. The kind of dark mode experience you can deliver for Google Chrome websites is going to be very different to what you can create for something running on iOS.

Examining the documentation provided by the system that you’re designing for will help you to develop something with a close insight into what’s actually possible. 

Other top tips for dark mode design include:

  • Focus on your content: Make sure that your content stands out on the page, without being too overwhelming. 
  • Test your design: In both light and dark appearances, you need to make sure everything is working as it should be.
  • Adopt vibrancy for your interfaces: Vibrancy helps to improve the contrast between your background and foreground. 
  • Use semantic colors: Semantic colors adapt to the current appearance of a website automatically. Hard-coded color values that don’t adapt can seem more aggressive. 
  • Desktop tinting: Try experiment with things like transparency and filters to give your websites and apps a slightly warmer tint – ideal for late-night browsing
  • Icons: Use individual glyphs and icons for dark and light modes if necessary. 

Ready to Design for Dark Mode?

Preparing your web development and design portfolio for an era addicted to dark mode can be a complex experience. You need to think carefully about how people are going to browse through your websites and apps when they’re searching for something more subtle, and less visually overwhelming than the websites that we’re used to making. 

The most important thing to remember is that everything on your website or application should look just as beautifully tailor-made in dark mode as it does in light mode. Simply adding a dynamic black background when people want to switch settings in an app isn’t enough. You need to go in-depth with your designs and examine how different fonts, colors, and images work together.

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7 All-Too-Common Landing Page Errors You Must Avoid

And it does this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year without ever asking for a pay raise.

But this is true only if your website landing page is designed well, maintained, and optimized to the gills. The art and science of a flawless landing page is beyond the scope of a single article, but we can start with helping you spot seven of the most common – and damaging – trouble spots.

1. Unclear Value Statement

Typically, new visitors to your page will only stay on it 3 to 15 seconds before they get distracted. In that span of time, you must offer a clear and visible reason to stick around and interact with the page.

That reason is your value statement. What value do your readers get in exchange for the time you ask them to spend? High-quality content is a must (and hopefully a given), but you also need to pull them in so they experience that content.

Does your landing page do that? If yes, great! If no, you should fix that. If you’re not sure, ask yourself:

  • Is there a compelling, visible headline that expresses the end benefits clearly and succinctly?
  • Is there a subheadline explaining your offering in more detail?
  • Are there supporting graphics that pull the eye toward your headline and subheadline?

If there aren’t, add them now.

2. Poor Signposting

Your landing page isn’t just there to be pretty. It’s meant to convince people to take action. If you don’t make it easy to find your call to action, most viewers won’t look for it.

deliver enough value to make it worth the hassle

You must make it clear — in as succinct and efficient terms as possible — why the action you want a reader to take will deliver enough value to make it worth the hassle. Tell them, in words that stand out from the rest of the page, what you want them to do next and what they’ll receive for doing so.

Improving your signposting stats by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a clear understanding of what the next step in a visitor’s customer journey should be?
  • Is it easy to find and take that step on your website?
  • Does your copy make a clear and compelling argument in favor of taking that step?

If you can answer yes to all three questions, your signposting is likely good (or at least good enough for now). If not, now you know what you have to do to improve it.

3. Slow Loading Time

Remember that 3 to 15-second maximum time limit we mentioned earlier? That span includes time spent waiting for your landing page to load, and every microsecond of that wait increases a reader’s likelihood of bailing on the whole thing. You must get your loading time to be as quick as possible.

Viewers who exit your landing page early – including while still waiting for it to load – increase your site’s bounce rate. Higher bounce rates reduce your rankings on Google and other search engines, meaning a page that loads too slowly not only impresses fewer viewers, but it also gets fewer viewers overall.

Improving your loading time is usually a job for your tech team or whoever in the office is responsible for overseeing your hosting service. That said, here are a few of the most important ways to optimize this important factor:

  • Optimize image size, file format, and compression;
  • Clean up your database by deleting saved drafts, old revisions, unused plugins, and similar virtual detritus;
  • Confirm that your WordPress theme (if applicable) is optimized for quick loading;
  • Use a content distribution network for file storage;
  • Analyze server response time with your hosting service, and work with them to reduce it;
  • Install tools that leverage browser caching;
  • Fix all your broken links;
  • Remove all render-blocking from JavaScript;
  • Reduce the number of redirects necessary to reach your page;
  • Optimize your code, especially in CSS, JavaScript, and HTML;
  • Enable file compression — except for on images;
  • Replace all PHP content with HTML wherever possible.

This is technical, detailed work, but it’s important. If you don’t have team members up to these tasks, it can be worth hiring an outside consulting company to do it for you.

4. Only One Landing Page

You have a good idea of your ideal customer’s hopes, fears, pain points, demographics, likes and dislikes, and other important information. If you have several different types of customers, you can’t use the same landing page for each of your customer groups. Each group has different characteristics that will prompt them to follow your call to action, so you don’t want to offer just one landing page.

Similarly, you also probably have more than one product or set of content and offerings to generate sales. Having only one landing page can lose leads because the page is only optimized for one of those products or content sets.

Ideally, you should have a unique landing page with a tailored offer for each of your customer models that would send those individuals to each of the products and content sets. An ad for professionals in their 30s making over $50,000 a year would lead to a landing page built for them, while an ad for heads of households working from home would lead to a landing page built for them.

Yes, that means a company with three profiles and four content sets would need 12 landing pages. And yes, it’s worth that kind of effort.

5. Insufficient Visuals

“A picture is worth 1,000 words” is ancient wisdom, but it’s far from true in the internet world – it’s actually worth more. A quick look at social media and blog performance will tell you many people will look at, enjoy, and share a photo or video, but not many will read an entire 1,000-word post on the same topic.

How well your landing page performs depends on the images you use and how you present them. Does your page’s layout conform to the best practices of visual web design:

  • Including images that emotionally reinforce the value expressions of your product’s core benefits;
  • Containing sufficient white space to not be intimidating;
  • Providing data images to indicate the worth of what you do;
  • Using visual design cues to lead the eye toward your conversion points;
  • Applying color gradients to highlight offers and your call to action;
  • Using infographics to replace the dreaded “wall of text”.

If you can say yes for half of these things, carry on. If not, this point may be among the better places to start with a landing page redesign.

6. Asking For Too Much, Too Soon

Craft a custom calls to action that meet all levels of interest, need, and desire

Not every landing page visitor is created equal. Some are hardcore fans and experts in what you do, ready for a 10,000-word white paper that dives deeply into the research supporting your use case. Others might have heard about your industry on an Instagram page and want to know the basics of what you do.

There’s nothing worse than going to a website and being asked for all of your personal information right away. If your call to action requires too much knowledge, too deep a commitment, or even too much personal information, consider scaling back. Otherwise, you risk turning away potential customers.

Better yet, go back to No. 5 above and build a new landing page for beginners and early-stage leads. Craft a custom calls to action that meet all levels of interest, need, and desire.

7. No Trust Elements

Offering some type of authentic customer referral or testimonial is important. It all boils down to the same thing: telling those who read your landing page that other people already like what you do and how you do it.

Examples of effective modern trust elements include:

  • Quotes from positive reviews next to a photo of the reviewer;
  • Screenshots of social media posts praising your company or product;
  • Short video interviews of happy clients;
  • Blurbs for industry thought leaders approving of you;
  • Images portraying business credentials and certifications;
  • Links to positive press coverage;
  • Logos of known business customers who buy and trust your brand.

Final Thought: What’s Next?

There isn’t one guaranteed way to turn a landing page from something full of holes into something perfect. But first, run an audit of your landing page using this list as a guide. Note which errors are there. Next, sort them in order of what takes the least time to fix to what takes the most time to fix.

Then, fix them in that order. We find that getting the quick fixes done builds excitement and momentum, whereas starting with a harder fix can mire down the whole process.

If none of these errors exist on your landing page, congratulations. There’s still lots of work to do on your website and content marketing, but it’s not among these rookie mistakes.

 

Featured image via Pexels.

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8 Design Secrets of B2B Vs B2C Websites

Web design clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds. One day, you’ll be designing a portfolio website for a voiceover artist, the next you’ll be creating a comprehensive ecommerce site for a leading retailer. In an ideal world, you’ll get to a point where you eventually specialize in a niche. However, you’ll need to master both avenues first.

The more time you spend in this industry, the more you’ll learn that every client comes with their own unique requirements and challenges to consider. However, there’s a particularly huge divide between the kind of web design projects you do for B2B clients, and the ones you do for B2C customers.

Both B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) websites need to be clear, concise, and aesthetically pleasing. They should always have a strong focus on user experience, and they need to work consistently across devices. However, being aware of the difference between B2B and B2C projects will help you to deliver better results to your customers.

Defining the Differences Between B2B and B2C Sites

Some web design trends remain consistent in any environment.

Whether you’re creating a site for a hairdresser, or a leading SaaS company, you’ll need to deliver responsive design, intuitive navigation, and excellent site security.

Your process is unlikely to differ from B2B to B2C much in terms of project milestones, phases, prototyping and wire-framing. The differences that arise between B2B and B2C projects often come in the approach you take to building certain elements.

Let’s take a closer look at the things you might need to consider:

1. The Target Audience

In any design project, it’s always important to keep the end customer in mind. Knowing your client’s target audience will help you to create both an image and a tone of voice that appeals to the right people.

B2B Websites

With B2B websites, you’ll be speaking to a range of highly-educated individuals who already have a general knowledge of your service. The aim here will be to show the end-user how you can help them achieve better results. For instance, m.io highlights “syncing communication” so you can “effortlessly chat” with your team.

The language and content of the website is all about highlighting the key benefits of the products, and the kind of outcomes that they can deliver. The Nielsen Norman Group reports that there’s often a lot of discussion between decision-makers when they’re checking out a B2B website.  

Designers need to work harder at convincing B2B buyers that they’re making the right decision. This is particularly true when you’re selling something like a software subscription that requires a lot of long—term investment.

B2C Websites

On the other hand, while B2B customers make decisions based on logic, information, and well-explained benefits, B2C customers are more influenced by emotion. They want quick solutions to their problems, and the opportunity to purchase from a brand that “understands” them.

Look at the Firebox website, for instance. It instantly highlights an ongoing sale at the top of the homepage, addressing any concerns a customer might have about price. That combined with a quirky layout full of authentic photos and bright colors means that customers are more inclined to take action.

2. The Purpose

Another factor that can vary from B2C to B2B websites, is the motive behind a customer’s purchase. Knowing what’s pushing a target audience to interact with a brand will help you to create a website that appeals to specific goals.

B2B Websites

B2B websites often aim to solve expensive and time-consuming problems for companies. To sell a decision-maker on the validity of a solution, it’s important to thoroughly explain what the solution is, how it works, and how it addressees a specific pain point.

Look at the Zoom website for instance, they don’t just tell people that they offer video conferencing, they address the practical applications of the platform:

B2C Websites

Consumers are a lot easier to appeal to in terms of emotional impact, because many of them come to a website looking to fulfill an urgent need. Because of this, many web designers can take advantage of things like urgency and demand to encourage conversions. For instance, look at this website from TravelZoo. It takes advantage of a customer’s desire to get away:

A B2B website needs to focus on providing information that helps companies to make more confident decisions. What’s more, with B2B sites, decisions are often made by several stakeholders, while B2C sites ask a single person to make a choice. A B2C website needs to address immediate concerns and connect with customers on an emotional level. B2C buyers still want to do their research on products or services, but the turnaround is much quicker, and often requires less information.

3. The Design Elements (Visual Appearance)

Just as the focus of your website design and the audience that you’re creating the experience for can differ from B2B to B2C websites, the visual elements of the design might change too.

B2B Websites

In most cases, B2B websites are all about presenting a highly professional and respectable image. You’ll notice a lot of safe and clear choices when it comes to typography and imagery. It’s unusual to see a B2B website that takes risks with things like illustrations and animations.

Look at the Green Geeks website for instance. Everything is laid out to encourage clarity and understanding. Information is easy to find, and there are no other issues that might distract a customer.

B2C Websites

On the other hand, B2C websites can be a little more daring. With so many different options to choose from, and most customers buying out of a sense of urgency or sudden demand, designers are under pressure to capture attention quick. This means that it’s much more likely to see large pieces of eye-catching imagery on B2C sites, with very little text.

Movement, like slideshows and animations often play more of a role here. Additionally, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to experiment more aggressively with color. Take a look at the Yotel website, for instance. There’s very little textual information here, but the appeal of the website is conveyed through sliding images:

4. Website Content

The way that information is conveyed on a B2B website is very different to the messages portrayed on a B2C site. Usually, everything from the language, to the amount of content that you use for these projects will differ drastically.

B2B Websites

When designing for a B2B website, you’ll need to be careful with content, as you’ll be speaking to a very mixed audience. If your site caters to different industries, you’ll need to ensure that you show authority, without using too much jargon. Some companies even create different pages on their site for specific customers. The aspin.co.uk website covers the benefits from a company, sale and integration perspective:

Rather than try to talk to all business owners about their differing communication pains, G-Suite anticipates its audience and creates pages for each.

B2C Websites

Alternatively, B2C websites can make things a little simpler. For instance, on glossybox.co.uk, there’s no need to provide a ton of information for different types of shopper, designers can appeal to one audience, i.e. the “beauty addict”:

In both B2B and B2C websites, the aim of the content should always be to answer any questions that the end user might have.

5. CTA Buttons

Call to Action buttons are often a crucial part of the web design journey. However, it’s sometimes difficult to determine where they should be placed, or how many buttons you need.

B2B Websites

Because the decision to buy something won’t always happen immediately with a B2B website, these kinds of sites often use a variety of CTAs. For instance, you might have a “Request a Quote” button at the top of a page, as well as a Sign in button.

On the Klaviyo site, for instance, you can request a demo, sign up or log in:

You can place CTAs lower on the page with B2B websites too, as it’s more likely that your customers will be scrolling through the site to collect more information before they decide to buy.

B2C Websites

On the other hand, with B2C websites, you usually don’t need to give your visitors as many options. A single option to “Add to Cart”, or perhaps an extra choice to “Add to Favorites” is all your user will need. Customers need to instantly see what they need to do next as soon as they arrive on a page:

On the Evil Hair website, you immediately see how to add a product to your cart.

Remember, the sales process is a lot quicker with B2C customers. This means that you need your CTA buttons to be front and center as soon as someone clicks on a page.

6. Contact Forms

In a similar vein, the way that you design your contact forms will also depend on the end-user that the website wants to appeal to. There’s a very different process for getting in touch on a B2B website, compared to a B2C site.

B2B Websites

B2B websites often require longer contact forms, as clients need to collect additional information about a prospect’s position in a company, and what that company does. B2B companies need to share things like what they’re looking for in a service, and how many users they have, so a sales team knows what kind of demonstration to give.

As with any strategy for contact form design, you should always only include the fields that your client needs and no more. If you demand too much from any client, you could send them running in the opposite direction. Check out this straightforward option from Ironpaper, for instance:

The form addresses as many relevant questions as possible without overwhelming the customer. Because the site handles things like design, it makes sense that they would ask for a link to the company’s existing website.

B2C Websites

On a B2C website, there are very different approaches to contact forms. You may have a dedicated contact form on your website where people can get in touch if they have any questions. A FAQ page where customers can serve themselves is another great way to help your client stand out from the competition. Check out this option from River Island, for instance:

On the other hand, you might implement pop-up contact forms into a website if your client wants to collect emails for email marketing. In that case, it’s important to make sure that you’re only asking for the information you need, and nothing more.

The easier it is to sign up for a newsletter, the more likely it is that customers will do it. Being able to enter their name and email address and nothing else will make the signup seem less tasking.

7. Search Bars and Navigation

Whether you’re designing for B2B or B2C companies, navigation will always be a critical concern. End users need to find it easy to track down the information that they need about a company, whether they’re looking for a particular product or a blog.

B2B Websites

On a B2B website, the search bar often takes up a lot less prominence than it does on a B2C site. That’s because all of the information that a client needs, and the buttons they need to take their next steps, are already visible front-and-center.

As a designer, it will be your job to push as many people to convert as possible, by making the purchasing journey the most appealing path for visitors. For instance, on the Copper website, the “Try Free” buttons are much easier to see than “Continue with Google” or “Login”:

With B2B sites, the focus is on a very specific goal. Although navigation still needs to be available, it doesn’t need to be as obvious as it is on a B2C site.

B2C Websites

On the other hand, most B2C websites offer a wide range of products, and they’re perfectly happy for their customers to purchase anything, as long as they eventually convert. Because of this, they make navigation a much more significant part of the customer journey.

The search bar is often presented at the very top of the screen where customers can see it immediately. Additionally, there may be multiple pages within certain product categories, so that customers can browse through the items they’re most interested in. For instance, look at the homepage on the IWoot website:

The navigation elements in B2C websites need to be a lot more obvious, because consumers are more likely to use them when they’re searching through their options.

8. Social Proof and Testimonials

Finally, social proof is one of the things that will work well for improving conversions on any kind of website. When your customers aren’t sure whether or not they should buy from you, a review or testimonial could be just the thing to push them over the edge.

B2B Websites

On a B2B website, the decision-making process takes a lot longer. Because of this, it’s worth including as much social proof as possible in every part of the website. Client testimonials, reviews and ratings, and even high-profile company logos make all the difference. Many B2B websites include a page dedicated to case studies highlighting the success of other brands.

Your client might even go as far as to ask for a page that highlights their awards and recognition or showcases comparison tables that pit their products against the competition.

For instance, Authority Hacker has a “what the pros say about us” section as social proof:

B2C Websites

With a consumer website, you can include consumer ratings and reviews wherever you like. However, it’s most likely that you’ll want to have a place where customers can see the reviews of other clients on the product pages themselves. On the EMP website the company gives users the option to click on the star review section to jump to a different space on the page where testimonials are listed. This ensures that customers don’t have to scroll through a lot of excess information if they just want to add an item straight to their cart.

Designing for B2B vs B2C

In the world of web design, no two customers are ever the same. While you’ll need to adapt your processes to suit each customer you interact with, you can set your expectations in advance by learning the differences between B2B and B2C strategies.

 

Featured images by Chris Ross Harris and Mike Kononov.

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Why Do Websites Look the Same (And Should We Care)?

If we don’t question this kind of design homogenization, do we put ourselves at risk of perpetuating the same mistakes in the years to come? Or is it even a mistake to begin with?

Today, I’m going to look at four things that are likely causing this, and what you can do to break the mold.

1. Education

We used to have a design school in every city in the world, each with its own design style or, at the very least, the encouragement of its designers to be creative and come up with something new.

These days, though, traditional design education isn’t as popular as it once was. According to Design Census 2019, only about a third of working designers have a formal education and degree:

The rest have been trained through a variety of means:

  • Online learning (17%)
  • Self taught (12%)
  • Workshops (10%)
  • Mentorship (6%)
  • Certificate programs (4%)

Cost and convenience are definitely two factors influencing this shift towards online learning methods. And with a wealth of resources online to teach them how to design and code, why not go that route? Plus, designers have to keep learning new things in order to remain competitive, so it’s not as though a degree is the be-all and end-all of their design training.

Plus, there isn’t as much demand for it from employers. Unless you plan on working for one of the top global marketing agencies, many hiring companies just want to see proof in the form of a portfolio and maybe have you do a test job.

Now, I’m not saying that online courses and other informal design education don’t foster creativity. However, in order to make them cost-efficient and quick to get through, they have to focus on teaching essential best practices, which means less room for experimentation. Perhaps more importantly, their curriculums are guided by fewer voices. So, this could likely be one of the culprits.

2. Design Blogs and Vlogs

You have to wonder if all the design blogs out there (yes, like Webdesigner Depot) impair designers’ ability to break free from the homogeneity of websites.

I think the answer to that is both “yes,” and “no”.

Why, Yes?

What is the purpose of a web design blog? Mainly it’s to educate new and existing designers on best practices, new trends, and web standards.

By their very nature, they really should be teaching web designers the same kinds of things. Let me show you an example.

This is a Google search for “web design trends 2020”:

Most design blogs will publish trends predictions around January 1. And herein lies the problem. The writers/designers can only deviate so far from what we know to be true when writing on the same topic… so these sites end up with similar recommendations.

For instance, the top search results recommended similar things for 2020:

  • Dark mode
  • Hand-drawn illustrations
  • Immersive 3D
  • Glowing colors
  • Minimalist navigation
  • Geometric shapes
  • Inclusivity
  • Accessibility

When web designers receive the same guidance no matter where they turn, it’s only logical that they’d end up creating websites that adhere to those same practices.

Why, No?

Because I write for web design publications, I can tell you that there’s a big difference in the kinds of content some of them publish.

For instance, I find that WebDesigner Depot isn’t interested in rehashing what everyone else is writing about this month. We’re given topics that challenge us to think outside the box and present readers with meaningful insights and recommendations.

So, I think that finding design blogs that push the boundaries and don’t just want to recap what everyone else is saying is really important. That’s how web designers are going to master the basic skills they need to succeed while getting inspired to try new things.

3. Designs Tools and Frameworks

This is another one that’s not as cut and dried. I think it depends on the tools used and the intent to use them.

Where Issues Start to Arise

There are certain site builder solutions that you’re going to be hard-pressed to create something innovative with. The same goes with using templates from sources like Dribbble. It’s just the nature of the beast.

If your goal is to create a cheap website very quickly for a client, then you’re probably going to use a cheap builder to do so. With ready-made templates and a lot of the work already done for you, you can create something that looks good with little effort.

When you’re limited by time and cost, of course you’re going to rely on shortcuts like cheap site builders or boring (but professional) design templates.

How to be More Careful

You can run into these kinds of issues with more flexible content management systems like WordPress or frameworks like Bootstrap, too.

Whenever you rely heavily on ready-made templates, pre-defined styles, or pre-built components, you run the risk of someone else’s work informing your own.

The solution is simple: Use demos, templates, UI kits, and so on as a base. Let them lay down the foundation that you work from.

But if you want your website to look different from the sea of lookalikes, you’re going to have to spend much more time developing a unique visual style that’s equally as effective in its mission. Which also means moving beyond clients that have small budgets or low expectations.

4. User Data

Data gathering is an important part of the job you do as a web designer.

You research the target user (or the existing user, when applicable). You look at industry trends as well as the competition to formulate an idea of what you need to build and how you’re going to do it. And you also use resources like Nielsen Norman Group and Think with Google that put out definitive research on what users want.

Even with the most niche of audiences, consumers’ wants and needs are all basically the same. So, obviously, you have to design experiences that align with them. If you deviate too much from what they expect from your site or brand, you run the risk of creating too much friction.

Is This a Bad Thing?

It’s not in terms of usability. If we build simple, predictable and user-friendly interfaces based on data that successfully drive visitors to convert, that’s great. So long as the content remains strong and the UI attractive, there’s nothing wrong with that approach.

But…

This is the same issue presented by templates and site builders. If you do exactly what’s needed and not much more, your site is going to look and act just like everyone else’s. Which comes at the cost of your brand reputation.

Just look at Google’s Material Design. This design system may have made it easier for web and app designers to create new solutions that were user-friendly and responsive, but there was just too much spelled out. And this led to a slew of Material Design lookalikes everywhere you turned.

This is the whole reason why companies take the time to craft a unique selling proposition. Without a USP, brands become interchangeable in the eyes of consumers.

So, again, my suggestion here is to use data to formulate a strategy for building your website. But don’t forget to spend time adding a unique style, and voice of the brand to the site.

Wrap-Up

It seems like, despite all that we’ve learned to do, websites are becoming less and less diverse in terms of design. And I think a lot of that is due to the fact that it’s much easier to design websites today than it was ten, or even five years ago.

Modern-day education, resources, tools, and consumer data take a lot of the questions and the work out of building websites. Which is good… but only to a point.

Unless you’re building websites for clients who have absolutely no budget, you can’t afford to skimp on the creativity and personalization that will set their website apart. Yes, you need to adhere to tried-and-true practices and standards, but beyond that, you should be experimenting.

 

Featured image uses photo by Kari Shea.

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Show Them Your Assets – Tips for Handing Off Designs to Developers

You’ve been working away at your latest design project, and the client has given the go-ahead on your lovingly created digital concepts. Now it’s time to bring those designs to life, and you have a developer queued up to do just that.

So your part’s done, right? Not quite. You’re going to want to make sure your developer has the best head start they can in order to create the site as you imagined.

Below are a few tips to make that handover process a little easier.

Communicate to Make It Great

Get Talking

Scheduling a face-to-face meeting with your developer to talk over your project’s specifics and ambitions will help align your expectations and make the intent behind your concepts more clear. It’s quite likely they’ll even ask questions and request assets you haven’t even thought of yet!

It’s not just a one-and-done thing either, your developer’s going to have questions or requirements that arise as the project progresses. Deciding on a communication channel to allow easy discussion will help you both immensely.

Annotating Your Concepts

Developers might seem like magicians with the way they bring your websites to life, but they’re not clairvoyant! Annotating your concepts where advanced functionality is required reduces ambiguity and makes it more likely that your cool, quirky idea is going to make it to production. If it’s a feature that’s particularly unusual, you might want to find an example of a website or code sandbox that does something similar.

An example of Figma’s comment tool in use to make developer notes.

Figma and Sketch both have comment functionality in order to make annotations a little easier, also allowing multiple parties to comment. If dealing with PDFs, there is also an annotation tool available through Adobe Acrobat.

Specify the Basics

The basis of modern front end development revolves around DRY thinking. Some might argue thinking about code can be pretty dry, but we’re not talking about that – in this case, DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself.  Most developers will tackle a project by starting with defining variables: what colors, font sizes, grid columns… anything that can be reused! Good, consistent design follows this same principle – although it’s a habit that can be hard to get going at first.

Tip: It’s always easier to define variables if this mentality is approached towards the start of the project!  

Colors

Make a style guide that specifies the colors you’ve used in your designs. Think about their logical applications to help signpost how they might work as a variable – for example, what colors did you use for paragraph text, hyperlinks and backgrounds? Did you consider colors to convey status messaging, such as successes, warnings and errors?

Typefaces

Which fonts have you used for your project? Is there a consistent set of font sizes you used throughout? If you haven’t already, maybe consider a ratio-based type scale – I like to use ModularScale to help with this.

Basic HTML Elements

Think about general styling for these basic html tags:

  • Paragraphs <p>
  • Headings <h1–h6>
  • Bullet lists <ul> and numbered lists <ol>
  • Emphasized text <b>, <strong> and <em>

Buttons

How about buttons and links? What should they do when they’re hovered over, focused (using the tab key on a keyboard) or disabled?

Forms Fields and Inputs

What should form fields look like? Is there any validation checking that should occur when a form is submitted?  How about checkboxes and radio buttons?

It’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to cover absolutely every single eventuality – allow your developer to use some common sense to fill in the gaps, and be available to them if they have any questions. In the words of John Maxwell and your aunt’s home office wall sticker, teamwork makes the dream work.

Get Your Favic-on

Favicons are widely recognized as the small icon that appears to the left of the site title on your browser’s tab bar. Nowadays, the application of your site’s favicon is much further reaching, showing up in Google search results and app tiles. There’s also extra theming options available, such as the ability to customize the color of Google Chrome Android’s browser bar color for your site.

Using a generator site such as realfavicongenerator takes the pain out of much of this decision-making, allowing you to upload specific graphics as desired, creating silhouettes of your icon for Windows Metro tiles and macOS Safari pins, and packaging everything into easy-to-use files and code.

 Compress Your Images

Nobody wants to load a 20MB image when they’re on a slow connection or a data plan – it pays dividends to plan ahead and downsize your images so that they’re production-ready for the web. If you’re worried image compression is going to harm your image quality, fear not – you can go a long way with image compression before quality is seriously compromised.

  1. Start by reducing the image resolution – for batch jobs, I use Adobe Photoshop’s image processor script to downsize images to fit 1920 x 1200 pixels
  2. Alternatively, if you’re working on a static project – where specific images will be used only in specific places – you could use your design software (nearly all mainstream UI software allows you to do this now) to export your images at 2x size to support devices with high pixel densities.
  3. I also convert my image color profiles to SRGB to ensure consistency across most modern display types (this one’s optional)
  4. I then take my newly downsized images and run them through imageOptim at 80% quality. Generally I would aim to get my images under 300kb – if there are any that are still significantly over this target once compressed, I’d run these through again at 70% quality (I wouldn’t recommend going lower than this, though).

Don’t forget you can also do this for PNGs! Enabling PNGCrush in imageOptim will let you significantly reduce the size of PNGs… just be ready for it to take a while.

Make Your Vectors SVG-Easy to Use

If your design contains graphics or illustrations you created using vector software, it can be used on the web as an SVG file. Usually, these files will be a lot smaller than JPGs or PNGs. You can export graphics in most (if not all) vector software in this format.

Optionally, you could use imageOptim or SVGOMG to compress the SVG code without sacrificing quality. Your developer might already use a script that does this automatically when processing the site for production, so it may be worth asking ahead.

Get Your Licenses in Check

If you’re using premium fonts, make sure you’ve purchased a webfont license so you can hand over the correct files to the developer. I’d recommend doing this sooner rather than later – although not often, occasionally web versions of fonts can have slightly different bounding boxes to their desktop counterparts, making it a real pain for developers to work with further down the line.

If you’ve been using samples of stock photos (or if you’ve been going crazy lifting whatever you can find on Google Images), make sure everything is kosher before you go live. Make sure you purchase licensed photos, and if certain photos you want to use require attribution, make the developer aware of this.

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