While the web continues to evolve, it remains a vehicle for communication; between friends, or from company to customer, structuring clear and accessible information is among virtually every project’s list of goals. It’s still common however, to find websites with ambiguous design:
- Vague call to action.
- Poor organization/information architecture
- Confusing/mixed-purpose content
- Ineffective user interfaces
The result is a horrendous user experience; a site that visitors can’t navigate comfortably not only precludes building trust, but ruptures the site’s perceived integrity. How does this happen?
The Client Trap
As a web designer, you’re responsible for more than the average client understands; information architecture, brand/identity congruence, ease of use, and user experience are likely only some of the components that influence your design choices.
“Good clients treat you like a doctor, and therefore defer to your expertise. Bad clients want to focus-group your designs.”
One of the fastest ways to an ambiguous design, is ingeniously depicted by Matthew Inman (theoatmeal.com) that touches on something important—client design sabotage. We all want our clients to be happy, so we try to involve them in the process by emphasizing communication, and a collaborative relationship. This of course starts off well, but after a few rounds of client revisions, often sneaks in a few suspect design elements.
The key is setting a precedent with your client, wherein they expect you to be in charge. This gives you the traction to avoid client design traps, and successfully employ design strategies such as purpose-oriented design.
Prioritizing Content Purpose
Regardless of the web service or application, when shifting your design paradigm to prioritize the content’s purpose, you’ll naturally analyze your project’s content with a new filter: relevancy—which has some interesting consequences:
- The information architecture (IA) is stripped of superfluous and redundant elements, enhancing content digestion. This refinement results in a context-sensitive IA.
- The shift towards a context-sensitive IA affords more intuitive navigation, which in turn boosts user confidence.
- Aesthetics benefit from the organized content and intuitive navigation, which helps support your call(s) to action.
By using relevancy and purpose-oriented designs as a foundation, you create boundaries for your project; these thresholds (governed by the principal of purpose,) not only facilitate a strong protection against ambiguous design elements, but serve as a powerful tool when negotiating with clients.
In The Wild
Interestingly enough, after exploring this concept on my own, I started seeing parallels in popular websites—below are a few annotated examples:
The strategy clearly requires a lot of flexibility, and for freelancers, I recognize not everyone is comfortable being picky with (and potentially turning down) clients.