Design is about solving problems, and beautiful design comes from function just as much as aesthetic.
As digital marketing becomes more understood, marketing, sales, and other “business” departments are spilling over into design and user experience roles. Today’s focus on tracking, targeting, and catering to potential customers requires a mix of marketing, data, design and development.
It’s causing some problems, because a lot of organizations aren’t sure who’s in charge of what anymore.
For example, if the marketing team wants a pop up to capture an email address, and the user experience team says it’s a bad experience…who wins? It’s a common predicament, and there isn’t one correct answer.
Photo credit: Juhan Sonin. Creative Commons.
I believe in good, solid design that puts the user first. I also recognize that marketing tactics and efforts to capture emails or retain eyeballs generally work. The proof is in the data. Therefore, marketing tactics are now design constraints, and overcoming constraints is what makes great design.
The biggest challenge we face as designers is transforming something that’s clunky or unpleasant into a beautiful, usable, and profitable system.
In True Millennial Fashion
In the spirit of young and forward thinking companies, rethink everything or get left behind.
If today’s marketing requires touchpoints throughout our designs, then it does. That doesn’t mean we participate in the bad practices found on 90% of marketing-focused websites today. The web is always innovating, and achieving marketing goals in a user friendly way is an area dying for innovation.
For example: The Instant Pop Up
Everyone hates an instant pop up.
You click on a link from Twitter, the content starts loading, you read three words, and everything gets covered by an email sign up form. You literally might sign up… if you had a chance to see what you’re signing up for first.
There’s clearly an error in the experience there.
But we should still do our best as designers to capture an email address. Maybe it makes more sense to put an unobtrusive bar across the bottom of the screen. It can slide in when appropriate or lock into position if a user scrolls. Or, instead of an instant pop up, you can show a modal only after someone scrolls two-thirds down the page or reads two articles in a row (which is what UXPin does on the blog you’re currently reading).
GoodUI does a nice job of balancing lead capture with content consumption.
They’ve tested a lot of different tactics, and this call to action may change, but right now, the email sign up button comes between the 3rd and 4th items in a list. It doesn’t lock or block content, but it does stand out with color. It also uses some great content-related strategies like telling the user the email frequency, subject matter, and what they’ll gain from signing up.
You can imagine that a user would read the first item, then the second, and by the third, they’d be hooked enough to subscribe.
But who knows? The only way to know if that assumption is true is to look at data. If the data says people don’t click, we designers must keep innovating until they do click.
Creating a Balanced Experience
If you can’t rethink everything and implement the perfect solution (sometimes deadlines or data are against you), be true to good design and make things easy for the user.
Make close buttons huge. Visually distinguish ads from content. If a user closes something or opts out, use a cookie and never show that thing to them again. Make stuff look good. Users will appreciate it, and at the same time the business side gets what it needs to keep innovating in their own way.
It’s all about balance and reframing the type of elements that make up today’s web. It’s important to understand our visitors and personalize their experience. But it’s also important to produce tangible leads and sales in order to justify the resources required for good design.
DanielleLaporte.com does a whole lot to capture leads and return traffic. Through good design and smart strategy, however, she’s managed to wrangle all kinds of information into a pleasurable experience. Her email form modal appears about 20 or 30 seconds into a page visit, and it was designed well.
- The modal matches the website aesthetic yet it completely stands out
- The modal’s transparency helps users reference page position
- The close button is clear
- The copy is simple and the “Unlock” call-to-action is more intriguing than a simple “Sign Up Now”.
(My wife informed me that the gift is legit and actually ties into the handwritten “come closer.” I won’t give it away, but you can give them your email to get it.)
Danielle Laporte turns automated marketing and lead generation into an experience that reinforces her brand and is potentially enjoyable for her users. It’s a win-win, and it’s not something that’s going away. Every company benefits from a similar style of creative design thinking.
Just Another Design Constraint
We design to our client’s or stakeholder’s brand. We cater to their tastes. We craft their user experience around their varying use cases.
You know what’s different about those brand constraints? Designers are used to them because we speak the language of visuals. That’s all.
But internet marketing and all of its social media buttons, sharable content, click-to-tweets, opt ins, and cross linking are essential elements of any modern and successful web presence. Notice I didn’t say “website,” because “website” just doesn’t cover it anymore.
And that’s the point. Constraints are changing. Let’s embrace our new challenges as designers to balance design and usability with business needs.
Here’s two quick tips from The Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation:
- At the beginning of a design project, encourage everyone to unpack their thoughts. Ask everyone about the business goals, the current assumptions, and any immediate questions about the task at hand.
- By focusing on the problem first and airing any concerns, you lay out all the raw materials for your constraints. When you see the complete picture, you can better determine when slight user annoyances are acceptable for greater business gains.
It’s human nature to start suggesting immediate solutions, but that’s how you end up with ugly pop ups and annoying microcopy. When you start with the problem first, you’re able to work backwards towards a more balanced solution (like the ones we examined before).
From Herding Sheep to Facilitating Design
For years I resisted the temptation to design for marketing tactics.
I guess I really believed that good user experience is enough on its own to compete with proven tactics to “herd the sheep.” I hated those gimmicks and thought they’d detract from our clients’ brands.
I was more or less in denial. The only thing that could hurt a brand would be poor execution.
To a designer, everything that internet marketing and tracking stands for can seem like garbage. But it’s not garbage. And even if it were, whose job should it be to clean it up? Who’s best suited to take a solid idea– something that’s useful and beneficial for a business– and make it into something enjoyable and successful for the business and the user?
Designers, of course.
The point is that it’s unproductive to resist the trend of more initiatives, more cooks in the kitchen, more department heads involved in planning, and more general politics. You won’t win any design advocates by fighting that trend.
We should instead embrace our new responsibility and work together with the rest of our companies or clients and make anything useful, usable and beautiful. Great designers are great design facilitators, which means we must see beyond our own egos to help others solve the business problem at hand.
For more advice on UX design and the product development process, check out the Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation.