march 2011 archives

Jared Spool is giving a free presentation titled “Anatomy of a Design Decision” in three cities: Portland (April 13), Seattle (April 15), and Minneapolis (April 28). (Pre-registration is required, but free. Beware the maps, however—as a University of Washington alumnus, I noticed that the Seattle location is off by a few miles.)

Assuming this is a version of his presentation at UIE, this is worth your while if you’re in one of those areas. Here’s his summary: “The best designs come from not one, but hundreds of well-made decisions. The worst designs arise out of hundreds of poorly-made decisions. All that stands between you and a great design is the quality of your decisions. Where do they come from?”

posted by ted 2 hours ago is hiring! We’re looking for full-time Senior Designers and Freelance Web Designers. We’re the largest non-profit genealogy organization in the world. We want to help the world find their ancestors. Come help us do some good!

posted by tadd 4 days ago

A little news. The design team working on is joining NorthTemple. We’re looking forward to contributing to the great NorthTemple content. Look for some new faces posting soon!

posted by tadd 4 days ago

Visual Tombstones—
Don’t Let Them Bury Your Meaning!

I was checking out a site referred to me by a friend at work: Safe Mothers, Safe Babies (SAFE). She said they needed some design help, so I thought I’d take a look. (You can contact them if you’re interested in helping out—looks like a great cause, helping mothers and babies in Uganda.)

As I browsed the site, there were clearly a lot of opportunities to spiff things up, but not that many that truly hindered understanding or use of the site. At least until I came to their multimedia gallery:

Interesting photos, but I am not sure what they are about. There are no labels on each photo to help me out, so I start looking for clues. At that point a new problem emerges. See it?

Seven nav links aligned pretty closely with seven columns of images. Without a closer examination, some folks might think that the nav links are related somehow to the content aligned beneath them—that they are column headings. Human beings are are meaning-makers, so we stretch and strain to figure out the relationship, to define a connection that isn’t really there. Confusion or at least a loss of time is the likely result. In worse cases, it might actually lead you to assume something that isn’t so—that the last column shows actual photos of the group’s headquarters or something, for example.

It struck me that this is a type of visual “tombstoning”—an unintentional (and often humorous) alignment of headings in newspaper or magazine layouts. Here’s an example from an article on tombstoning:

Really? Dead Bugs Drink Wine? Were they dead before or after they drank it? Either way, that’s pretty interesting… but not what the authors or editors intended!

There’s obviously a lot more to say about The Principle of Proximity, but it’s good to keep in mind that:

It is not enough to group things that should be grouped.

You must also avoid grouping things that should not be grouped.

And if you’re interested in helping SAFE dig up and replace those visual tombstones, drop them a line—I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

posted by ted 5 days ago

case study

Testing Your Design Principles

I just finished an article by Jared Spool entitled Creating Great Design Principles: 6 Counter-intuitive Tests. It was a good read that took me back about sixteen months to the time we started a revision of the Church’s Online Store by defining 8 or 9 guiding principles to help us focus. The new store launched without fanfare last June, with a more public launch in September after some refinements were made. Those principles had a big impact on design decisions, how products were highlighted on the site, and how we measured success. So this article was of particular interest to me, and I wondered how our principles would stand up to Spool’s “counter-intuitive tests.”

posted by ted on Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011