When I was in college the web was a very different place. It was a feudal era of Web Masters staking claim to subjective territories while establishing confusing labyrinths of information. It was a no-holds-barred world that embodied the idea of "If we can do it, we should do it". This led to a battleground of useless scripts manipulating images to look like a they were reflected in a wavy pool of water and dancing 3D babies. I'm not going to pretend that we didn't all love this era of internet, but in-between playing Wolfenstein and brushing up on design principals, we have a whole new landscape to mold for a next generation web.
When beginning a new project, gaining a new client, or even just creating a new page for an existing site, its important to remember our past and realize that we made mistakes so we could better not only ourselves, but the industry we love and rely on. For us here at Radiator, we understand that everything has a purpose. Superfluous and gaudy elements or interactions may appear to give a strong brand voice when you've been staring at a PSD file for 3 weeks and are thinking to yourself, "How can this impress the client's board of directors?", when a better question to ask yourself is, "How does this [element or interaction] help seamlessly guide our users through this experience?" When focusing on this level, the user experience and the visual design of the project become a married couple wed with love and care.
This is not to say that you should strip yourself of all imagery, it's about finding the fulcrum that balances user experience and visual design. A perfect center point that keeps the user engaged and entertained while simultaneously and effortlessly guiding them through to an eventual conversion, be it a purchase on an e-commerce site, or reading the full article on your blog.
But I love my dancing 3d baby, it speaks to my soul.
Step one to creating an unforgettable experience vs designing a cool website is learning to let go. Let go of the preconceived notions that force you to jam an element into a layout. Technology moves fast and just how splash pages and midi audio are a thing of the past, 'cool for the sake of cool' is quickly moving into the tomb as well.
The forefront is all about accessibility, usability, and entertainment.
These three principals should all work in perfect harmony with each other. Is it accessible? Can I view this on my mobile device while on the 38 Geary bus heading to work? Is it usable? Can I navigate through this with crystal clear direction, regardless of the fact I'm on my ipad or on my desktop? Do I always know where I am within the experience, how I got there, and do I have an idea of where I want to go next? And lastly, is it entertaining? Does the content have value and is it presented in manner that speaks to a targeted demographic? Asking yourself these questions when making design decisions can provide valuable insight into your process and help you step out of your designer bubble and into the world of the end user. Because in the end, no matter how cool the graphic design that you made is, if it can't be accessed or digested effectively it's essentially useless.
Drawing to a conclusion, broadening your thought process before beginning a project and maintaining that wide spectrum of vision while in progress will help you craft a more effective and meaningful experience. Constantly ask yourself the tough questions you instinctively avoid. Put yourself in the users shoes. Live their life and engage yourself to experience the project how they will experience it. Don't be afraid to let go of design tricks that worked for you in the past. The industry is constantly changing and evolving and the only way to survive is to stay tuned in and flexible. Look at the project as a whole and not as individual pages linked together. The entire website is a living, breathing being; and more than just the sum of its parts. Understanding how the whole eco-system of art direction & visual design, development, and user experience work in unison will in turn give you an engaging and entertaining experience that is accessible across mediums and usable to even the most novice user.