When I began exploring the world of user experience one of my first online mentors was Luke Wroblewski. I've long been a fan of how he's able to merge deep design insights with compelling aesthetics. I recently interviewed Luke, who will be speaking about web form design (also the subject of his latest book) at CanUX.
Dennis: There often seems to be a distinction drawn between interaction design and interface design. Kind of a wireframes vs. aesthetics split. Can you say a little about how you view the differences or overlaps between interaction and visuals?
Luke: I've always thought of software design as a set of three interwoven considerations: organization, interaction, and presentation. Organization is the way you structure the stuff that makes up an application. Interaction is the way an application behaves to people's actions - its how you make use of the stuff in an app. Presentation is how all that is communicated to people.
So in this model, it's not hard to see how the presentation layer really needs to become the voice of the interaction design and information architecture of an application. It needs to communicate the possibilities and limitations of software. But visual design also plays another (more visceral) role.
A deliberate selection of colors, fonts, images, patterns, and more can elicit an emotional reaction that enforces a specific brand message. In other words, it can help give an application an appropriate personality - fun, safe, caring, or whatever fits best.
Dennis: Your new book is "Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks". Forms may seem to some like just about the least sexy thing you can talk about on the web. Some text fields and a submit button. Why a book on Web Forms?
Luke: When you step back and think about what really makes the Web tick, forms show up everywhere: checkout flows in e-commerce; comments on news articles; photo and video uploads; registration; anywhere people are communicating, and more. So forms are a ubiquitous part of the online experience and in many cases responsible for crucial interactions like purchasing and registering.
Yet, as you mentioned, many people assume forms are just "some input fields and a submit button". As a result, they neglect opportunities to optimize these key interactions. In my book, Jared Spool walks through an example where redesigning a two input field form created an additional 300 million in annual revenue for a Web retailer. That's the kind of impact deep thinking about Web forms can have. Hence the need for a whole book on the topic!
Dennis: Sometimes we see a kind of tug-of-war between "best practices" and consistency on one side, and making exceptions based on context on the other. The gents at 37signals, for example, have done some blogging about favoring context over consistency. Do you think context should ever trump consistency?
Luke: For me, best practices and consistency are not wedded. Best practices stem from context. They are solutions shown to work in specific situations and should really only be applied when those considerations are understood. I'm not in the business of handing out guidelines that need to be adhered to. I'm interested in giving people the information they need to make smart decisions.That includes knowing when to opt for consistency and when to opt for distinct solutions.
I like to think of it in terms of a stack. On top is a set of principles that provide a way to evaluate any design decisions you need to make. These can be specific to a project or more general. Think of them as the guiding light for your work. On the bottom are best practices that you have validated over time, learned about, or are testing. A designer's job is to fill in the middle with solutions that are true to the principles and that leverage best practices where appropriate.
Dennis: Do you ever bump in to Guy Kawasaki at Sharks games? Hey, it's Canada. It's all about the hockey.
Luke: No, but I did sit two rows away from him when he interviewed Steve Ballmer at Microsoft's MIX 08 conference. Guy got Steve to do the "monkey boy" dance for Web developers. Quite a sight!
There you have it. Web forms, and a guy who saw Ballmer do the monkey boy dance. What more could you ask for?
Posted in on October 31, 2008blog comments powered by Disqus