Design challenges

published at 1. Aug, 2022

Working on websites is a creative process. To me, a website is a canvas which I can create on, using digital tools. But client projects serve a business or professional need. They need to look good, well-designed, and usable. But it is a piece of art, after all.

Bringing it all together in a way, that makes sense to the customer. Guiding them, entertaining them, let them use the website without any questions coming up.

When working on projects, the details about the tech stack can be defined quickly. It requires experience and profound knowledge about existing technology, but in the workshop phase of a project finding the right tools is a non-issue.

The design, well; that is another story. First: there is no „no design“. Everything is designed. It can be designed poorly, or well. But leaving out as much as possible, minimizing visual decisions lowers the risk of a project.

Let me give you an example:

I was working on a small project. It took me 10 hours to complete. I used minimal visual complexity, aka minimalistic design, focusing on the features and ease-of-use. Users of this project expected a particular visual aesthetics, which was not part of the budget. For a reason.

At a later stage in the project, where all core features were implemented everyone was happy with the current status. The minimal design had no personality, that could have offended anyone in any way.

The question came up to change the background (at least) according to a special visual identity. The effort was minimal. The effect was intense. It looked more pleasing, more accustomed to the desired design and fit the target audience better. Yet, this little change made the header look out of place.

We needed to update the header, put a brighter background color and changed the shape of the logo at the top. The new visual characteristics looked out of place, which lead us to updating all images on the platform. A bigger border, rounded corners, different color.

At that moment, the background looked dull and out of place. On top of the colors, we added a pattern to it, which resembles the shape of the logo. Now, it looked well put together again.

But: we removed the non-identity and replaced it with a specific trait of visual identity. Which lead to people raising their voice and sharing opinions. From praise, over critics, there were a ton of ideas and „necessary changes“.

Going from almost ready to launch to a battlefield of discussion in under 1h of development time.

This example is harsh. Polarizing. But true.

Bringing in visual decisions opens a honey pot of opinions, ideas, and reasons to change ever more things. While this can support the project and the quality of the work, it should be a process in itself. It should not be a side-hustle on the development roadmap of a website or web application.

At xumana, we split those two things: we create a brand. We define the visual identity, including colors, typography and visual aesthetics. We generate mood boards, find imagery and create style guides on vital parts of the project. And use that, as a blueprint to move the visual identity forward.

Because the brand creation process is a closed process, with key people being involved, making decisions, justifying those and document along the way, there is little room for changes later on. Considering the root evaluation of design gives direction on specific implementation details.

That is the value of a brand creation process. It minimizes project overhead later on, when decisions are made by first principles created earlier on. Sticking to those decisions Leads to a faster project turn-around, coherent visual identity, less friction for the developer which results in less friction for the end-user.

The only Investment is: allowing oneself to create a visual identity first.

A logo or a lettering is not a visual identity. It is the key anchor for it. It’s a starting point, that answers 80% of all questions coming after that. Opposite to the tech decisions which are based on analytical reasoning, design decisions have an unlimited amount of variables to go through.

Having an endless array of options guarantees spending a lot of time and money on a vague route interchanging ideas and tweaking one piece after another until it is perceived as stable.

Leaving a minimalistic design with no special character or tendency to a specific design language could serve as a starting point, avoiding a lot of errors and problems. This enables postponing the design process, to apply the results on the neutral version. Easy.

Save yourself the hassle. Start with the design principles first and move forward from there. That is the easiest way and saves a lot of time, longterm.

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