This article is for veteran client-side procurers as much as the experienced professionals of digital design. You know who you are. Your baptism of fire was the dot-com crash. you won and went from success to success. Today you are on top of things and know what best practice looks like and how to make a great digital experience... right?
Wrong!The Internet is moving fasted than ever. What worked yesterday may not work today and will definitely not work tomorrow. And it shows. Just go to any website without a Facebook “like” button or lacking a “Tweet now” link. They feel old-fashioned eventhough social media only really took off a couple of years ago.
So how do you stay on top? Here are 5 tips of keeping up-to-date in an eco-system where learnings are redundant as soon as you gain them:
1: Test with users, not just innovations but old classic functions as well.The average users behaviour evolves as fast as the net is changing. And their behaviour has always been miles apart from digital professionals simply because their motives are so different and more often than not driven by emotions and urges. User testing is the sounding board that connects the professionals to the actual consumers of the end product.
Remember to test the obvious things as well; Should the search box really stay top right? Are dropdown menus still a nuisance for users? You might be surprised at how sophisticated your customers’ Internet skills have become.
2: Keep an eye on start-ups, they cannot afford not to cater for the users.Often new companies starts off on limited budgets hence their websites tend to be much simpler and leaner to the benefit of their users. These budget limitations can result in great new user experience features in the same way restrictions on smoking and alcohol commercials triggered some of the best ads in the world.
3: Follow social media for trends in user experience.Social media is a new field and each new social network tries to differentiate themselves from the previous ones so they all have unique requirements to the user experience design, some of which can be translated to more traditional websites.
For example a person’s calendar may show they are scheduled to be in a meeting but how do you know they are actually there. Maybe we can learn from FourSuare and allow people to “check-in” if they actually do attend the meeting so everybody knows where they actually are rather where they are expected to be.
4: Keep an eye on adjacent technologies.I think we can all now agree that iPad and other tablets are here to stay but interestingly enough due to their limit in screen size they force UX designers to make the best use of the space, something many traditional websites can learn from. And while touch screen specific design aren’t immediately transferable they may still give some new ideas.
Computer games and interactive TVs are other environments with specific limitations and possibilities all providing inspiration for the savvy digital professional.
5: Listen to kids and read science fiction.Look and learn from how kids interact with the Internet. Yes, we find it funny when a child tries to smell the flowers on the screen, but it may hint to what tomorrow’s screens can do and what websites should aspire towards.
Similarly science fiction may point us to the future of browsing and we are catching up with future fast. Somebody told me that William Gibson originally started writing “Pattern Recognition” as a science fiction novel, but reality caught up and it ended up being a story that could take place in our time.
At the end of the day...Inspiration is great but at the end of the day we all need to deliver in the present so always remember to consider whether this or that new great feature actually suits your business needs. For example it may work for Facebook to remove the “GO” button and use the “Return” key as submit button for forms, but if you know your users need to be able to add line breaks then they will need the traditional function of the “Return” key reinstated.
So here and now let's put the “GO” button back but next time you see a submit button ask yourself:
Should it stay or should it GO?