I, probably like many of you, occasionally scour the pages of Dribbble.com when I’m in need of inspiration. I’ve seen countless pixel perfect creations uploaded and presented, where the elements of a website appear to magically fit like jigsaw.
In Photoshopland, it’s easy to make things look perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop is an amazing piece of software. I could spend all day every day installing fonts, brushes, patterns and textures… pushing pixels around and just generally making things look pretty and fit perfectly together.
Ok so Photoshop’s great, what’s your problem?
Perfect things are fine for a perfect world. And this is not a perfect world.
Data is unpredictable.
My particular area of interest at the moment is ecommerce. During a recent discovery phase of a project to redesign a checkout system, my desk was littered with yellow sticky post-its, coffee-stained wireframes and hap hazard flows. All hope seemed lost as I went to Dribbble for inspiration.
On Dribbble, I encountered dozens of pixel perfections that would never work in a real system.
For example, I can never guarantee how long the name of an item in a shopping cart might be. The only thing to do is design for the maximum 255 characters, and work back. If it still looks ok, I move on. It seemed that on Dribbble the perfect amount of characters were what was shown.
This frustrated me, so I closed Dribbble and went back to my pen and notebook.
User Interface Design is usually the very last thing I will work on. It is last because, in my humble opinion, I find it is the easiest. The complex work is done. I know what content I should expect, and now is the time to make it look pretty.
This is not a damnation of Dribbble.
I really love Dribbble, as I said earlier it is a source of inspiration. The quality and quantity of clever logo design, intricate typography and hand-drawn illustration is amazing to me. But as far as UX and Website designers go, showing something that you ‘would have done’ is worthless.
As worthless as seeing the speedboat you didn’t win on a gameshow about darts.
Even the wireframes and program flows that are uploaded are designed within an inch of their lives. There is no narrative, no story, nothing to indicate a problem has been solved, or a process has been simplified.
The problem I’ve had with visual designers assuming the role of website designers goes way back.
A few years ago I worked in an agency. I received a psd template from a designer on the other side of the world and was instructed to implement said PSD into a website.
“No Problem”, I said.
This was in the dark days of “Yes, we support IE6” and long before font-face, border-radius, box shadow and any of those other new-fangled things the kids have nowadays.
Basically, without being able to use transparent png files because of IE6, the design just was not going to happen. I realised then that this gorgeous image of a website was created by someone who didn’t know anything about how exactly a design was to be implemented.
I will happily continue to use Photoshop to polish things at the very very end of a project. But until then, the post-its, pen and coffee-stained paper will keep me going.