Unravelling Visual Design

At Provoke we’re increasingly focussing on visual design and how this influences a user’s comprehension of content, interactivity and pathways.

Moments before unravelling…
Coming up with a nice-looking visual design usually isn’t the greatest challenge – the real magic lies in the delicate interplay between the brand, content, navigation pathways, interactive tools and how the visuals impact user behaviour.

There’s no doubt about it – visuals (including photos, typography and colour) hugely transform a black-and-white screen prototype – taking the concept a step closer to reality.

But the very act of adding shapes and colour actually changes user perception (and potentially their behaviour). This is where visual design done in isolation (or ignorance) can potentially unravel a great user experience (and in some cases make a smart-looking website incoherent to the user).

A classic example is a design object which looks like a link (but isn’t) and text which looks like a design element but is actually a link.

This issue has been boiling my blood in recent months…

I’ve seen a number of brilliant well-thought out website architectures effectively ruined by visual designs which ignore basic principals of user focus and legibility within the context of an online environment.

Even more gut-wrenching are existing sites which had already proven their success through such techniques as usability testing, direct customer feedback and usage metrics – but then redesigned without any consideration to the underlying architecture of the user experience.

These companies are basically shooting themselves in the foot.

And I’m not just talking about amateurish looking designs, but sites with an expensive feel. Looking slick and expensive isn’t enough!

To get to the point – if you’re serious about the success of your online presence you need a visual designer who understands the full gamut of user experience design*. If they don’t, then partner your visual designer (or agency) with an information architect or interaction designer who does.

Using personas (customer profiles) is a great way to keep the focus on the user and their goals. If you’re on a project which utilises personas then encourage everyone involved to read and discuss these – it should help the design team create an affinity with the types of people the site is intended for.

At Provoke we also create persona mood boards to help guide the visuals and consider each design decision in the context of the intended user experience. If the user experience designer intended the user to focus on a certain part of the screen first, then the visual design should help support this goal through use of colour or a design element which draws the eye.

So, if you’re about to redesign or build a new site – remember, you can’t separate visual design from user experience design – they need each other!

* User Experience (UX) Design begins by understanding the business, branding and user goals. It involves crafting of site structure, content, interactive features and proving design effectiveness through usability testing.


One response to “Unravelling Visual Design”

  1. Design Guru Avatar

    I agree with your opinion that visual design and user experience design must be combined to give a high quality solution. But don’t forget, the main goal for any website design is simplicity.