This week’s topic is visual interface design. The opening pages of the chapter strongly reinforces the fact that visual interface design is not synonymous with visual art and graphic design. The breadth of the work within the chapter discusses the primary differences between graphic design and user interfaces, visual information, and industrial design.
The chapter lists the primary building blocks of visual interface design and it’s principles: shape, size, value, hue, orientation, texture, and position all relate to the information on a page (or within a product) and how each element can be utilized to make a sound, interesting product. The principles tie all of the above ideas together to make clear hierarchies, visual structures, fluid and appropriate imagery, all while integrating style and functionality. Some new principles that are introduced within the chapter are:
- A visual reference is based on visual patterns
- Visually distinguish elements that behave differently.
- Visually communicate function and behavior.
- Take things away until the design breaks, then put the last thing back in.
- Obey standards unless there is truly a superior alternative.
- Simplicity doesn’t imply rigidity.
The last third of the chapter focuses heavily on visual information design. The literature falls back on some of the classic principles of Tufte: enforce visual comparison, show causality and multiple variables, integration of text, graphics, and data in a single display, ensuring quality, and showing things adjacently in space rather than stacked in time. It closes out by warning the reader that, while consistencies and standards are good to adhere to across applications, some caution should be taken. In the terms of branding, maintaining a consistent appeal is acceptable, but across applications, some changes will most likely need to be made.
The chapter intrigues me on the accord of the following: it touches on a lot of core principles that our CGT undergraduates don’t get. The building blocks that this chapter speaks of are the essential foundation of most (if not all) design roles. I find it difficult to embrace the principles of interface without the basic ideas that form them. However, not only is this true in the CGT department, but I see it across up and coming freelancers, even creative thinkers in big companies. When did we decide that we could skip the basic information and jump straight in to the design phase? This is unacceptable.
The theories touched on in this chapter give hint to why some of the most terrible (read: I would rather gouge out my eyes with a spork) websites on the internet exist, or why interfaces like this even pass a usability test. The basic principles are being ignored. These principles extend as far as marketing. My question isn’t why is this happening, but why are we continuing to let it happen? We see these bad designs, these lack of theory in action…yet it prevails constantly. There are even websites dedicated to mocking terrible form in visual information and interface designs! (Photoshop Disasters is a good example of poking fun at touch up and design artists who, at times, you wonder if they ever learned the principles of their work.)
I remember at the start of the semester we discussed design principles ‘transcending time’, and it developed into a discussion about how they do and do not. The final principle of this chapter I think defines that in a way that the class can agree on: while design principles are extremely important, and obviously needed, you can’t go about rewriting or bending them without knowing them first. Even in the case of the modern innovator, they adhere to some basic theories and ideas before they decide that it’s ok to not have blue links on a white background, and they can in fact make an effective site using compliments, split compliments, analogous color, etc. Even in UIs, popular trend has strayed away from some particular icon depictions, while others have stood the test of time.
Do we, as communicative designers, have a standard that’s being ignored, or have we let the standards slip?