05/09/2018 - No Comments!

Navigation Best Practices — Web App Design 101

Successful navigation orients users and empowers them to move efficiently.

Part One covered Layout Best Practices. Now let’s get into some tips on how to design navigation structures which are both intuitive and predictable, making them more user-friendly.

The purpose of a product’s navigation is two-fold.

  1. Help your user easily get to where they need to be.
  2. Provide visual cues as orientation for where they are now.

The ultimate goal of a navigational structure is for new and returning users to be able to figure out how to get around a digital product easily and efficiently.

 

This graphic here illustrates some of the questions a user may have when encountering a poorly structured navigation.

Let’s talk now about the specifics of building an effective nav.

Categories vs. Utilities

As you build out your navigation, you’ll want to keep in mind the difference between content categories and what I refer to as an product’s utilities.

Categories are content. They are high-level links to the main sections of your product’s content categories. Utilities, on the other hand are links to important elements of the app that aren’t really part of the content’s hierarchy. This includes tools and ancillary things like help screens, product authentication, error screens or a developer’s api documentation. These are all examples of utilities, and they vary fairly widely per-product.

When you’re structuring a navigation, you’ll want to be sure you’re not mixing these two types of link in your navigation.

Mixing these two types of links in a product’s navigation causes confusion. Eye tracking studies tell user researchers that users expect these two different types of links to be located in different places on the screen.

Twitter and InVision are both good examples of seperation between these two types of links in a product’s navigational structure. Here I highlighted the categories in green and utilities in pink.

User’s generally expect these types of links to be in these relative locations in a traditional web application’s layout.

The Three Most Common Navigation Structures

When it comes to physical placement of your categorical navigation, there are a few best practice “locations” within a screen’s real estate that lend themselves well to specific information architectures.

Let’s discuss the different areas of placement for your navigation. We’ll go through the top three positions, based on user expectations and space constraints.

Top Header

The first example is the top header placement.

This placement is ideal for your primary navigation because users look here for navigation intuitively. The header is also separated from the pages content, reducing confusion between navigation and content. Finally, the limited horizontal space forces you to organize your information clearly.

Subnavigation

The second recommended placement is the top Subnav.

This is useful when the header space isn’t large enough for all of your primary category links.

Similar to the top header pattern, users will still look here intuitively for their primary navigation links.

Side Navigation

Finally, there’s the side navigation.

This is a very common pattern, especially useful when you have a lot of category content in the product’s architecture.

It’s vertical structure supports scrolling, when the list becomes too long to fit within a window.

Combining Navigation Patterns

A few examples of product design navigation combinations.

With a complex project, you’ll likely find yourself combining these placements to form your navigation’s structure.

Here are some examples of how this may come together:

Header + Side Navigation — A very common structure with the primary navigation in the header and the secondary navigation in the sidebar.

Header + Sub Navigation — Also common, but use this only when both the primary and secondary navigation will fit in the space.

Sub Navigation + Side Navigation — Here the side navigation acts as our top-level, primary categorical navigation bar. The sub navigation acts as a secondary level, within the context of each screen.

Header + Sub Navigation + Side Navigation — All of the things! A useful pattern to follow within more complex products. Here the Header is primary, sub is secondary and side acts as a tertiary set of categorical navigation.

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04/17/2018 - No Comments!

Emotional Branding for Sustainable Product Design

This post was written by Danielle Thompson, Designer for Toptal.

Product design is a creative discipline that challenges designers to build an aesthetic, functional, and marketable product. As the discipline matures alongside rapid technological innovation, productbrand, and user experience designers are finding new ways to connect emotionally with their users and customers, consequently creating opportunities for more sustained engagement. What is emotional branding? How does the brand or product bring meaning to the users’ lives?

Creating emotional brand connections to your target market can translate into conversions and sales as well as online and offline interactions. Great emotional design that connects with the user on multiple levels is a huge part of this process.

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01/18/2018 - No Comments!

Reading, 2017

For 2017, I made the lofty goal to read 30 books! I nearly made that number, coming in with 26. This year I've decided to go for it again, I will make it this time! I've been really enjoying SciFi books like Dune and Ender's Game – with Ready Player One being my favorite of the year.

Similar to last year – I've again designed simplified book titles here, click a cover to view it in more detail on Amazon or another sales website (not affiliate links).

Here's what I read in 2017.

09/29/2017 - No Comments!

Web App Design 101 — Layout Essentials

I’ve been completely focused on designing complex web applications and dashboards for years now and I’m realizing there isn’t much education in this niche. I’m hoping to share some of the essential web application design tips, tricks and design theories with this new series–Web App Design 101.

Hit the comments if there’s anything specifically you’d like me to write about.

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06/02/2017 - No Comments!

Sketch Power User – New Course on Designers.How

Becoming a power user in Sketch is all about knowing the tiny ins and outs of the interface. Recently, I collaborated with the great team over at Designers.How to craft a 5 lesson course all about this subject. In this course, you'll become a better designer through deep knowledge of your tool, shaving seconds and reducing strain from repeated actions. I've gathered up a huge volume of those little tidbits and secrets and bundled them into this jam-packed course!

The first episode is FREE, you'll need to become a member of their incredible community to get into the rest.

Check it out

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03/23/2017 - No Comments!

A Brief Information Architecture Primer

A Brief Information Architecture Primer

Recently, I co-delivered a webinar detailing the basics of information architecture, specific to the design of human machine interfaces (HMIs). We discussed the basics of Information Architecture (IA) and the benefits made possible when you add or invest in an information architecture stage for your product/project. The primary benefits being 1) Meaningful content organization and 2) Intuitive layout organization. I’ll be writing in detail about each of these subjects shortly, but for now let’s focus on IA itself.

This is a quick primer on the subject and the concepts involved – I’ve worked to distill down a ton of information into simple, actionable concepts for you. If you’re interested in more depth–grab a book–but for now, lets get started!

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03/22/2017 - No Comments!

Design for Style Guides

How to craft and document modern component libraries

A primary point of contention in the product design to development workflow comes at the point of hand-off. As a project deadline looms, designers are typically scrambling to write specifications and export the necessary graphics to ensure the intended pixel designs are fully realized in the browser. This stage of a project is fairly fragmented industry-wide with each team doing their own thing with their own tooling. It’s a difficult stage that is regularly underestimated in terms of the time needed for proper completion.

In my experience as a product designer, front-end style guides are the missing deliverable at this stage of a product’s development. When supporting teams of developers, a style guide as design documentation is invaluable in contributing to a project’s long-term success.

When supporting teams of developers, a style guide as design documentation is invaluable in contributing to a project’s long-term success.

That said, I’d like to outline my approach to designing component-based systems with style guides in mind. Each project and the folks involved are unique, so be sure to bend and mold this process to your own situation. Design documentation doesn’t need to be perfect or even beautiful. It’s sole purpose functional, to ease the transition from designers to developers.

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03/22/2017 - No Comments!

Using Social Proof in User OnBoarding

Boosting conversion rates while improving the user’s experience.

During a recent project’s research phase, I spent some time exploring the use of social proof as it relates to product design. After studying the subject and using it as a tool to effectively boost conversion rates in this recent project, I’d love to share what I learned through this article. When used correctly, I’ve seen first-hand how social proof can be leveraged as a powerful tool in the hands of a product designer.

So, what is social proof?

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01/02/2017 - No Comments!

Reading, 2016

I made a personal goal in 2016 to read two books per month. The subjects which I explored covered the full literary gamut from design and fiction through to non-fiction and self-help style books. I've designed simplified book titles here, click a cover to view it in more detail.

In 2017, I've set a goal to read 30 books and write a short summary of each.

Here's what I read in 2016

10/12/2016 - No Comments!

Practical SVG, Notes

I'll occasionally publish my personal notes from reading a new book, attending an industry conference or something similar on this  blog. I personally refer back to my own posts frequently, revisiting technical skills or refreshing myself on the highlights for a new project.

This is one of those posts. I just completed reading Practical SVG by Chris Coyier from the A Book Apart series. As usual, it was a fantastic read and brought me up to speed on the current state of SVGs for the web! My notes follow.

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