Design in the digital realm
Design is a process, one that involves identifying a problem and solving it. Target audience, competition, and user experience, amongst other things. It’s a broad process, much of which can really be applied to just about anything you design, be it a website or a piece of furniture. But when you’re designing something in the digital realm, an app or a website, what considerations should you make?
As with any design you need to think about your target audience. As with inbound marketing, it can be especially helpful to create buyer personas. Look at your current customers and analyse their attributes in order to come up with a few fictional customers that you want to appeal to. Don’t have existing customers? Not selling a product? Coming up with imaginary personas to aim your content at will still help you try and define who your audience is. Here’s a tool that you can use to help you.
In my last post on typography, I mentioned hierarchy of information. That’s something that applies to all content, digital or not. You need to know what you need to say, and identify what the user wants to see. Headings, subheadings and main body content need to be considered in order for your user/reader to navigate the content effortlessly. Do you have images? You should endeavour to present images as well as possible, it’s no use having tiny images if you’re designing a photography portfolio website. You need to decide how you want the user to be presented with visual content, a large gallery slider can work well, but lacks interactivity, while larger images that fill the screen when clicked allow a user to chose what they want to focus on.
Start by sketching out quick ideas for your design. Don’t focus on neat an pretty, just get pencil to paper and start thinking about the layout of your product, website, app, whatever it is. Forget about nailing it first time, you won’t. But this sketching process is useful alongside thinking about the hierarchy of your content. Both feed off each other and help you work out what’s important and where to put it. When it comes to content, you should be aware that reading is a different process on screen that in print. People tend to scan more on the web. Your writing has a direct bearing on your design so you have to write for the eye as well as for the ear. Use shorter paragraphs and regular subheadings to give your readers breaks and make long copy seem shorter.
Just because you are designing something that will be digital doesn’t mean you can design solely on the computer. Paper prototyping is a great way to develop your initial sketches into a more defined idea. Use sheets of paper on top of one another to try and work out the various steps you want your user to go through when using the app, from home screen to logging in and navigation. This process will also allow you to create rough ways of navigation and test them out on people. Are they struggling to work it out or is it intuitive? This can give you a more focused idea before you even start laying out pages on the computer. It also helps you design responsive sites if you can just move pieces of paper around.
RGB not CMYK
Never design for digital in CMYK, you must ensure that you’re working in an RGB colour mode. Photoshop allows you to move between RGB as well as CMYK, while Sketch is purely RGB, as it was developed to work with screen media.
Typesetting in the digital realm has always been limited. Web safe fonts such as Verdana, allowed you to create a website that would work on everyone’s machine. However technology has progressed and tools like Google fonts and Adobe Typekit allow you to be more creative with your choice of typeface, which is a real bonus for designers. We have always been limited with making quality typography on web pages and applications but that’s changing. Tools such as Sassline allow us to set digital text on a baseline grid, allowing greater flexibility in setting text using CSS. And don’t forget the black/white type debate…
These processes and considerations should help when designing a website or an app, or anything really in the digital realm. Every project is different, but designing for the digital realm requires a good understanding of layout, audience and content, as these things have some specific requirements that you might not be aware of if you’re used to print.