Like you, I’m a fan of great design. But my reaction to this buzzword is probably different than yours. I think great design is more than just the visuals. Great design should appeal to all ages and evolve to maintain a lasting impact … while looking and feeling good.

Look past the stroked icons, gradients, and flat elements that are plastered all over portfolio sites like Dribbble. Which of your favorite digital experiences are actually stellar examples of well-rounded design?

Three secrets to great design: set goals, be democratic, stay mobile

Three Secrets to Great Design.

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, then you’ve probably heard me preach about minimizing architecture and planning. I certainly do believe that lengthy planning is often time misspent. For best results, consider these three factors to start your project off right. Then, get into “real” work as quickly as possible.

1) Set Goals

It’s fun to toss around a football. It’s even more fun to score touchdowns and win games. Teams play better together when the rules of engagement are understood. You’ve heard of SMART goals; welcome to era of smart sites. Defining key performance indicators will ensure your ability to provide stakeholders with measurable results.

Goals keep a team aligned. Whether applied to marketing programs or digital project; clear metrics will drive priorities and results. Moreover, if the metrics aren’t moving in your favor, that’s a clear indicator: You’ve simply got to try a different tactic. Don’t be surprised if yesterday’s plays don’t work next season.

2) Be Democratic

Too many projects focus on pleasing internal stakeholders. Websites are not built for executive boards! Keeping your user front and center is key to creating compelling experiences that are also effective. It’s important to balance your organizations needs versus the user’s needs. Remember that this is a symbiotic relationship. Give some, get some.

Consider your target user – or, better yet, talk to them. Make sure there is a representative “for the people” any time the product roadmap is being discussed. That picture you drew of “Susie” a few weeks ago … print it out, and let her have a seat at your next steering committee meeting.

3) Stay Mobile

More and more people are going mobile. In developing countries, many people’s only connection to the web is via their 3G-enabled smartphones. And here in the good ol’ US of A … well, this past weekend I facetimed with Chinh, my 70 year old uncle. Over 17% of all web traffic is now occurring on mobile devices. Your business cannot afford to ignore the growing trend of always-on connectedness.

Responsive design is almost a requirement these days. Here are my tips for going responsive.

If you’re designing a mobile application, don’t forget about the accelerometer, GPS, and other sensors, which are some of the biggest benefits of going native. Personalization is about to go into hyperdrive, thanks to context awareness platforms like Gimbal and moTwin. Are you ready?

Great design is electric.

Great Design is Electric. Boogie Woogie, Woogie!

Have you ever been line dancing? Oh, come on, sure you have. Even my grandma knows the Electric Slide, and I’m pretty sure all kids know the Chicken Dance by kindergarten.

To me, learning a new interface is like learning a new dance. The simpler, the better.

Establish and Follow Patterns

The Electric Slide is built upon existing, ubiquitous dance moves like the grapevine. The Web also is made up of a few default interactions:

And, more recently:

Just like how a line dance follows an 8 count, modern Web experiences should follow a pattern. This helps users more quickly gain their bearings and navigate your site. Keeping styles consistent will go a long way in moving users down the path you want them to go down. Provided, of course, that the information they’re looking for is seeded along the way.

Provide Instruction To Get People Started

Sometimes it’s fun to just put the instructions right on out there. In 2001, the Cupid Shuffle became a Billboard hit after a year of filling college dance floors. Guided instruction can be a huge help in reducing barrier to entry.

Check out the onboarding section of UX Archive for loads of iOS inspiration. Something simple like this search box on Marmoset Music may be all you need on your website.

Make Sure It’s Learnable

The Watermelon Crawl is a great example of a dance that looks pretty complicated with its shimmying, clapping, and toe pointing. But after the first verse of the song, you’ll notice that everything repeats. This mini-routine is easy to learn and instills confidence.

Keep your IA simple enough to be understood upon landing and learned within just a few clicks. Don’t make visitors practice critical thinking skills to navigate your website. Use techniques like card sorting as a way to determine your best options. It’s okay to experiment freely with nomenclature, but larger architectural changes may require proactive instruction to avoid user dissent.

Great Design Evolves

Great Design is Alive.

Launches are exciting. But they’re not the last step. Once your shiny new site/product/service has been revealed to the public, the fun is just beginning! Evaluate how your design is performing and optimize it. Optimization comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors.

Content Development

Whether you call it Content Marketing or Public Relations, creating informative content is an excellent strategy for growing brand awareness and preference. A combination of curated and original content works best. Take strides to satiate the modern consumer’s thirst for knowledge.


Consider how your design can give something back. Where can it provide delight? Once the framework for your design has been established, evaluate opportunities for an easter egg or some other hook. The result of microinteractions … engagement.

Process Design

Processes are just as ripe for a redesign as a PSD. When a business scales, the logistics may change — warehousing, order fulfillment, and POS systems could be replaced. Evaluate “hard costs” for opportunities to renegotiate once forecasts are more firm. Consider adjustments to workflows, including approval chains or even support protocols.

Technical Details

Just as processes merit streamlining, technical architecture should be periodically evaluated. A caching service like Akamai may save you a bundle on hosting costs and improve page load speed (and ranking). Tools like Optimizely and CrazyEgg help your “traditional” design team make better decisions through testing and heatmapping.

Involve your development team as often as possible. They’ll thank you for it.

Have You Designed Something Great Lately?

Designing something great is a real achievement. It’s a lot of work to make something beautiful and effective. Keeping it current requires even more attention. Where have you gone beyond the visuals in your projects? Tell us what you’re proud of. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up in a roundup post 😉