As an interactive designer, it is easy to get carried away. Part of being a good designer is knowing how and when to use the techniques at your disposal. While there are tons of great tips on how to do certain things on the web, these few tips aim to help designers of any experience level avoid problematic situations by getting back to the basics.
Don't Forget That Your Users are Human
One of the most important aspects of a website is its usability. Don't forget your audience is human. When you forget this you don't communicate your message effectively.
A great example of this principle applied is found in [form design]. Ryan Singer outlined [10 ways to make forms better], one of which being the language that you use when a error occurs. We've all had it happen, you forget to fill out one of the questions on a form and when you submit it you get a nasty error screen that makes you feel like you've done something illegal.
Error: Not all of the fields were completed! Self-destructing in 5...4...3...2...
You have to consider that many people aren't as comfortable online as you and I. Errors that aren't friendly and informative are scary to users.
A Better Approach
Remember to be conversational in your errors/notifications. So what if they messed up a little bit? Gently let them know they skipped a field and move on.
It looks like you forgot to tell us your first name.
This allows for a better user experience that communicates to your users what you'd like them to do, not to mention it treats them with a little respect.
Don't Jump Straight Into Photoshop
So, you're excited about a new project and you start out by opening up a crisp white canvas in Photoshop. You've launched yourself into a huge ocean of tools without a good idea where to begin. By doing this you can end up with a design that is not very well informed and it makes it very difficult to create a successful web experience.
A Better Approach
Resist the temptation! At a minimum you should always map out the goals for each design and start by [simply sketching out ideas].
Sketching is an efficient and effective way to explore concepts because you don't have to focus on typography or making everything pixel perfect. Photoshop is great for executing a design, but not so great for exploring broad ideas.
Design Sites That are Both Necessary and Useful
One of the highest priorities of any project should be to make it usable. If people can't use your site then what good is it? Many designers lose perspective of big picture goals and focus instead on just making something that looks good. Designing with no purpose in mind makes it hard to know where your going.
A Better Approach
Believe it or not the [Shakers] came up with a design philosophy that can be perfectly applied to design on the web.
> "Don't make something unless it is
> both necessary and useful; but if it
> is both necessary and useful, don't
> hesitate to make it beautiful."
> *The Shaker Design Philosophy*
The most beautiful site in the world can also be the most useless. As with all forms of design, the best work has a foundation of usefulness.
Got it. Now What?
These tips may seem like common sense, but unfortunately, many people don't consider them in their day to day web work. If you're just starting out, these tips can take some designers years to pick up so learn them now.
If you've been an interaction designer for a while, try to examine your daily routine to see if you can apply these tips. You may be surprised at where you've neglected the basics.