The very good friend of mine recently has pointed out an unnoticed issue about certain design patterns we have already used to and we have never revised them or asked ourselves why they are designed in such way, not another. I’m quite happy to be granted to expose the result of our discussion in this article.
As human beings, we get used to everyday things really fast. It takes 21 days of repetition to gain a new habit. Just in 3 weeks, a human neglects the efforts that should be made for hard and uncomfortable actions. Things that seem unpleasant at first can become a very common practice in such relatively short period of time. We stop noticing a lot of things in the sudden when noticing is a valuable “power” of successful people and certainly successful designers as Tony Fadell mentioned in his talk on TEDTalks.
I’m observing this all the time watching people in my inner circle or just in the streets. If it is a daily thing for humans we may presume that the web environment is not an exception. An ability to notice the odd stuff is vanishing here like everywhere else.
Here’s When Design Comes On Stage
In front of the face of this problem, users and designers are equal. Both of us can become partially blind to repetitive actions. A user has already established patterns of behaviour within websites and interfaces, they used to click certain things like buttons & links etc. Designers have used to create a certain type of headers, bodycopies etc. without questioning all this stuff as it already works or if they just think it works.
For example, it is a defined pattern that websites have a logo in the top left corner, in rare cases in the middle of the header. However, why have we, as designers, decided that this is the best option or why is it necessary at all? Is it brings any value to the user? Does it benefit you as a designer or an owner increasing the conversion rate?
During a fascinating conversation with my friend we came along to the forms, yeh contact forms. We were not talking about this issue only on a theoretical level. We came to the practice on a micro level to prove the theory. Probably, it was caused by a rapidly growing trend of the atomic design invented by Brad Frost (by the way you need to watch his speech, it is hilarious)where design atoms and molecules matter.
So designing a contact form, what are we doing at first? You would say it is obvious — add some basic inputs of a name, email and message and that’s it. Yeh, I thought pretty the same way before I had been asked:
“Why should name and email go first in the row? Is it the reason why a user needs a contact form? Is it his main goal here to input own name or email though message is a major? What is more important here?”
Honestly, it is a list of proper questions I was delighted to hear and that forced my mind to take a pause for a minute and think over and over about this pattern and designers’ attitude to it. It is an evident example of how we should question ourselves even in designing such pretty obvious and conventional elements. As being a designer it is not drawing or creating a fancy piece of art, in the first place it requires you to think more and think different than others do. This thinking process needs to contain prioritising technics and a pinch of skepticism. So we could find the genuine user’s need and define not only the primary action but the major UX path how to get to this anchor point of the primary action.
If you look through the bunch of contacts or other similar forms all of them have the same pattern where information that is important for data collectors stands first. I’m talking about email and name inputs. When users have already decided to set communication with you, it is better to be no obstacles on their way to the goal and all other stuff can wait. When a person is in the grocery and wanna buy some cheese, no one asks him to buy two extra inferior items before getting desired delicious cheese. We may ask for a favor only after a client got what he wanted. In both cases, buying and typing is the same action which user is eager to make in order to accomplish his task — in the grocery it is cheese, online it is a message.
After a few minutes of chat with my friend, I understood the nature of this pattern. Surprisingly, there is a very logical reason why we are so stuck to this contact form pattern. All of the forms came to us from the real world of office papers where you had to fill your contact information and only after that could get to the agenda. Wouldn’t you find it archaic to use this approach even now when we think to be super advanced UX specialists and progressive enough in understanding human’s behaviour and masters of persuasion? When one of the main fundamentals of designing user interfaces is to give user exactly what they were looking for.
Now it is time to roll the sleeves and make your hands dirty practising alternative solutions. I was genuinely surprised when I found this contact form shot on Dribbble
Actually, it is a great example of a user centered contact form. Putting the message text area in the first place is a bold move that proves that designer put some thoughts into his work and did not take established guidelines as granted. Besides prioritise order user gets a little bit of empathy as well because of already filled in greeting phrase. Frankly speaking, it is a well executed psychological technique to keep people polite and in the certain positive mood while they are writing a message and can be a sort of a shield from haters as well.
So here is a materialised result of theoretical discussion and design thinking process below. It is a combination of user needs first, yours last approach aka empathy, visual authentic and personalization.
All this discussion situation about forms — what put first, what next — and time spent on this article made me reconsider the attitude to guidelines, especially on a micro level of UX and UI. We certainly need to reevaluate over and over again the true essence of those standards that exist in such changeable industry as web technologies. Changes are vital in all fields of our life. They help to improve and grow. Moreover, the approach of noticing and questioning is a guarantee of those necessary changes. As sooner you start implementing this method into your workflow as more valuable and meaningful your work would be and happier your users would become.
One more thing — always have a friend who can make you think and keep your mind in good mental shape within interesting discussions and disputes.
Thank you for reading!
P.S. Do you have such situations of noticing when others seem to be blind? If so, please, share your thoughts with others in the comment section. It is gonna be intriguing to compare different experiences.
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