Focus innovation where it matters

Focus innovation where it matters

The Germans have a great word that doesn’t translate literally in to English but describes a planned improvement that only makes things worse: verschlimmbesserung.

I can’t remember where I first saw that word but it came to mind recently when this interesting study was passed round the office, describing how facebook tried to improve the user interface for their search bar. They wanted to innovate and ended up back at something that seemed rather conventional – but which worked.


It’s a good read and a demonstration of how trying to break from certain web design conventions can often lead you round in circles.

According to a famous Carleton University study, users make their minds up about a website in 500 milliseconds… which means you only have half a second to – if not exactly grab their attention – make sure they don’t get a bad first impression.

So while there are always subtle ways of enhancing usability, most users instinctively understand how certain things work, where they belong and how they behave. They certainly don’t want to work to find out and we all know that first impressions last.

So there’s nothing boring about putting your logo at the top left of the page, with your main navigation fixed horizontally across the top. That’s where users expect to see it, where they instinctively move to click, where they don’t have to think about it. This is a very good thing indeed! It helps users get on with finding what they came for as quickly and easily as possible.

Question Time

Ask yourself: how hard does a user have to think when they land on my homepage?

To me, good web design is about optimising user experience to become more than functional. To be slick, smooth, delightfully easy and intuitive. Which of course is very difficult to accomplish – you remember truly great user experiences precisely because they are so rare.

So if any universally accepted conventions can save you – and more importantly your users – time, just go with it. Focus your attention on innovating the details that really make a difference: excellent content, intuitive processes, speed, usability across devices and browsers. Your users will love you for it.

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