Trends

How to Make Design Stand out Without Sacrificing the User Experience

Designers are fighting to stand out in a crowded industry, often at the expense of the user experience. Here’s why that’s bad, and how to avoid it.

As a designer you’re constantly fighting an ongoing battle to stand out. With that comes the need to differentiate yourself through design knowledge, and style. In this industry, which is so focused on aesthetics, visual differences are more apparent than anything else. This has both positive and negative ramifications.

It makes for a diverse, and abundant design industry, with a range of unique styles, directions, and inspiration. The potential to stand out is limitless, and there is great ease in displaying your work to fellow creatives, potential clients, and employers. And, with greater separation from competing designers, and the ability to create buzz around your work, comes reward.

This is often in the form of industry awards, compliments from peers, increased client leads, and improved employment prospects.

Being invisible in the design industry casts fear amongst individuals. While it’s no reflection of your merit as a designer – particularly for those specializing in user experience – it does have significant real-world effects in the form of employability, and, ultimately, money.

App design in 2013 Source: Dribbble

Where the negatives come into play is when the need to differentiate becomes so overwhelming. Trends fluctuate at such a fast pace, and for no good reason.

Digital design is beginning to follow industries like fashion, where changes in stylistic direction are almost so frequent it’s tiring. They change not just year-to-year, but multiple times within a year. The difference with digital design is that the products have end users who have to interact with them, whether it be a website, operating system, or application. It can leave the end user disoriented, and disillusioned as they question the need for this constant chopping, and changing of styles.

With such a broad range of design styles, we are often be left to assume that design trends come and go, but ultimately move design forward as an industry over time. However, in reality, styles are limited. And, even in web design – a relatively new industry – styles are already beginning to repeat themselves. Gradients, and drop shadows are just a couple of examples of styles to have seen a revival since the flat design trends of previous years.

Rather than pushing the design industry to the point closest to an optimum user experience, we’re instead recycling styles at an alarming rate, leaving users in the dust as we do so. You only have to look as far as the extreme and fake minimalism trends that are becoming the norm.

Brutalism is similar in its approach, leaving user experience behind in favour of standout visuals which shamefully claw for attention. It’s the ultimate example of the extremes designers will veer towards as an industry becomes more competitive, and bored with the current state of affairs.

App design in 2015 Source: Dribbble

It’s not just designers driving this rapid trend cycle, but companies too. In a market economy where consumers are always looking for something new, design can be drawn into this, working solely to drive sales and profits. Whether it’s a magazine publication, or the latest smartphone, companies fear nothing more than blending into the background. And, it’s this constant fight for attention that forms a vicious cycle that often produces more losers than winners.

Occasionally this never ending battle of trends, and design styles can produce results that push the industry forward.

A prominent example is Material Design, Google’s response to the growing adoption of iOS. It took existing design concepts and components, and developed them into a system that is easy for users to interact with, and understand. The guidelines are now used by designers across the globe, creating better consistency across mobile ecosystems, and improving the lives of everyday users. Just as with individual designers, Google’s introduction of Material Design came from fear of invisibility in the industry.

They were far behind Apple in terms of user interface design and consistency. Most Android apps were severely lacking in design terms, and many potential users were put off by this. Their products were looking dated, and Android was nowhere near the polished product it has become today.

App design in 2017 Source: Dribbble

It’s important that designers use the power of this fear of becoming obsolete in a positive way.

Rather than continuously switching up styles, it means standing out by coming up with design language that improves usability for everyday people. That means paying close attention to contrast, accessibility, typography, clear calls-to-action, and other key elements. It means creating design systems which are implemented consistently across your company’s products and marketing. Within this scope, there will be ample opportunity to stand out, not just visually, but as a design thinker with usability at the forefront of your creative decisions.

Here are some products that use timeless design language that maintains usability at its core, while applying more subtle techniques to stay visually relevant in an industry where this aspect is so important.

Novo is built upon the foundation of Google’s Material Design guidelines. This provides it with both familiarity and great functionality on mobile devices. The colors add some stylistic input, with the pink and blue combining beautifully to create a unique contrasting palette.

This landing pack uses tried and tested content layouts and structures to provide a functional template design. The color combination is modern and reminiscent of VSCO’s design language. The thin iconography is beautiful and highlights the services perfectly.

This admin dashboard is an extensive with an all-round polished and considered design. It’s a tremendous resource for building a dashboard with great usability into your product. Every aspect of the user experience has been carefully considered, from the contrast between content cards, to the active states and primary colors. It looks visually current while avoiding any superfluous details or irrelevant trends.

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About the Author Ben Bate

I'm Ben, a Product Designer from the United Kingdom. You can visit my website or follow me on Dribbble.