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Design tradeoff is essential

Design tradeoff is essential I thought I'd write a bit about design tradeoff today, as it's one of the least understood yet most important aspects to web design (or indeed, design of just about anything). There's a common 'no compromise' attitude, and unless you're working on a purely artistic and impractical project, it's laughable. You'll understand why after reading this example.

Let's consider the front page of a website. If you're reading this, then you're probably responsible for at least one, so it should be a practical example for you. There are so many things that need to be considered on a front page. Let's consider the 'hats you need to wear' from the point of view of experts in different fields, when they're at their most selfish.

Artist said

Just leave me alone to create a pixel-perfect work of inspirational art. I'll show you when I'm done.

Salesman said

The whole front page should be sales letter intended to brainwash the reader into making a purchase.

Community Advocate said

The front page should be a space dedicated to the members of the community. A community hub and collaborative work. To not give the visitors a space makes the website selfish.

Search-Engine Optimiser said

The front page is the natural 'landing page' for search engines. Pick a set of target keywords and write all your text around them, such as to get the perfect keyword density and placement.

Accountant said

Don't waste too much money on the front page. All investment should be cost-justifiable, otherwise your project might be dumped for not giving a big enough return.

Legislator said

The web page must meet our non-discrimination legislation, or you might be taken to court for being prejudiced. It must be understandable for people with:
  • cognitive disorders
  • blindness
  • hearing problems
  • alternative control interfaces
Make a separate version of the page for different user types if these are not possible to simultaneously achieve.

Usability Consultant said

Everything should feel natural and obvious. The interface should exactly meet conventions and key navigation elements should never be unique.

Privacy Advocate said

The web page must not take or track anything relating to browsing it. Otherwise my human rights are being violated.

All these experts are making great points, but are taking them to extremes. Therefore it's important to give them all consideration in the design. We can't just follow their advice though, because there are loads of conflicts - the art of tradeoff is our tool.

Let's consider a few of those conflicts:
  • The privacy and community advocates could argue forever, as they have completely opposing points of view. Privacy is to keep things secret, whilst community is to express.
  • Accountants and artists could certainly argue over the financial incentive to the art. Artists naturally think in terms of elegance, whilst for an accountant, art serves a specific need and serves, with a certain effectiveness, to generate revenue that outweighs it's investment.
  • Artists and usability consultants could argue over the purpose of art. A usability consultant would see it as something to stimulate understanding, whilst a pure artist would see it as something that might even be intended to stimulate confusion.
  • SEO and salesmen would argue over the language used. SEO would wish to write for a search engine, whilst a salesman would want absolute control over the wording to carefully place a trail of exact thoughts into the readers  head.
  • (and I could go on for a long time here)

A good designer/engineer understands all factors relating to their subject, and takes everything on board, with some expertise in all of it, and then creates a design that balances all design factors whilst simultaneously pushing overall excellence and innovation.

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