A few days ago I replied to an article on Medium about User Interface design. A lot of the issues brought up sounded familiar, so I dared add a few remarks to put things into perspective.
> Again and again I am pleasantly surprised that, as an older designer (69 now and computer literate since the late 70s) I find that what is considered a specialty discipline (UI, UX and whatever the flavour of the month) keeps finding the same constraints and thus solutions as us old print designers. When I design a magazine or a book or a newspaper, I need to consider the substrate (resolution, grain, coarseness…), the audience (viewer, reader, user, the client!), the content (long, short, informative, vital, not-so-urgent, entertaining), the audience’s situation (sitting down, in meetings, traveling, at a table, in a hurry, at work, under water), the audience’s motivation (interested, bored, dependent, adverse, reluctant) and, of course, the technology that generates the marks (not always pixels), how many colours it can display and how the pages are marked (offset, inkjet, flexo, silkscreen, letterpress, laser).
Now that resolution on screens often matches that on paper and typographic features can pretty much all be emulated across browsers, we get down to the real issue: taking the information apart and reassembling it for the specific purpose. I always start with the smallest element and work up from it. In a book that may be the footnotes, in a timetable that would be the numbers, in a magazine the main text. If those elements work, the other ones are scaled up from them. The baseline for the footnotes is the common denominator and all other text follows multiples of it. As you go up in sizes for subheads or headlines, certain sizes are eliminated for certain formats. A tabloid newspaper will have smaller headlines than a full size Nordic spread. If you count the hierarchies, the biggest element will be H1 and you may have to get down to H5 or more for complex publications.
You do the same for screens. So what’s new? The present generation of UI/UX designers may think that they invented a new way of designing, but we’ve had these issues forever. Trying to fit a lot of text onto the how-to page inside a pharmaceutical package is probably more difficult than doing the same on a screen. There’s no zoom on that paper, so it has to be really well done just for that one version and circumstance.
My method? Think. Consider. Sketch. Think again. And look around you. It’s all been done before, albeit with different code. My code was having to convince clients with rough sketches, pencil lines emulating small text. If you can do that, everything else is easy. You can call it Mobile First or Small Screen Rules or Whatever Makes Us Feel Important. Ultimately what we do is take messages apart and rearrange them. We are the interpreters and our purpose is to serve our clients and their customers, the users. We can only do that if we understand all the constraints as well as the content. I couldn’t design a book I haven’t read nor a website in a language I don’t understand. <