The first two months at DockYard

By: Maria Matveeva

The first two months at DockYard.

Recurring themes, and principles I learned in breaking into user experience design.


The way I see websites has changed after a month and a half of paying attention to website UI. One thing that stands out: good design can support the message and content in a quiet, almost invisible way. This principle applies in all areas of design, but I am particularly focusing on elegant solutions in web interfaces. It is a pleasure to observe, and sometimes find myself, effective use of subtle visual changes.

The principle of quiet, effective solutions comes up most often when my work-in-progress is reviewed by the whole team. In most cases, I find that I start a design with many elements in a very “loud” state, then evaluate the entire layout. Once I can prioritize things on the page, most elements can become more “quiet”.

Design for a typical case, not the worst case.

Before DockYard, my process relied heavily on finding out what the worst-case scenario could be, and designing for that. For example, I would consider a very long, but still plausible, title for an article, and then design the header to accommodate that comfortably. I’d always consider extreme cases early on, and design heavily around those.

At DockYard, I learned to design for the typical use case, and then consider how an extreme case would be accommodated. Looking back, I realize that this approach is less limiting and can result in better graphical solutions.

Information density

Different use cases call for different densities of information.

When you are scanning through many search results, it is sometimes appropriate to show a lot of detail at once. Search results are basically many repetitions of one type of item. Users may want to compare what they see according to different criteria, and it is useful to neatly show many details about each result. If I’ve done a good job prioritizing the detailed information, many details do not cause clutter.

In other cases, it is more important to convey the atmosphere around a brand, or to highlight one or two primary actions. Showing fewer items and fewer details can work better. In these cases, the density of information may appear low, but each element has more prominence.

I can make good progress towards solving the layout of a page by deciding whether it is a detailed type of page (like search results) or a page focused on emotional impact, but not details (like some landing pages).

Does it look “real”?

Design is often about deciding what kind of animal a chunk of information will be. Through visual design, we have to clearly answer questions like “how important is this thing, relative to others?”, “what can I do with this?” and even “what kind of thing is it?”. When I show a draft in a design review, I can see how the suggested changes “snap” to something that looks more real and interactive. I believe that the ability to make things look real quickly comes from experience, and also from paying attention to how user interface elements are crafted in products I use every day.

Through regular design reviews, close observation of UI design, and occasional experiments, I hope to continue improving my ability to judge my own work. This will allow for more efficient work, more refined design, and more awesomeness in the future.