From a young age I was drawn to visual language. It started with skateboard and snowboard magazines. I used to spend hours drawing Osiris and Etnies logo marks in my school notebooks. Or cutting up Transworld magazines and making collages on bristol board as a means to lay out elements of interest. This was the seed that eventually lead to studying graphic design where I learned about subjects like typography, colour theory, and layout. For the last decade, I’ve been applying those learnings to design digital interfaces.
I think what’s unique about skate/snowboard culture is that there are so many subcultures that exist within the overall umbrella. You could have a skateboarder or brand that leans towards a more gritty punk aesthetic or another that leans more towards a hip-hop aesthetic. That’s what was great about flipping through the pages of those magazines. You had articles or adverts that touched on different art directions that made it visually diverse through typography and associated graphic elements.
I think it depends on many factors. A fun eCommerce brand might be able to express more personality than say a financial institution. Long form content has a bit more flexibility in that you can break things up with visual interest like interactivity or motion. Whereas software that provides a utility and targets a large group of people likely needs to rely more on established patterns and ease-of-use.
When I was in design school, there was a layout project that scarred me for life. We had to create 100 instances of a square, circle, and triangle within a page and complete a short writeup about the relationship of the three shapes to one another. At the time, it seemed insane! But this exercise was meant to push the boundaries of what is possible when laying out information in a meaningful way. Today, that exercise still helps me to step back and think about many possibilities when laying out information within an interface.
Probably not to that extreme, but I try to exhaust as many options as possible within a given timeframe. This also helps me develop a clear rationale on why something works well or not.
If I had to give a number, it would definitely be above 10. There may be dozens of iterations of a single visual element within a larger layout. Or multiple variations of several elements within that layout.
I don’t think I would change anything. I could give an answer along the lines of “more personality” or “less sterile,” But these can’t be sweeping generalizations. In my opinion, there is a time and a place for expressive visual design within an interface. Just as there is a time and place for utilitarian heuristics. The visual design direction of an interface is multifactorial.
If I could wave a wand and change something about all software that exists in the market today, it would probably be something as simple as ensuring sufficient colour contrast and affordance on interactive elements. This is still something I see designers struggling with constantly.
While advancements in tooling have gotten much better over the last decade, I still think that our tools have a long way to go in allowing us to accurately represent an interface which is ready for production. We’re still in a world where static artifacts need to be translated to working software. It is still incredibly heavy for us to communicate basic state management within our tools today, yet it is a fundamental aspect of interface design. I see a near future where designers are required to sit one step closer to the front end and own the quality of that outcome.
Visual design is a lifelong craft. There will always be areas that we can improve upon. If we all focus on getting 1% better, the effects will compound exponentially.