Leo Chang, Staff Designer at Darkroom Studios


What is your relationship to visual design?

Visual design is half of my day-to-day work. I work on digital product transformations for Darkroom, which means clients count on us for expertise in both UI and UX when it comes to rethinking their digital experience, whether that be a web app or an e-commerce website.

Decisions I make about visual design will affect the user experience and vice versa, so my work is often about figuring out the right amount to push the branding lever in a unique way that doesn’t overfill cognitive load for the user. It’s a balance.

Visual design is a critical component in communicating positioning and heightening recall, but it’s also that special sauce on top of all the UX optimizations that makes people feel that sense of joy when interacting with your product. Without visual delight, there would be no warmth to design.

Do your clients understand the need for good visual design before they walk through the door?

It’s funny, most of the time clients do have an innate understanding that their brand is in need of better visual design. But when push comes to shove, many will be hesitant to step too far away from the bad design habits they were in before that are holding them back. Perhaps out of preciousness of what they built themselves prior, or a hesitation towards the unknown, which is understandable.

Oftentimes though, the breakthrough comes when I connect the dots between how design can directly affect consumer behavior. Even something as foundational as increasing white space in your design can instantly improve a customer’s perception of your brand’s worth when it’s done intentionally.

How “scientific” can you get with the link between visual design and behaviour?

Oh, it’s completely scientific, with design improvements we see things like better scroll depth on a landing page, more sign ups to a platform, instantly better click-through rate. All tangible results that come from improving UI design, which impacts UX, which impacts the behavior of your customers.

Are there visual design improvements that you cannot prove will help, but that you still push for?

Definitely, I think that gets into what some people would describe as the “look and feel” of an experience. There are certain design principles you can apply to this like composition, hierarchy, color theory, and so on, but to the regular consumer, it’s the gestalt of all your design decisions that ultimately makes an emotional connection. We know emotion is so much of what drives purchasing behavior so the more nebulous goal of visual design is often pulling those levers in just the right ratio to elicit a desired connection to your product.

How do clients respond to those harder-to-prove suggestions?

It’s a funny thing to experience because the majority of the time, almost all clients agree that they need better look and feel in their digital experience, that they are looking to add some type of emotional signal that’s missing. But when it comes time to accept changes that address those problems, I’ve had several instances where clients are resistant to solutions that depart too significantly from what they’re already comfortable with. Usually that reservation is overcome when I correlate the visual changes to the ways in which the user experience is improved and the resulting impact on business performance.

There will be also times when a client expresses to us that they’ve never been satisfied with their brand or website and they point to competitors that evoke certain emotional qualities that they are aspiring to capture. In those cases it’s quite rewarding to be able to translate those more nebulous feelings into concrete terminology that gives us specific visual principles to bring in or improve on.

Do you want to share anything about visual design that we have not covered?

I think it’s so important that you’re highlighting the virtue of visual design because its criticality often gets overlooked in favor of things like optimization or strategy. There are exceptions to every rule but design foundations are like the building blocks of a house. Sure you’ll be able to scrape together something that’ll do the job if you need it quickly, but strong foundations are what is going to encourage people to stick around longer and enjoy themselves with what you’re offering.