- Leverage habitual human behaviour by designing with patterns in mind
- Break patterns to create distinctiveness
- Enhance the brand experience using microcopy
- Always be mindful of using these techniques in moderation
1. Embrace design patterns
Users tend to be creatures of habit – they’re human, after all. They recognise patterns and these are useful in teaching them how to interact with an interface. Once they’ve bought a product on one e-tail website, they will understand how most others work. These experiences are deliberately similar because they help users form expectations and behaviours so that they can easily navigate a platform.
This principle is often demonstrated using a sequence of ducks. The image below shows five ducks. Users won’t see five individual ducks; they’ll see a row of ducks. They perceive them as a group or sequence and, in the Western world, will likely look at them from left to right, as that’s how they read. This principle can be applied to content; users are more likely to click options on the left than the right.
2. Be distinct, sort of
Like any good rule, these patterns are made to be broken. This human capacity for recognising and using patterns can be flipped on its head, and used to a brand’s advantage where they want to draw attention. When users can see patterns, they easily see what breaks those patterns. This is the foundation for important elements requiring standout such as buttons that operate as a call to action – think “sign up”, “save to basket” or “check out”.
The next image shows the same ducks, but this time one of them has moved out of the row and into the foreground. Users will find it difficult not to look at this duck standing out from the row, even though its form is the same as the others. In practice, this duck (or button, call to action, menu item) will receive more clicks than any other duck. The left would be less popular, though the far right will still likely receive the fewest clicks.
These breaks in patterns are the opportunity for a brand’s personality to manifest in an interface through visual design, copy and interactions. These engagement methods – a cheeky copy line, a surprise gift or a friendly greeting – exist to surprise and delight, and so to differentiate. Importantly, they don’t provide information; they are a unique layer that never interferes with the functionality or usability of the interface.
So, to establish a pattern or sequence, maintain weights and colours. To break that pattern, simply switch it up where you want to draw focus. Making a call to action button an unexpected size, shape or style is enough to get users clicking.
3. Copy is key
The design of an interface and its alignment with an organisation’s brand expression is crucial for a brand’s authenticity. Every click, swipe, tap and transaction is an opportunity for a deep alignment to a brand’s heritage and ambitions, to the qualities for which it’s known.
In addition to using deliberate moments of inconsistency to guide users toward crucial content, a few carefully chosen words can make a big difference in the user experience. Microcopy doesn’t exist to explain a brand’s interface design; rather, it works within the context to enhance the experience. For example, a button that tells users to “click here” is far less helpful or effective than one that tells a user what will happen next when they click it.
Slack is a good example of a brand leveraging microcopy to simultaneously enhance the user experience and embed their tone of voice and culture. Their onboarding process includes microcopy such as “you can change this later” which acts to ease the pressure of choosing a team name and guides the user through the process more quickly. Additionally, their consumer facing tone of voice manages a careful balance of gentle humour and professionalism:
These digital hallmarks or memorable interactions are a significant opportunity to garner user attention and loyalty, which can help drive an advantage over competitors.
4. Always in moderation
Applying this principle to design can draw attention to significant items, calls to action or products. However, it is essential to remain aware that these breaks in pattern are inevitably leading the user away from other information. Breaking patterns is a technique that should always be used in moderation. The reason these breaks are so effective is because they’re exceptional. The more inconsistency is used, the less each separate occurrence will draw attention. Save patterns breaks for when they’re really necessary. The overall consistency of a website and its adherence to general design patterns is crucial and should be maintained.
5. A caveat, or two
- Strong design requirements include functionality, reliability and perhaps most important in this instance, usability; don’t break patterns for the sake of it. Navigation should remain consistent throughout any interface. Orientation is a top priority for users – if they become lost or confused, they’ll just leave.
- Testing is crucial. Always test. Best practice does not equal one size fits all!