Lessons in User Experience Design from the Stage

August 1, 2014 | Mara Low

Make an entrance.

Whether it’s a burlesque performer striding onto stage with an immense air of confidence, or a chamber musician somberly entering the concert hall, great performers know that an audience’s first impression sets the tone for an entire performance.

Hula hooping with fireIf you are a business, the web is the stage where you will make your “entrance” or first touch point with many prospective customers. And, on this stage you have 5-10 seconds or less to make a good first impression—so you better make it a good one.  Your entrance could be your website’s homepage, or more often than not, a deeper-level landing page arrived to from a key word search.

How do you make a good first impression?  Use clear and pointed brand messaging, compelling imagery, and web page layout to convey your company’s core business and values. Is your company culture helpful and caring? Or, is it bold and flippant? Or, perhaps it’s stately and conservative?

Your primary navigation labels also play a role in the story of your brand. Take the Life Well Run website as an example, the global primary navigation reads: “Professional Managers,” “Leadership,” “Partnerships,” “Building Community,” and “Join the Campaign.” These labels are both informative and emotive, and convey at a glance what the business is all about.

Develop your character—and make it interesting!

Character counts! And, I’m not talking about the 140 characters that make up a tweet here. I’m talking about a collection of qualities that defines our perception of an actor, dancer, musician, etc.

At TBG, when we kick off a project with a new client, we always begin the process with a discovery phase in which we ascertain the company’s character. We ask questions to get to the crux of which qualities and offerings differentiate the business from its competitors, and then we develop marketing, Information Architecture (IA) and design strategies to develop and emphasis this character.

Use pauses.

Pausing—brief moments of silence and stillness—adds power and drama to any performance. A well-played dramatic pause commands the audience’s attention and heightens anticipation by creating tension between stillness and movement, as demonstrated here by Futurama’s Bender: http://youtu.be/g_SeVyzFxA8.

In web design, whitespace is akin to the dramatic pause. White space or “negative space” refers to the empty space between and around images, text, buttons and other elements of a web page.

Whitespace is critical for basic usability, but it also offers so much more. Like the dramatic pause, whitespace is an active element in creating an engaging experience for your audience.  Its use can accentuate brand messages and calls to action, create an air of elegance and sophistication, and give your users space to breathe, relax and absorb the information presented. 

White space plays a key role in this TBG created website design for Southern Exposure, a partnership of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

Awe your audience with the element of surprise.

Think of your favorite TV series or theatrical production. What about the story or the act got you hooked? I’m willing to bet the performance contained an exciting twist, something unexpected—something that made you say “wow.”

How do we “wow” website users? Clever messaging, engaging content and impactful imagery are a start, but on the web we also have the possibility of motion and interaction. Take our homepage design for Children’s National Health System, for example. Yes, the homepage boasts emotionally compelling imagery, short and sweet positioning statements and patient stories, but also interactive content areas with very subtle motion as an added bonus. These small—but certainly not slight—interactive design elements create an engaging and pleasurable experience for users.

Behind any delightful web design is a solid information architecture. (And no, I am not just saying this because IA happens to be my specialty.) Your users’ delight will quickly wear thin if they cannot find information they are looking for or complete a desired task. Also, too much of a good thing is…well, not a good thing. Overdoing it with strong colors, bold text, and interactive design elements can overwhelm users. It’s a balancing act between usability and delight.

End scene.

About the Author

Mara Low

I am the Manager of Digital Strategy & Optimization with TBG. When I’m not crafting user experiences, you’ll  likely find me fire hula hooping, hiking, or creating up-cycled art.

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