I’m a proud member of Generation X. If you don’t know, we’re the kids who stayed home alone and (supposedly) didn’t care about anything.
Thus, I’m nostalgic for the culture of those days. I love 90s music, movies, and television. And I’m always up for a chat about the early days of the web.
But there is something I miss. It’s the idea of a shared experience. A cultural event that seemingly everyone participates in. For example, watching the finale of a television show or a big sporting event. Something you could discuss the next day at work or school.
At scale, maybe that’s gone for good. But the web has a different kind of shared experience. This one isn’t about a cultural phenomenon. It’s about ensuring consistency for users.
Let’s look at how the web brings us together in a quirky, roundabout way. And we’ll discuss how it impacts web designers trying to build these experiences.
There Are So Many Ways to Experience the Web
Television was the go-to medium for shared experiences back in the day. Sure, there were different screen sizes and models to choose from. However, the core functionality was the same. For example, content creators didn’t need to alter their products to ensure compatibility.
There was a period when the web was this way. We all viewed websites on a desktop device. But those days are long past.
We now experience the web in myriad ways. The majority of us use mobile devices. But there are so many variables involved.
Mobile devices have a wide range of viewports. They also vary in terms of processing power. And there’s no guarantee that users have access to a high-speed connection.
Desktop and laptop devices are still a part of the equation. And even they’re getting more complex. High-definition screens are standard. But we must also account for 4k and 8k screens as well.
Oh, and we shouldn’t forget about the other oddball devices out there. You could visit websites via televisions, automotive infotainment screens, and smart appliances.
The web is everywhere. And we experience it in different ways. There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle.
How Can Web Designers Manage This Mess?
Creating a seamless experience across the board may seem impossible. And perhaps it’s unlikely that we’ll attain perfection.
There are still things we can do to create the best experience possible. Here are a few key points to keep in mind.
Aim for Simplicity in Design
Complicated design features have a place on the web. But they are exceedingly difficult to scale.
For example, you could spend hours perfecting a footer layout on a desktop device. But how does it look on a phone? You’ll likely end up going down the rabbit hole to approximate it. And things still may not work correctly on every viewport.
Complexity hurts consistency. Therefore, it’s worth implementing simple solutions. They are resilient and can withstand different scenarios.
The ideal design may be simple. However, convincing stakeholders of this can be difficult. It’s worth fighting for, though.
Use Standards and Best Practices
There are multiple ways to achieve a specific layout. But they’re not all equal. For instance, web designers have been known to employ various hacks to get results.
The result is an inconsistent user experience. Buggy layouts and design features can hurt conversion rates. They may force some users to give up on your website.
CSS and HTML have come a long way. They provide proven techniques for building stable and semantic layouts. Most enjoy strong browser support as well.
Let’s make this a rule of thumb. If a feature requires a hack, it’s not worth adding to your site. Look for native solutions instead.
Understand What’s Important to the User Experience
There’s a perception that a website must be the same on all screens. Yet some features aren’t that flexible.
Sliders are a prime example. They typically work best on large screens. But they’re often hard to use on a phone. The experience is clunky at best.
So, why do we force mobile users to put up with it? The feature may have little to no value to them.
We shouldn’t expect to replicate every aspect of a site. Instead, we should focus on what’s most important to users. It’s about how they interact with features and consume content. And we can’t forget about consistent branding.
Elements should adapt to screens logically. It’s OK to remove elements that don’t align with this strategy. You can still create a consistent UX without them.
A Holistic Approach to User Experience
Perhaps the shared experiences of the 90s can teach us something. There was consistency despite the many variables in play.
For instance, I could watch an episode of Seinfeld on a tiny, black-and-white television. Or I might watch it on a large color screen in a home theater.
Sure, the visual impact would be different. But the content was the same. And I’d have plenty of laughs either way.
This philosophy also applies to the web. People will experience it in vastly different ways. Yet it’s possible to ensure that everyone understands what’s going on.
With that, maybe the ideals of a shared experience aren’t long gone. They’ve just been repurposed for a new era.
The Challenges of Building a Shared Experience on the Web Medianic.