This is my first article on principles I come up with for myself or observe in others. Having something to lean on makes working and living much more enjoyable. It's important to note that inventing principles and following them are not the same thing. See this text as an idea, definitely not a directive; after all, who am I to give serious advice? No guarantees it'll work (as always), so be cautious. I'm making lots of generalizations you might not like – and that's okay. I don't believe in the notion that "truth lies somewhere in the middle" or vague statements like "it depends." It's just not that interesting to me.
Here's the deal: in a well-executed (visually) designed solution, it's impossible to simply swap something out without breaking it. If you can change the content without altering the design and still get the same result, the visual solution is bad. If you can change the design without altering the content and get something that works, there's probably something off with the content.
Not everything in a solution has to be irreplaceable. What's exclusive to a particular design, I call a focal point. Usually, it's the most noticeable artifact for the customer that makes the design.
Dope shit: Marsano flower shop's website
Marsano sells beautiful bouquets in Berlin. Here's what their site looks like:
The focal points in this design are the flower photos and the entirely black background. A cool design trick is that colorful objects look better on dark rather than light backgrounds. This technique accomplishes the task of "showcasing flowers aesthetically and vividly," and it works.
If you replace the photos with others or change the dark color to a light one, the visual solution will break – and that's correct: it was made specifically for a particular task. When you look at a great solution, it seems like nothing can be changed, or it'll stop working. But is that just an illusion?
The examples above are from six years ago. What's on the store's site now?
One of the focal points, the photo, has been changed, and the visual solution broke. However, other variables in the formula have obviously changed too. The team no longer cares about photos – maybe the brand isn't doing well, and there are no resources for studio shots. Or maybe it's the opposite; the store has grown, and it's impossible to take quality photos in large quantities? I don't know the real story, but it proves that a successful visual solution is irreplaceable: it works for a specific task. For Marsano's new realities, different focal points are needed.
Whack shit: 99% of digital product websites
If you're a designer, like me, who has been creating similar websites or interfaces based on templates for years – welcome! It's mostly because of us that the Internet looks uniformly bland and stale. But, hey, it's highly templated and standardized, hooray. (No, not really hooray.)
Here's the website of the analytics product June:
It has no focal points. It's easy to check: just replace the content or design and see what happens. Let's imagine this: instead of an analytics tool, we're going to "sell" an email marketing service. I'll replace the text, logo, and product screenshot:
Nothing broke; everything's fine. Anything can take the place of this headline, and any other product can replace the current one. It's generic, impersonal, doesn't belong to anyone, and doesn't tell a specific story about a specific product. June stands out from competitors with its ideas, features, and approach, but we'll never know that from the current design, which is a pity.
I'll be honest: I don't always succeed in creating cool visual solutions or finding the right focal points. I'm used to making sterile, clear, and presentable things in which you can replace content and design without breaking much. That's how I was taught, and it works, but the problem persists. It's frustrating, and that's why I came up with this principle. In a year, I'll return to this idea and see what has changed in the design I create.
I want to unlearn making things just okay. I want to learn how to make them irreplaceable.