Image of cardboard geometric objects.
Reshape Digital #14: Good Web Design is Physical
I What do automatic doors in grocery stores have to do with web design? This week we discuss how design friction exists in both the physical and digital worlds. Learn how organizations are taking inspiration from their physical surroundings to create more user-centric digital experiences.

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Designing for Humans

In this episode of Reshape Digital, we deal with ways web designers emulate the physical world to build these intuitive experiences. Our physical world and the objects we interact with every day have been shaped over millennia to be used by human beings, and it is painfully obvious when websites don’t draw from this knowledge - in other words, they design for web in a vacuum.

This occurs when designers map out web pages in a way that reflects how they organize thoughts in their mind or what they perceive as logical, instead of considering the physical world and the physical limitations of human beings. Essentially, they design for digital as if it is completely unconnected to the physical world. A website could be designed in an extremely logical manner, say alphabetically, but that doesn’t make it intuitive for others.

As an example, let’s look at push and pull doors. Push doors typically have a flat, rectangular plate that serves no purpose but to indicate to the user that the door is meant to be pushed. Conversely, pull doors tend to have long bar handles that provide a grip to users, indicating they are meant to be pulled:

Looking at good web design, we see something similar: buttons are designed in certain ways that indicate to the user they are meant to be clicked:

Google is known for popularizing Material Design, which is the company’s take on digital design based on paper and ink. As a part of Material Design, Google also popularized the use of “cards” on web pages - almost like having business cards and post-it notes laid out along your desk.

For more examples of how the digital world is truly physical, and how companies solve digital problems with physical solutions and vice versa, check out the full episode of the Reshape Digital podcast.

Book mentioned in the episode:

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books, 2013.