Best Practices are viral by their nature. They are trends in design on a positive feedback loop. The more they are mimicked and aped, the more they are reinforced and the more Best the Practice becomes.
In UX design, we use Best Practices because they are what we think the user expects. If we can give the user the experience they expect, they will know what to do without having to take the time to think about it. If we know that amazon.com puts the ‘Add to Cart’ button on the right and that 244 million users are clicking that ‘Add to Cart’ button, then when we design a shopping page, we will do well to place our button in a similar position. That way when a user visits our page and wants to buy our product they can quickly add it to their cart without stopping to think about what they’re doing. If we don’t want the user to think, this is our ideal interaction!
To rely on Best Practices is to follow the leader. We have no insight into amazon.com’s data on any A/B testing they’re currently running on their “Add to Cart’ button placement, so we have no warning if the Best Practice is about to change, rendering our design obsolete or behind the pack. My late father-in-law would say that having a law suit is like having a wolf by the ear: it can turn on you in a flash. I would venture that using Best Practices is like having a race horse by the tail: it’s bound to leave you behind in an instant.
As designers, everything we touch contributes to the fleeting definition of a Best Practice. By putting our ‘Add to Cart’ button in a similar position as the one on amazon.com, we are reinforcing the status quo Best Practice. If, instead, we put the button on the opposite side of the screen, we may lose revenue but every user who experiences our design will now have that button position seeded in their mind. The next time they stumble upon this pattern it will seem more familiar, more comfortable. It will gain momentum.
The above example is extreme: to willfully oppose the Best Practice and defy it. This approach may be less likely to succeed, or go viral. But the point is that every tweak we do to the Best Practice, or every unique pattern we create out of necessity, desire, or intuition adds to the lexicon of possibilities of user experience.This lexicon is drawn on by user’s, but also by other designers.
Let’s consider amazon.com’s next A/B test: what will they be testing? A) their current design and B) some alternative to it. Where does that alternative come from? It comes from one of two places: 1) an amazon.com designer’s idea straight from their imagination, or 2) another site’s treatment of a similar element. Either way, it’s a solution that a designer came up with which differs from the status quo best practice.
This designer was out on a limb, creating their own pattern for whatever reason. These new patterns or variations on the statu quo create new possibilities in design. From these possibilities, the next Best Practice will emerge.
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