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Have We Taken “Friendly UI” Too Far?

Mary Carnes
December 15, 2020

Friendly UI is taking the design world by storm, resulting in playful and childlike interface designs that have been getting mixed reactions from users. This trend stems from a desire to relate to users and enhance accessibility. In a world where technology is being used more universally, it makes sense to broaden design appeal to a larger audience.  


Although friendly design absolutely serves a purpose for some, it really depends on the user and the client. During a recent Strategy & Alignment session with a Management Consulting client, the product owner pointed out that many product design examples seem too playful and lack a sense of gravity. That got us wondering…is the norm of friendly design taking this sense of play too far?


Attractive things tend to be more liked by users, but it doesn’t mean a product can’t be both serious and attractive. Users are drawn to products that are visually pleasing. However, if every digital product looks the same, standing out becomes a much more challenging task. There’s a case for every style of interface design, but it’s up to the designer to thoughtfully make the right call.

What makes a design “friendly”?

Color

Friendly design is covered in color. If you take a peek at Dribbble, product design examples typically have more than one hero color. Color is a mood booster—it feels human. However, color can also get out of hand and overwhelm users.


E-commerce Website Design by Shah Alam


Shape

Round corners, big round buttons…everything is functional and ROUND. Round corners create a sense of comfort and peace. Although this works for some products, round corners can get out of control and space can get lost.

Example of friendly shape in UI
Delivery Dashboard by Toma Li


Use of illustration

Many products rely heavily on illustration to create a sense of personality. In some instances, illustration enhances a feature. In other instances, illustrations can distract from the end goal of the user.

Events dashboard interaction by Taras Migulko


Typography

Typography in playful UI can end up being quite colorful, overly large or small, or simply overpowered by other elements that aren’t important.

Example of Typography in UI
Task management App by Jawad

Have we taken friendly design too far?

As I’ve said, friendly design can beautifully fill a need and create an incredibly enjoyable user experience. However, there are instances when playful design is not the right direction. A simple, straightforward experience can help the user focus on a task at hand and can enforce trust and respect in the product. Actions like interpreting a dashboard with complex data would be frustrating if color and large shapes took precedence over clarity and simplicity of data visualization.


Not all products are strictly user-facing. The priority when designing B2B products is generally to keep the user experience clear and reduce friction as much as possible. One of the main priorities when designing consumer-facing products is to entice the user to continue using the product. That’s why we see large round buttons, cute illustrations, and haptic design that surprises and delights. In B2B products, however, there’s more emphasis on clarity and ease of use rather than the bright and shiny “extras”.


There’s not one way to design a product

Not all products are created equal. Design needs to reflect the target audience and work towards solving real business goals, not just follow the trends on Dribble. As designers, we need to constantly question if a decision is serving the defined client needs. If the product is user-facing, gamified, or the main goal is to bring joy, then play all you want. If the product is largely B2B or appealing to a process that needs to be done thoughtfully, deliver simplicity and frictionless user experience. It’s a balancing act that requires listening to the client needs before establishing a visual direction.


All product designers are striving to solve a problem for their users and make an emotional connection. Knowing your user’s and client’s needs empowers designers to deliver the right user experience, whether playful or professional.

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