Is best practice still valid?

What is Best Practice?

I often find myself promoting psychological theories, and referencing articles and books written by my ingenious user experience predecessors, trusting in the ideas and methods which are “best practice.” I have learned a lot over the years and place credit in the works I have concocted, as being the offspring of creative inspiration from these cognitive-influencing role models. However, I have been questioning the phrase “best practice,” as it denotes the embodiment of using what has been “proven” over a period of time. Looking at the digital revolution over the last decade and the resulting technological pace of change in the last several years, using “best practice” as the ideal scenario for connecting information to audience, seems, in a single word, dated. When does “best practice” devolve to outdated approach?

Best Practice vs Trend

Best Practice can only gauge its success on triumphing previous methodology and user acceptance. If a process is more efficient, easier to use, can be scaled, modularly replicated, and becomes widely accepted by market masses as an intuitive process, a best practice can be born. However a critical point of distinction must be considered, between best practice and trend. A hamburger icon signaling a navigation menu is a best practice for small screen devices. A parallax style user journey, is a trend for captivating users.

Comparing the aforementioned examples, the criteria of evolving to best practice become clear. A hamburger menu icon is efficient, easy to use, easy to scale, can be easily replicated, and, fortunately has become widely accepted as the visual cue which denotes navigation. Parallax on the other hand is extremely engaging, and when used appropriately, is very effective at story telling. However parallax tends to be inefficient, is not easily replicated, cannot easily scale, and although a popular tool for dynamic user journeys, has not been accepted as a standard best practice within global site architecture.

There are many examples of innovative ideas becoming best practice (all of which would make a great case study). However, there are some ideas which dance between trend and accepted standard. One example, is card style design. Card style is often used for news archive pages or when grouping similar pieces of information within a consistent and close visual landscape. UXPin has an e-book entitled, “The Curated Collection of Web UI Design Techniques: Cards & Minimalism” which discusses and described Card Style and its many applications.

Card style is extremely efficient, easy to use and understand, easily scales and replicates, and has become widely accepted as an ideal method of grouping information into logical structures. This archetype also maps extremely well into an ever changing device ecosystem. On the trend side of this example, “Card Style” design evolved from an extension of several apps and websites making small bites of information easier to digest. This structure has allowed news to evolve from typically being displayed in a simple list, which many UX practitioners would contest is still the “better” best practice. The contention between these two, which sounds much more emotionally driven than it actually is, serves as a good example of accepted method and practice, evolving from innovation and forward-thinking.

The Influence of Innovation

As a UX architect who has the chops to create advanced design and development techniques, I am constantly evaluating the industry. My scrutiny is not over replicating what is trending at any given time, but extending methods others have used, to find novel solutions which serve another purpose. Building on the foundation of what others have created, is how many best practices come to fruition. Most commonly, innovative ideas are not single “wow” moments, but an amalgam of many ideas coalescing into a new tool and approach.

However intrinsically, best practice principles have a innovation-dependent lifecycle. As previously referenced, the digital revolution has been facilitated by better forms of communication and information sharing, allowing designers and developers to create communities around “open source” access – giving knowledge away for free. The access to learning has grown exponentially in the post decade, facilitating a surge in web, app, and software sophistication. Instead of arduously creating solutions from scratch, designers and developers are able to source from thousands of available, free, options. GitHub is a good example of being a catalyst of this transformation in the industry, allowing designers and developers to enhance, correct, extend, diverge, converge and any other trigger word for evolving digital solutions, as a community.

Yet, I digress, it is easy to use “best practice” in conversation, but in doing so are we also suggesting a lack in creative thinking? Obviously, projects typically possess budgets and timelines, and turning to best practice methods is a way to produce, complete, and enhance solutions, within the constraints of the project. However, I challenge that as our solutions continue to transform, so does our vernacular, even if that means eliminating a label all together.