Redefining Nifty

by Zack on August 14, 2009

Redefining Nifty

I’ve written before about watch out for nifty. I got this advice from someone else and it was some of the best advice I received as a burgeoning designer. However, lately I’ve started to change my mind. Now I’m trying to redefine nifty.

When I first started as an engineer nifty was Hello World! It was a chance to show everyone something cool I could do. Show them how good I was. The problem is that your users don’t care how good you are or what you can and can’t do. Your users only care about how your application is going to help them. That’s why nifty normally gets in the way.

When I talk to engineers they see nifty as look how cool this is, but designers see it differently. The designers say look how smooth this is, or see how tight I got this. They revel in the little details of their designs that make them feel better to use. I recently ran into examples of each type of nifty.

Work at Play is a design firm based in Vancouver. Their site is well made and shows some impressive work, but the first page you see has a bad case of nifty. They show you six clients you can click on for samples of their work. Each client’s name is a box that flips when you click on it.

The flip here isn’t helping you. It doesn’t make the page look better or work better. It just takes time to load and distracts you from the content.

Zaum & Brown clearly saw nifty differently. At first their page looks totally normal. They have a set of boxes with information about their projects for various clients. Look for another minute and you’ll see the boxes fit your screen perfectly. Resize your browser window to watch the boxes jump and skirt around each other in a mad dash to rearrange into the perfect layout for your new window size.

I love this effect so much I made my own open source sliding resizable grid. The greatest thing about this effect is that I almost missed it. You don’t need to see the sliding squares, it just feels like the page was custom made for your screen.

This is the best type of nifty. It makes the page look better and easier to use. You don’t have to slide a horizontal scroll bar back and forth or wonder why everything is squished into 500 pixels. This effect is selfless. It makes your life easier and doesn’t need any recognition.

This type of nifty is scary. What if someone never notices all your hard work? What if they just think it worked that way by default? It s a good thing if that happens, and that is the irony. We worry that people won’t think we’re smart without something nifty, but making something clear and easy to use makes users think you’re smarter.

That’s why you need to redefine nifty. See it for what it is and how it can help you. Focus on what really helps and user and learn to feel good that they feel good.

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