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Design better websites by thinking about your kitchen cabinets

For years I've been trying to fix a critical home design problem: How to organize the dishes in my cabinets. While fitting dishes into cabinet space seems like a simple design problem, it actually has many parallels with website design.

Design constraints

How does fitting dishes into cabinet space have parallels to web design? For starters it has the same design constraints: space and content. Somehow the dishes need to fit into limited cabinet space.

My cabinet organization design has users, too, and if my design isn't working my kids put dishes on the wrong shelf. After a time the shelves turn into a chaotic mess filling what seems like a shrinking space.

Website designs are subject to the same problems. Somehow you have to fill website space with content in such a way that it "just works" for users. If your design isn't a natural fit for its users, they won't do what you want them to.

Iterative design

Because the design constraints of kitchen cabinet organization are more limiting than website design, I am forced to go through small iterative designs. I can't make big design changes because I'm working with the same dishes in the same cabinet space. Should the beer mugs go with the tall glasses (both used to drink cold drinks) or should they go with the coffee mugs (both have handles)?

As I said earlier, website design is not much different. With each redesign we're usually working with the same content in the same screen real estate. Unfortunately & fortunately, there's a lot more design freedom with website design than there is with fitting dishes and cabinet space. Fortunately because using websites can be more engaging than grabbing dishes from a cabinet. Unfortunately because web designers tend to ignore the concept of iterative design.

Getting to the best website design for your users

About a month ago I finally found a cabinet organization that works. How do I know? Because my kids put away the dishes in the right place without my guidance. How'd I get there? Because of my design constraints I was forced to make small design changes over time with sufficient testing time. If I just randomly moved around dishes—the equivalent of a full website redesign—my kids would probably throw dishes at me when I entered the room.

To end at the most fitting website design you have to follow the same iterative process. Small design changes that are tested and measured. Don't piss your users off by changing everything around. Improve.