The Future of UX Will Be in Color

Having attended literally 20 UX lectures in the past four days at two different conferences, I have had my brain filled up with amazing information.  One point that was discussed by quite a large percentage of speakers was the death of Lorem Ipsum.  Multiple speakers noted that Lorem Ipsum, or any other dummy text, just didn’t provide the best experience.

Stephen P. Anderson especially noted that interactions should be similar to conversations and Lorem Ipsum does not allow for a conversation to take place and thus it does not allow for interaction design.

If Lorem Ipsum is dead (and I personally think it is and agreed with the fervor of the speakers), then why is black and white wireframing still alive?

The point driven home is that Lorem Ipsum does not allow for proper, real-world analysis of how a user will actually use a website/app.  It’s clear to me that grey-scale wireframes are closer to the real thing than Lorem Ipsum versus actual language.  However, who is actually interfacing with grey-scale?  The use of color is so critical to the user experience that I’m surprised that it’s ignored in wireframing.  Clients don’t *see* it, users can’t *feel* the experience, and I’m not sure why I’m placing boxes on a white screen.

Wireframing internally is probably a critical step in the process.  As far as layout is concerned, wireframing is likely here to stay….but why not make wireframes vivid?

Another critical piece of the puzzle here is the rise of Adobe Fireworks and Twitter Bootstrap.  Layout has gone from something that needs to be explained to a developer to something that developers are considering through the prism of Bootstrap and Meteor without any difficult or even a second thought.  Few people need a “layout designer” in the way that print requires specific layouts for newspapers or magazines.  Additionally, while I disagree with the Death of Photoshop, I do believe that Fireworks will become the industry standard in graphical web design.  When graphic designers are given the role of being wireframers, then the UX community raised on grey-scale will be forced to compete with graphic designers for the same jobs.  Why hire a graphic designer AND a UX designer to do layout?  Granted UX designers do a LOT more than just layout, but wireframing is a cornerstone of UX work.  Without wireframing, is the job of UX designer researched based?  What does it entail exactly?

I don’t have all the answers, but I came away from 13 hours of lectures with one idea:

The future of UX will be in color. 

I’m not the only one who is interested or debating this issue either.

Here is an excerpt from one of the posts from the UXStackExchange debate linked above:

“Typically, color brings emotional/cultural overtones to a discussion that is “supposed” to be about basic structure, layout and IA (information architecture). While that can be debated, we can agree that use of Color will, at the least, convey MORE information to the rendering.

The whole point of the wireframe is to communicate ONLY what is necessary and nothing else.”

Without going in to too much depth about definitions– webdesign and application design are *inherently* emotional and cultural!  It’s immutable.  They live and breathe.  Web and applications do NOT live in a vacuum.  So much of UX research is based on psychological and (now emerging) sociological aspects of user lifestyles.  How can we create “basic structure” without disregarding these aspects?  Conveying MORE information is critical.  Color isn’t just for graphic designers. 

Layout and information architecture can be determined on a whiteboard (and even then I use several colors), but why purposely make layout and IA different from the end product?  Wireframing is about more than just boxes.  Maybe a draft of a wireframe should be in greyscale, but why the final product? 

I am not trying to advocate for UX designers using color theory to make advanced branding decisions.  Rather, I am trying to make a comparison between using dummy text and using “dummy wireframes”.  Users interact with colorful designs in the same way that they interact with actual text.  Lorem Ipsum does not allow for interaction, so does greyscale allow for interaction? 

Reconsidering wireframing in greyscale to be sure that it is an intentional decision that has relevance *today* is important.  It is rarely a good idea to hold on to ideas without being sure they are still correct.  UX designers who are used to using greyscale are likely to defend it and say that people will get confused with color or that it’s the job of graphic designers, but perhaps it is time to reconsider the role of color in wireframing.  Personally, I believe that this is an important direction, but I’m curious to hear from all of you!  Please write your thoughts in the comments.

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