The Boundaries of Creativity in UX/UI. How Do You Tell If You’ve Crossed Them?

Self-check rules that help designers stay within the lines

Rick Mess       |       May 26, 2022

Clients differ in their understanding of creativity in web design. This can sometimes be confusing to the designers themselves. You need to know for certain which creative solutions are good and which are harmful. This helps you defend your project and justify the need for, or redundancy of, creative solutions.

I like creative people and welcome them in our team. However, I have no time for those who let unbridled creativity dictate their design choices. In our profession, creativity must always be justified and focused. Otherwise, it becomes destructive.

There are two areas that allow creativity in design:

If creativity helps achieve user goals and/or business goals, it’s appropriate and necessary. But if it gets in the way even the slightest bit, it can only do harm. Usefulness or harmfulness can always be practically proved. Unproved usefulness is, by default, harmful.

The rule for checking UX boundaries

Ask yourself:

- Why did I do this and what will it get me?

- How does my decision help users to solve their problems?

- How can I prove that my decision is working (i.e., helping users / website goals / the client’s business)?

1. Creative UX

UX design places especially severe restrictions on unbridled creativity. UX boundaries are dictated by the need to make the interface clear, user-friendly, and easy to understand. By ignoring these restrictions, you break usability and turn creativity into a weapon of evil.

The creative boundaries of UX have NOT been broken if:

- the interface is intuitively understandable;

- the interface meets user expectations;

- navigation is familiar and predictable;

- functionality is not broken or complicated;

- the content is easy to understand;

- the user path is simple and clear;

- load times are not longer.

Violating even one of the main conditions of usability harms the entire project.

Mind — Mobile App Design for Podcasts

Sometimes the designer makes what he thinks are minor changes and believes he has improved the UX. This is a gamble. The only way to check if you’ve overstepped the boundaries is through testing. Users see the interface differently. A “small improvement” may confuse, distract, slow down, or enrage them. Professionals don’t overstep the lines without a good reason. For beginners, being too creative in UX means an inglorious career end. Think about it, folks, before you get creative with your design.

The creative boundaries of UX have been broken if:

- The creativity is not goal-oriented (art for art’s sake);

- The creativity cannot be justified (“it’s just better” is not a valid argument);

- No testing has been done;

- Testing has been done but found no improvements.

Any of these things means the boundaries have been broken.

You might be asking: so what, we’re not supposed to get creative at all?

Of course you can get creative!

The creative approach to UX begins with respecting the user and understanding their motives, needs, and interests. You can always find a way to make user experience simpler, easier to understand, and more enjoyable. You can always test it and thus prove your creative right.

Offering people a quick solution to their problems, ease of use, comfort, and a desire to relive the experience: this is what UX creativity is about.

PlayMo — Mobile Design for Entertainment

2. Creative UI

Visual design is a fertile field for creativity. UI creativity can only be encouraged. However, I remain strict on this matter. Visual design has nothing to do with creative expression. It also has its own rules and limitations. Visual design should solve user problems and work for your digital product and business goals.

The creative boundaries of UI have NOT been broken if:

- The design is harmonious, consistent, and balanced;

- The color palette and style correspond to audience tastes and business type;

- The visuals clearly reflect and organize the page structure;

- The elements are arranged according to a visual hierarchy;

- All elements are perfectly aligned;

- The viewer’s attention is focused on the necessary information;

- Visual guides take the viewer down the path to the objective;

- There are no decorative distractions and meaningless elements;

- The icons are immediately recognizable;

- The fonts are legible;

- Brightness and contrast are adjusted for legibility;

- The illustrations, photos, videos, and animations all work toward the goal.

If you’re missing even one checkmark on this list, your creativity has overstepped UI boundaries.

Always ask yourself: why did I do this? What was my purpose in creating this element, in adding this color, in choosing this font over another one? “It just looks better” is not a valid answer. We do our work for a specific target audience, solving specific business tasks set forth by our clients. We must be able to justify and substantiate our decisions at every step of the way.

The only valid justification of UX/UI creativity is “Because it works!” — and it requires proof.

“This weirdly-shaped element is necessary to draw the viewer’s attention to the words in this block” is an example of a valid explanation. Whether the viewer will actually like the element is something you cannot tell without testing.

Fast Delivery — Mobile App Design with Illustrations

The rule for checking UI boundaries

Ask yourself:

- Why did I do this and what will it get me?

- Which tasks does it help me solve?

- How can I prove that my decision is working (i.e., helping users / website goals / the client’s business)?

As you can see, it’s the exact same rule as with UX. :)

Arousing aesthetic enjoyment and admiration, creating special, deep emotions: this is what UI creativity is about.

You can try different color schemes or interesting font combinations. Play around with spacing, visual balance, and hierarchy. Invent different hover and scroll effects. Draw original illustrations, create captivating animations, photos, and videos. The possibilities are almost endless.

If you are creative by nature, it’s both a great blessing and a huge responsibility. Use your gift wisely, consciously, and beneficially. Then you will get amazing results!

3. Expand boundaries

Sounds a bit odd after all that’s been said, doesn’t it? To be honest, expanding boundaries is the privilege of the elite. It’s a challenge and an ordeal. It’s for those who are willing to learn, work, and think a lot. For those who can analyze their own designs and the work of other designers and then draw constructive conclusions. If you master the boundaries and understand the rules on which they are based, you can consciously create your own stuff — something that is new, fresh, and unique. By this point, you will definitely understand the purpose behind what you’re doing. Then you will definitely achieve the dream of every creative person: express yourself and share your vision with the world.

Believe it or not, even a lone designer can invent a new style and influence the trends. Nothing is impossible. You just need to really want it and act upon it.

Check out this page from my friend who invented his own design style and now has plenty of fans and followers: Mike | Creative Mints