Best Practices are not Correct Answers

It is common to discuss “best practices” within digital design; the best ways to approach common problems. However, it is easy for us to make the mistake of thinking there is a single Best Practice for all questions, in all scenarios, and there isn’t.


For example: it is a best practice to design a website so it looks good on modern browsers, but also so it “fails gracefully” in older browsers. In other words, the best practice is not to design a site that relies on really new tech if your audience might use older browsers.

However, that “best practice” is a strategy, not a solution. Notice that is does not tell you what to design, just how to approach your design.

While Best Practices are great things to know and constantly learn about, they are not one-size-fits-all solutions.

That is important to realize.

I have been asked: “how many break points are the best practice in responsive design?” Well, that depends.

I have been asked: “what link color is the best practice?” Well, that depends.

And I have been asked: “should the button be on the left or on the right, as a best practice?” Again, that depends.

Notice that all of these questions are specific design choices, which may effect the way a user scans and uses a page. They are not strategies.

When a Best Practice becomes a prescription for the same solution in every context, in every project, we’re getting lazy. We’re trying to replace our own research and thinking with a quick-and-dirty solution.

Don’t do it.

The number of break points depends on your design and your audience and your business goals.

The color of your links depends on the color of your text, background,  and branding, at least

The button location depends on the text alignment of the content near it, the type of form or content in general, and your level of concern about errors vs. speed, and quality vs. quantity of conversions.

Instead of looking for lazy answers, take the opportunity to examine these idea.

For break points, does your content flex easily? Are you designing a tool? Are there images or fixed-size content to consider? Are you making a web & mobile version of your site, or are you considering all the tablets and devices in between? How much time do you have?

For links, you need to choose a color that is different from the paragraph text, and something that provides good contrast against the background of your site, so people see it. And is it on-brand? The Best Practice for link design is not a specific color, it’s a design that makes it obvious what is clickable and what isn’t.

For button positions, a left-aligned button under a left-aligned paragraph will get more clicks, faster. But do you want people to go on instinct? Or would it be better if they paused for a moment to avoid accidentally submitting something important? Or is your text right aligned? Or is your button part of a next / previous set?

Best Practices will make you worse, if you’re not careful.

If you would like to ask me about a Best Practice, hit me back on Twitter!