Anti-Best Practices from Hubspot’s UX Designer

Shama TV: Episode 34

Shama sits down with Austin Knight, UX Designer at Hubspot to discuss his anti-best practices for websites.


Click here for the full transcript!

Shama: Hey, guys. Welcome to Shama TV. We’re shooting from the Dallas Digital Summit. Today, I have with me Austin Knight, who heads up UX for Hub Spot’s website, obviously gets hundreds of visitors a month. Austin was also a speaker here at Dallas Digital Summit. This is a very interesting episode because this is the anti-best practices for websites episode. When I spoke to Austin just briefly before the cameras were on, I asked him, “Hey. Can you talk about best practices for websites?” He said, “You may not like my answer.” I said, “Great. Let’s do an anti-best practices.” Tell us about your anti-best practices philosophy.

Austin: Yeah. I think that best practices are, they can make for really great content, right? Like, people love to write about best practices. Readers love to consume best practices contents. You always see the top 15 X for doing Y, or whatever.

Shama: Right.

Austin: I think that they actually do hold a certain role in your marketing strategy, or in your design strategy, or whatever that may be. In general, I think that ultimately, the road to mediocrity is paved with best practices. That’s what I like to say.

Shama: That’s a great Tweetable for Austin.

Austin: Yeah. That’s a little sound snippet, right? Basically, what I mean by that is if you think about a best practice, what it essentially does is it offers you an idea or something that you can do on your site, or in your marketing, or whatever, that is a best practice in the sense that it has worked for other people in the past, or other people have been successful with it in some capacity. At the same time, it completely exists outside of the context of your unique product, audience, or business. It’s completely accessible to anybody. If it’s in a blog post that has 10,000 views a week, or whatever, that’s 10,000 other people that are going to be taking that advice and doing the same thing as you.
Using best practice, if you use exclusively best practices, that’s a way to get yourself to exactly what a best practice is, which is what everybody else is generally doing.

Shama: Got it. No differentiator then? You’re painting with, it sounds like, too wide a brush.

Austin: Right. I think that the best way to think about a best practice is that it can exist as a guideline, right? Say that you’re a small business, and you have no baseline for the design that you’re going to be creating for your site. Maybe you’re starting from scratch. You don’t have any quantitative, or qualitative data that you’ve collected. You don’t have an audience yet, whatever. You can start with a best practice as a guideline. Then, you’re immediately … First, you’re going to want to ask yourself, why am I doing this? What are we actually trying to achieve with this? What’s the reasoning behind our implementation in this best practice. Then, the second thing you’re going to want to ask yourself is how are we going to verify that this best practice is actually going to do what we want it to do within our design? Rather than just saying, “Oh. Okay. This person says that the hamburger menu is the right way to go on desktop. I’m automatically going to do that.” You would test that in the unique context of your audience.

Shama: With your audience, with your goals, and then see … Let me ask you this, Austin, have you ever done anything that’s like the opposite of a best practice and gotten good results with it?

Austin: Yeah. That’s a really easy test to run, right? You figure out whatever best practice it is that you want to test against. Then, that’s your control … Or, you have that as your A variation against your control. Then, you can add a B or a C variation, or whatever you want to call it as the opposites of the best practice if you will. I have a few interesting stories related to that. What it basically boils down to is the prettiest design, or the most common design, a lot of the time will not be the best performing design. As designers, we have a certain bias towards things that are in style at that time, or things that look good, or the latest technology, or whatever that may be. Actually, especially from a UX perspective, creating a design that just works for your user, and helps the user accomplish what they came to your site to accomplish is usually the better way to go. Sometimes, that can go against a little bit of the trends, or the best practices mentality. With that said, I think that whenever we think about innovation with a site, it’s important to separate the organic trends, or organic best practices from the aesthetic trends, and aesthetic best practices.
This is something … I actually have an entire episode on a podcast that I run called the UX & Growth Podcast.

Shama: All right. We’ll make sure that we have the link down there for people who want to check it out.

Austin: I run it with a couple software engineers from HubSpot that are on the growth team. Basically, we talk about the role that best practices and design trends should play in the design work that you’re doing. The way that I break it out is, if you take an organic trend, or an organic best practice, that’s something that exists naturally out of necessity for, perhaps, it’s the progression of the design mediums that we’re working in. Now, we have multiple different devices. Perhaps, it’s related to innate user behaviors, or whatever they may be. Those represent the foundation and the structure of design. You wouldn’t necessarily want to say, if you were designing your car for example, you wouldn’t want to say, “Okay. Everybody says that the best practice for a car is to have doors on it. I want to break the mold and do something against the best practice. I’m going to design a car with no doors.” That’s not exactly a great way to go, right?

Shama: Right.

Austin: You may look at additional aesthetic elements of that design as ways to differentiate yourself and to innovate. That’s where, I think, the aesthetic trends come in.

Shama: Got it.

Austin: Those are the trends where you see Airbnb puts up a video background on their site. It’s super engaging and amazing. That works pretty well for them. They had KPI’s related to that. They were testing that and verifying it. Then, a bunch of other organizations come in and say, “Oh. Airbnb has a video background. We need a video background.”

Shama: We should do that. Yeah.

Austin: Why do you need that? How are you going to measure it?

Shama: Yeah. Then, what’s your product? How does that match? Absolutely. Yeah. That’s a great point. Well, thank you so much, Austin. We’ll be sure to share Austin’s link to the podcast that you can check it out. We really appreciate you being with us.

Austin: Thank you for having me here.

Shama: Be sure to subscribe, guys, so that you can keep up with all the other good stuff coming your way. Bye.


–Episode Links–


UX and Growth Podcast


–Episode Tweetables–

The road to mediocrity is paved with #bestpractices. @Shama @ustinKnight Click To Tweet Trendy #UXdesign isn’t often the best performing. @Shama @ustinKnight Click To Tweet


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