My firm often services creative agencies to help define digital strategies and brand experiences. Every so often, after delivering annotated wireframes or a prototype, an Art Director or Designer chooses to push a standard UI (user interface) component to a new convention or stylistic direction. Sometimes it’s reclaiming space with a hamburger menu on a desktop site and other times it is inventing an entirely new way to implement a search field. It’s in their blood to innovate and create a differentiated experience, but at what cost?
Are UI standards diametrically opposed to the creative process? If so, how do we ever evolve and get better if we continue to leverage only what has come before?
A better question is what is the goal of the digital property? Understanding what the users, and business/brand, want to accomplish is paramount to the discussion. Standards are not only based on frequency of use and expected interaction behaviors. They are the culmination of extensive testing (and likely by teams much bigger than yours). Efficacy of an interface component trumps both ingenuity and legacy standards.
Testing is the empirical referee on when creatively innovating beyond the current form factors makes sense. Incremental improvements to interface conventions can, and should, be made as long as it is put through its paces. Often times user testing is the first budget item to be cut. We need to bake this practice into a standard digital deliverable so that UX and Creative teams have more latitude to reimagine what the range of an experience could be, followed by testing data to confirm what it should be.