Some things web design can learn from my toaster

I’ve recently bought a new toaster and, while some critics have called it an ugly lump of industrial-looking metal, let me tell you I absolutely love it. I’m hoping that doesn’t sound too strange… it’s pretty normal to be excited about a new purchase, right? I’m sure you’ve also felt a rush of excitement when operating a new gadget the first few times. Perhaps it was a new record player with a particularly great sound, or a new car with powerful fans that effortlessly de-misted your fogged-up windscreen on a cold UK winter morning?

My new Rowlett Rutland toaster
Some say it’s an ugly lump of industrial-looking metal, but there’s beauty in that there toaster
Powdered Toast Man knows good design when he sees it

Modern design

That’s ‘Modern’, with a capital ‘M’. Modernist design follows the notion that form should follow function, along with a rejection of ornament. The materials used in a product should not be hidden or covered by unnecessary decorative finishes. They should be proudly on display, whether ‘conventionally’ pretty or not — their beauty coming instead from their efficiency and suitability to the task at hand. The design of this toaster definitely fits that description. Decoration is at a minimum on this bad boy; the screws that hold it together are proudly visible; the durable plastic controls look like durable plastic; there’s a big but beautifully functional lever sticking out of the front of it.

Some close up details of the toaster
Simplicity is key
A preview of Spike Island’s website on 5 mobile devices
A preview of Spike Island’s website on 5 mobile devices
I avoided using superfluous design elements in this clean and simple design for Spike Island’s website
2 designs for a hamburger menu. On the left a less conventional design and position.
Compare the two hamburger menu icons above. Which one is more likely to be found and recognised by your user?

Truth to materials

Just because you’re being ‘clean’ with the design, doesn’t mean you have to be boring. I propose that the idea of Truth to Materials in this case relates to pixels, which can be lovely, bold, vibrant little things full of rich colour and eye-popping saturation.

The RGB version of Bristol ideas’ colour palette is allowed to shine brightly in this design I recently completed
Preview of the Google Material Design website
Preview of the Google Material Design website
Google’s Material Design system

Replaceable components

Just as you know the feel-good vibes of a new purchase, I’m sure you know the dissatisfaction and guilt at having to take a broken appliance to the recycling centre, destined for disassembly — or worse — landfill, because it can’t be repaired. Such is the way of the modern world. Thankfully, my toaster is not entirely of the modern world, having been in production pretty much unchanged since the Sixties. If something breaks on this gizmo, it’s easy to replace or repair.

Screenshot from eBay showing a replacebale component for my toaster
Wouldn’t it be great if replaceable components were an option for both websites and electrical appliances?
A component-based approach to web design helps you to strip out, update and add to your website in the simplest way — removing the need to throw away the whole site.

Giving a customisable experience

If I’m making only one slice in a 4-slice toaster, why should I heat three empty slots? My toaster has a control for activating the hot bit (that’s a technical term) in only the slots you want to use, which is not only genius, but also customisable to my preferences. (It also saves energy and I could write a whole new article on saving energy in website design!).

A demonstration of the ‘high contrast mode’ on my website
My website incorporates a switch which enables users to customise their experience by pausing animations and selecting a colour theme with a greater contrast ratio

Summary

Thanks for sticking out this rather daft sermon on my new toaster. I hope however, it has provided some toast-shaped food-for-thought on how you could approach your next project whether you’re a designer or a site owner. These are just a few starting points too — don’t forget to look around you for good design everywhere you go. Perhaps you recently used a ticket machine that was a joy to navigate? Or an app that helped to bring a little moment of delight to your day? If so, see if you can take inspiration from the universal principles that shape all great design experiences.

I’m a graphic designer with over a decade's experience creating works for print and digital applications. ben-hamilton.co.uk

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