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The Blank Slate

13th March 2013

The blank slate is the state of an application without any data. It’s the first screen a user sees when they start but it’s often the most overlooked part of the design process, ignore it at your peril!

When we design an application we usually fill it with test data, we cram the UI full of perfectly aligned paragraphs, titles of exactly the right number of characters and pixel perfect photos of exactly the right size and aspect ratio. During the development and testing stage of a project it’s easy to get overloaded with data. We spend so long testing various types of data and circumstances that it’s easy to ignore the fact that during the first run experience the user won’t see any of this.

We’re becoming more aware of the importance of the blank slate here, it fits the user-centric design ethos we have and gives off the right kind of welcoming tone that we believe is oh so important. We’re not the only ones who think so too, 37 signals have been huge advocates of the ‘blank slate’ and getting started with a new basecamp account is a breeze, the app is laden with helpful signals and hints which help you get started. The best part of their approach is that they show placeholders where the content might go hence reducing the effect the empty page can have.

the basecamp profile blank slate

the basecamp calendar blank slate

Apple also have been keenly aware of the first run experience, they’ve been improving it since the early days of OS X with each release bringing better music and slicker animations.

Mac OS X welcome video

There’s a reason why these folks take this so seriously, failing to consider the first-run UI of an application leaves the user with a dry and emotionless start to their journey. It says to the user “we’re waiting for you to do the work here” not “thanks for using our product, let us help you get started”. So the next time you’re designing a UI strip it back to the bare bones, don’t fill it with perfect data and see how it feels on that first load. Is it clear to the user where they should start? Does it feel like it’s been well considered or an afterthought? A little time spent working on the blank slate shows that you value the experience of the user and that can only be good, right?

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on 13th March 2013