Design Decision: Learning the Blank Slate Approach

The Blank Slate

37signals’ Getting Real has a section on The Blank Slate. The Blank Slate stage is that stage of an application or screen in which no or very little data has been populated. The problem is that most designers design around a fully populated screen. And though that may be how the user will view the app for most of their life with it, when they first start using it – it is probably empty.

In Designing the Obvious,Robert Hoekman, Jr. calls on application designers to “Fill the blank slate with something useful” to help users get up to speed.

So, it is important to fill that emptiness with something that shows the users what to expect and that helps them envision how great the application will be once they start really using it!

The Blank Check

I wanted to spend solid time and effort on this approach and just happen to be designing some new affiliate reporting screens for the lead management application, LeadsOnRails. LeadsOnRails users will soon be able to sign up as an affiliate, obtain a unique affiliate link, and earn lifetime commissions on new lead management accounts.

In the Affiliate Reports section the users do not fill in the screens, the app does. Still, I thought it would be good to show affiliates what the reports will look like once they start getting clicks and making money. To do so, I took inspiration from Designing the Obvious and went to work on how to fill the empty space with something that would help affiliates envision active referral reports and motivate them to actively participate.

Sample Reports

The obvious thing to fill this space with is sample reports. Here’s what I the Blank Slate screens for LeadsOnRails affiliate reporting look like:

General Design Decisions

The purpose of this screen is to encourage affiliates to link to LeadsOnRails. With that in mind here are some other design decisions I made.

1. The affiliate links are huge. You can’t miss it. Also it is in a text box just calling to be copied and pasted somewhere. Both the straight text and html versions are provided.

2. Icons are provided to cut and paste.

3. FAQs are provided, but are done so in a way that are available if needed, but are not shown until clicked on. This is because this page will also serve as the reporting page that affiliates will come to often and they don’t want to see the list of FAQs each time.

4. As discussed above, the Reports section starts out by explaining that their is not yet any activity on the account. It shows sample reports to give an affiliate an image of what it will look like when the clicks start coming in.

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