The 5 Golden Rules of UI/UX Design
One defining experience of the modern world is that everyone is a user -- a user of computer technology, of mobile technology, of AI, of apps, of interfaces, and more. So when we talk about “user design” and “user experience” we’re talking about designing for one of the most fundamental of contemporary human interactions -- and for nearly everyone.
Which isn’t to put pressure on the design process. But still should speak to how important it is to know what you’re doing, and to think about how to do what you’re doing the best way before you just jump in.
Design isn’t universal. And it isn’t static. You may very well make the next big leap in interaction design which changes the game for everyone. But in order to get there, it’s important you account for design elements and fundamentals.
1. Design for Consistency
Designing a powerful user experience is, in some ways, like creating a great film or a well-written novel: if you want your user to stay engaged with the app/website/software, you must keep them immersed in the world you’ve created. And that immersion comes from designing a consistent and continual experience. This means consistent design and simple human-computer interaction.
As Fortune.com has found, 75% of all apps downloaded in the Google and Apple app stores get opened once and never again. While this might be due to plenty of things, one primary issue that keeps users from continual engagement with tech is lack of consistency. If on page 1 the character is tall, dark and mysterious, and on page 2 he does a pratfall and giggles about a “fart” joke, you probably won’t continue reading the novel. No matter how good its customer service or information architecture.
Same with an app. If the user experience feels jilting, confusing, or doesn’t remain grounded in a similar aesthetic or flow, there are probably other apps you can use, so you’ll be likely to leave and never return. Consistency can take many forms: visual, functional, internal, and external, and more.
Explore more in order to understand the nitty-gritty, but don’t forget this common UI principal and fundamental UX design problem when designing any piece of tech.
2. Design for Scannability
Let’s stop for a second and be honest with ourselves: your newly designed app, or interactive webpage, or shiny piece of software...isn’t a novel or a film. No one in the 21st century is sitting down with your exciting piece of tech and devouring it slowly, page-by-page, or darkening the room they’re in so they can experience it immersively and fully with no distractions.
Sorry. I wish, but no.
We know both from personal experience and from marketing research that the average user spends around 15 seconds on a web page. And what’s he or she doing in those 15 seconds? Scanning.
That’s right, swinging their eyes across the text and images you so artfully designed and then -- if they aren’t captured by something compelling -- swinging them right away and on to the next site, app, page, or, heck, why not: novel.
For this reason, the second principle we recommend for UX/UI designers is to design for scannability. Don’t swim against the tide: design for it. Explore eye patterns that user research has found to align with the ways users interact with tech and choose one that best matches the goals and uses of your tech: F pattern, Z pattern, layer cake pattern, spotted pattern, etc. Then use color, alignment, negative space, and repetition to enhance the pattern you’ve chosen and to produce a clear and hierarchical product.
While experts don’t suggest usability testing designs to understand eye-scanning (see video below), the principles are important to understand.
Explore more of these visual design principles to understand this principle more fully, and don’t let your own short attention span keep you from mastering a design fundamental necessary for all UX designers.
3. Design to be Device Agnostic
If there’s one thing that gets those in the nitty-gritty of an industry it’s the new trends, exciting innovations, and wild new UI elements and features. The problem with this, however, is that it can mean we’re constantly pulled toward designing for the cutting edge, rather than for the messy middle.
Despite what it might feel like from the “front lines” of tech, users don’t usually buy the newest iPhone the day it comes out, and rarely download the newest update, plugin, or browsing app when it’s in Beta. When we design UX/UI, we can’t assume every user we’re targeting will be able to process, see, or enjoy your newest, coolest design.
For that reason, we always recommend device agnosticism when designing UX/UI -- or, put in other words: design everything as if for the simplest, most universal device.
Unless you’re designing a very specific product for a highly specialized subset of users (say, an iPhone XII preview for Apple’s Board of Directors), you probably want the broadest base of users to have access to your work. And if you want them to enjoy a seamless, meaningful and fluid experience -- which meets them wherever they are and with whatever device(s) they are using -- you’ve got to design that way.
So explore core functionality, efficiency, and base function. And then get creative.
4. Design for Easy Use
Every designer hopes and dreams that what they’re creating isn’t just a product, but an experience -- something users adopt, enjoy, and even grow to love. Who doesn’t think about spreading joy along with solving pain points and fulfilling user needs?
Yet when it comes to designing for ease-of-use, things can get rather, well, complicated. The more we want our design to do, the better we want it to be, the easier it is to make it hard. But this is no good. Any layperson who’s ever tried to spruce up a family photo in Adobe Photoshop knows what this means: sometimes the most powerful design is directly at odds with the most functional.
Ever notice how frustrated users get after a new software update shifts basic functions? People don’t like to feel dumb, and they don’t like struggling to make things go beep.
When designing for ease-of-use, remember to check in with why users may interact with your app, software or site, how they will use it, and what might get them to pick it up.
But don’t stop there: figure out what might be going on while they use it and what might be getting in their way. (Is it for childcare? Plan for screaming kids. Is it for travel? Plan for stress.)
Start with these questions and then build up. While you're at it, consider exploring emotional design. And you may end up creating people that users actually love.
5. Design with User First
Telling a designer to “put the user first” is not a new concept. The entire categories of design we’re talking about today begin with the assumption that they are “user first” -- that’s why they’re called “user experience” and “user interface.” (Otherwise we could call them “product experience” or “efficiency experience,” or who knows what else).
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remind ourselves at every stage, juncture and moment that the user is what must come first when designing with best practices for UX/UI in mind.
The user. Not you, not your team, not your ROI or your vision for slickness and efficiency. Not even ease of use, scannability, device, or consistency. Everything else matters -- but only after the user has been accounted for.
In order to truly put the user first, you’ll need to collect and look at user metrics, and you’ll need to understand who your user is and how they will interact with your product, page or app. And then you’ll need to interpret these findings as you develop and interact with your design.
Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s an indirect and inexact process.
But if you don’t start here, the rest may not even matter. So even though it may sound cliche: it’s for a reason. It’s the base upon which all other principles of UX/UI best practices are built.
Get to Work!
If you have questions about how best practices for UX/UI design can be integrated into your suite of software projects, web pages, mobile applications, or other technology, feel free to reach out to our team -- the top 3% of developers working in Latin America. We’d love to connect, to help you make sense of what you’re working on, and if it makes sense for your team, even work together on bringing your projects to life.
That is, as long as you remember who your users are. 😉
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