‑ Design principles

The least you actually could do

I read an article about UX the other day. A person had made the so very common comment to the area of user experience in general. He said that “All we need to do is pretend that we are the user and evaluate what we have done from that perspective”. I regret that I do not agree on this. We are too biased as product designers and builders, we know too much about the inner workings of a product. Also, we are most likely not the intended target group, so we will not use the product in an actual situation to solve an actual problem, hence it will be very hard to pretend sufficiently.

But, what we can do, is to look to research results that apply to most of the population and thus most of our users. These results are called design principles and they can help you improve your product up to a certain point. Below is the set of design principles that I use the most. They are cherry-picked from Nielsen’s 10 heuristics, Shneiderman’s 8 golden rules, Benyon’s 10 principles for interactive design and the Usability Body of Knowledge.

Support the user’s mental model…

  • Consistency - Use the same usage patterns for the different but similar features in the product. Be consistent with similar products and follow standards/conventions. Note that both conceptual and actual consistency are important.
  • Familiarity - Learn what products your intended audience is using today and follow conventions in these. Use commonly understood concepts and expressions. If the concept is brand new, find a suitable metaphor to help them transfer old knowledge to this domain.

Help the user understand what to do…

  • Simplicity - Make the simplest design possible to solve a problem. Eliminate unnecessary steps or elements in the product to help focus the user on the task at hand.
  • Constraints - Provide constraints so that people do not try to do things that are inappropriate. In particular, people should be prevented from making serious errors through constraining allowable actions and seeking confirmation of dangerous operations.
  • Affordance - Design things so it is clear how they can be used. For instance, make buttons look like buttons and links look like links so that people will press them.

Make sure the user feels safe and secure…

  • Visibility/Feedback - Try to ensure that things are visible so that people can see what functions are available and what the system is currently doing. Constant and consistent feedback will enhance the feeling of control.
  • Recovery - Enable easy recovery from actions, particularly mistakes and errors. This includes always giving the user a way out if a certain action was unintended.

Be nice to the user…

  • Conviviality - Design the product to be polite, friendly and generally pleasant. Nothing ruins a product more than an aggressive message or an abrupt interruption.

We can use these design principles to clear up existing problems in our product or simply have in mind when we design new things. In the former case, go through your application with one design principle in mind at a time and try to find problems to correct that relates to the specific design principle. In the latter case, learn these (very few) design principles by heart, teach them to your team and incorporate them in all of your designs.

But remember, to make sure that the user experience for your product is good enough, you need to validate it with actual users of the product, otherwise it would not be called the user experience.