User Experience (UX) is an ever-changing field, where creativity is always appreciated. Creative designs and solutions, however, must not make the users’ journey complicated and frustrating. As UX designers experiment with new designs, it is important to simplify things for the audience, making their overall experience useful as well as pleasurable. To make the most out of unconventional approaches without compromising the quality of experience, the field needs some principles. UX designers, therefore, need to be both creative and scrupulous.
The design principles and techniques can vary based on the nature of the product or service, the needs of the users, and the feasibility of a solution. For example, the design considerations for a mobile application will be different from those of a web manual. Similarly, the colors used on a website might vary in different countries, due to the distinct connotations of colors in different cultures. There are, however, some basic principles in the UX design industry that are both common and universal. These principles govern the entire design process and must, therefore, be understood and given due consideration while designing a product or service. In this article we’ll discuss such principles in detail, helping you become a better designer.
Some important principles are as follows:
1. User-centered design
2. Visual aspects
5. Textual aspects
6. Comfort of the users
1. User-centered design
The users should always be the focal point of any design. It will not be wrong to say that if a design is not meeting the needs of the users and is not helping them achieve their goals, then it is not serving its purpose. A User-centered approach is pivotal to the overall design process. By following this principle, a designer is not only able to understand the needs of his/her users but can also get a fairly good idea of what the deal-breakers are for the users. This way, massive errors can be avoided, thus improving the overall design. The entire field of UI/UX design rests on the needs, wants, and feedback of users.
Needs of the users
Whenever a designer gets to work, he/she needs to have a very good understanding of the users’ needs. The designers usually begin with research practices, where they assess the wants and needs of users before even getting to the design part. This is where the research and analytical skills of a designer are tested. Some of the key considerations while analyzing the needs of the users are as follows.
- Categorize the audience into groups based on the similarities and differences in their needs
- Prioritize the audience groups and needs
- Try to adopt an unbiased approach, focusing primarily on making the lives of the users easier
Design thinking practices
Another key aspect of a user-centered approach is employing the design thinking strategy. By sticking to the processes in design thinking, a UI/UX designer can make the users an active part of the entire design process. In such a strategy, the feedback of users takes precedence over the limitations of the product or the ideas of a designer. It is the responsibility of the designer to make sure that the input of the users is valued and given due importance in the design of the product or service.
A user-centered design is strengthened when backed by usability research. A carefully designed usability study makes sure to look at the behaviors of users in a natural environment and to assess their responses in an unbiased manner. Usability research is essential to test and evaluate a design before putting it into the market. This practice helps in highlighting the shortcomings of a product or service in a more focused manner. Key considerations for usability research include the following.
- Gathering users from different audience groups to add value to the research
- Presentation of tasks in a manner closely related to real-world experiences
- Clear definitions of success, failure, and other key metrics
- Careful collection and analysis of the data
Users in control
The users always want to be in control. It is important for almost all users to have more control over the design they are interacting with and to be able to make decisions that fit their needs. If the users are able to make more decisions, they will feel empowered, resulting in more control over the design and a higher level of trust in the product being used. Some examples where the users have more control are as follows.
- Customization of a mobile application or an online account
- Presence of a way out when navigating through a website
- Ability to rectify their errors by going back or using the undo option
- Introduction of filters and advanced options in an online search
2. Visual aspects
When users interact with a design, presentation and appearance are always of great importance. The impact created by the look and feel of a product starts way early in a user’s journey and is bound to leave a long-lasting impression. A UI/UX designer, therefore, needs to have a good aesthetic sense so as to make the design attractive.
A product or service needs to be aesthetically pleasing. If a user is bothered by the way something looks, he/she is never going to use it even if it is extremely useful. There are no set rules for aesthetics but any good designer, with a good understanding of the audience and some user research, can differentiate between a good and bad design based on its appearance. The aesthetics of any design cover a variety of aspects including, but not limited to, the following.
- Choice of colors
- Use of illustrations and media
- The proximity between visual elements
Two of the most important aspects of visual design in UX are balance and contrast. These are discussed below.
Balance is an essential element of visual design, particularly in the digital world. At a time when users are consuming most of the information via their screens, it is important to maintain the balance between the design elements so as not to overwhelm the users and also be able to deliver the right information.
A balance between design elements can be kept either in a symmetrical or asymmetrical manner. It should, however, be maintained throughout the design in a consistent manner so that the users get a familiar experience throughout their interaction. A balanced design is important as it helps designers give visual weight to a design element based on the significance of the information provided by that element.
Contrast is something that can make or break a design. It is important to highlight certain objects or to differentiate some design elements from others. The principle of contrast is usually applied through the choice of colors. For instance, in most software applications, the color red is used for the purpose of deletion. Similarly, the use of a background image and the text color can make the experience of users pleasing or discomforting, based on the choice.
Poor contrast can leave a significantly bad impression on the user’s mind. On the one hand, a bad choice of colors can make a task harder and on the other, it can also hurt the eyes, thus driving the users away from the product. If done the right way, contrast can add immense value to the design and the overall experience.
Consistency in design is, arguably, the most misunderstood trait. While designing a product, it is important to give your users an experience that gives the same impression all around. In such cases, the interactions throughout the experience are familiar and intuitive. Consistency, however, has two major aspects: consistency within the design and that with other similar designs in the market.
Whenever users interact with your product or service, may it be in the digital or the physical form, they expect the experience to be uniform from beginning to end. For instance, if you design a mobile app and use the gear icon for settings, the users would want to see the same icon all around the app. You cannot, and should not, magically change the icon on a single screen and expect the users to both understand and utilize it properly. All the visual elements — including the use of colors, selection of icons, and placement of text — should be the same throughout the design.
The other, equally important, aspect of consistency is focused more on giving the users a familiar experience. In the current market, there are dozens of products used for similar — if not entirely the same — purposes. There are, for instance, various companies building laptops, and different models too. So, in such a case, if a laptop model lands in the market where the space bar is not at the bottom of the keyboard but is, instead, placed on the right side. There is a high chance that it will be a failure. One of the main reasons for this would be the lack of familiarity in user experience. So, even if it is better to innovate and do things differently than your competitors, it is never a good idea to give an entirely unfamiliar experience to the users.
A good design always follows a hierarchical pattern. This hierarchy not only makes the design more logical for the UI/UX designer but also helps the users in navigating through and interacting with the design. The importance of a hierarchical organization is elevated when it comes to software, websites, mobile applications, and other digital platforms. In such cases, it is always a good idea to use the information architecture approach. An information architecture gives a clear idea of the flow of information along with the links between the various closely related sections, thus driving the message home in a convincing manner.
It is essential for a design to have a clear hierarchy, one that is understandable and familiar for the users. Hierarchy can be depicted by the use of colors, fonts, or the placement of visual elements among other factors. For example, a capitalized text with a larger font size draws more attention, thus putting it at a higher level in the hierarchy.
Similarly, the use of visual aspects such as contrast and proximity of design elements can only reflect on the importance of a certain element. It must, however, be noted that the arrangement needs to be consistent throughout the design. Once a UI/UX designer decides on the precedence of information, he/she must stick to it all around.
5. Textual aspects
Text plays a vital role in any design. Combined with the visual aspects, textual elements are important to deliver the right message to the right audience in the right way. UI/UX designers may not have to generate the text but they do have to decide as to where and how they are going to place this text so it serves its purpose. In other words, the designer has the final say when it comes to the presentation of content.
The use of language should always be simple, with as little jargon as possible. In today’s world loaded with content, all digital products are being used by a variety of people. It is impossible to get an idea of each user’s comfort level with technical language. In such cases, it is always recommended to use a language that everyone can understand.
Additionally, these days people frequently interact with designs created in a language that is not necessarily their first preference. In such cases, it is important to design for a global audience. The tone and voice of the text should be such that non-native speakers can also find the information useful.
Errors — whether they are mere typos or inaccurate information — always drive users away. It is important that the users do not get lost when interacting with a design and errors can contribute a great deal toward creating a negative experience. On the one hand, errors reduce the credibility of the information being provided and, on the other, these make the content confusing.
It is, therefore, essential to review the textual content before finalizing the design. A careful review, preferably by someone not involved in the entire design process, can save from bigger troubles later on. Correcting the errors at the initial stage can reduce both the effort and the cost associated with it. Once a design is brought to the market, the rectification of errors gets harder than ever.
Typography is both a visual and a textual aspect in UI/UX design. The choice of a font style, the color of the text, and the font size are all critical to user experience. If some content is not easily readable or is hurting the eyes, there is a good chance that the users will avoid interacting with it. In doing so, they might miss some important information, thus impacting their overall experience. Simple fonts — such as Arial, Helvetica, and Tahoma — are always preferred in digital designs.
There are numerous fonts that might look attractive but can be really hard to read. Such fonts should be used sparingly and that too with great care. The overall purpose of the design should be to make the lives of users easier. Similarly, the use of good contrast is important in the text as this can make the content readable and user-friendly.
6. Comfort of the users
The ultimate goal of a UI/UX designer is to give the audience an experience that is both memorable and comfortable. It is in this way that the designers add value to the performance of an organization. If a design is meeting the needs of the users and also adding value to their experience, then it is not difficult to retain the existing customers and to broaden the customer base as well.
A UI/UX designer, therefore, should always prioritize the comfort of the users. If a design element is not helping the users and is, instead, creating more issues for them, then it makes sense to eliminate that element or to replace it with something that would be helpful to the users. For instance, a webpage full of text might not be helpful to the users if similar information can be presented in the form of an infographic.
It is also important to make sure that the users are asked to do less work but get the most done as a result. If the users are repeatedly asked to provide the same information, they are bound to get frustrated. It is not unusual to see job applications where on uploading the resume, the entire form gets filled up. This is one example where both the time and effort of the users are saved.
The comfort of the users draws from the fundamental concept of adopting a holistic approach. If a designer has his/her eyes set on the bigger picture, where the overall experience of a user matters the most, then he/she is in a better position to create a pleasing and comfortable experience.
A design is not entirely valuable if it is not accessible to everyone. For a UI/UX designer, an inclusive design is an essential metric for success. It is important to understand that not every single person interacts with a product or service in a pre-defined manner. The physical capabilities of users can vary and this can hugely impact the way they use a certain product. For example, an individual with visual impairment may use a screen reader to navigate a website. A designer, therefore, needs to ask whether the design is accessible to everyone?
Accessibility also hints at the fundamental principle of empathy in UX design. A designer who understands the needs of his/her user and is more sympathetic to their feelings is likely to create a design that is accessible, fulfilling the needs of most — if not all — the users. Whether working on a mobile application or a website, accessibility should never be ignored.
Unfortunately, accessibility is often ignored in digital designs and many designers are not aware of the ways with which they can make their designs more inclusive. When in doubt, it is always a good idea to consult some standards and, hence, improve the design. When it comes to websites, W3C serves as one such standard. There are similar standards for other digital and physical platforms that a UI/UX designer can make use of to improve his/her finished product.
Fundamentals of UX design
It is important to get an idea of the fundamental considerations in the field of UX design. These fundamentals can also be considered the pillars of UX design, highlighting the major skills needed for a designer to be successful. Biggest UX design agencies follow these guiding principles and make the most out of them.
Just like the universal principles of UX design, these considerations are open to interpretation and may vary based on the nature of the product or service. The underlying philosophy, however, remains the same.
- Empathy: A UX designer can never create a useful design if he/she lacks empathy. It is extremely important for a designer to not only understand but feel a connection with the needs of the users. Only then will he/she be able to resolve the issues and make the experience meaningful for the users.
- Creativity: As mentioned above, the field of UX is advancing at a rapid pace. To keep up with the changes and to give the best value to the users, a UX designer needs to come up with solutions that are creative and attractive. Out-of-the-box thinking is a necessary skill for a designer.
- Holistic approach: A UX designer always focuses on the bigger picture, making sure that the overall experience of a user — from the discovery of a product to a long time after the interaction ends — is pleasurable and helpful. It is important to note that the impact of an experience goes a long way and can be of great value to any product or service.
- Research: UX Research is an essential part of the design process. This includes market research to identify popular trends, needs analysis to understand what the users want, gap analysis to meet the needs of the users and various other research practices. A UX designer must, therefore, be a good researcher, knowing how to handle and interpret data.
The field of UX design seeks help from key principles, ensuring that the designers can add value to their work.
All the design principles are open to interpretation and can be molded based on the end goals of any product or service. It must also be noted that these principles only serve as guidelines and should not, in any way, hamper the creativity of a UI/UX designer. The field of design has always been quite open to innovation while prioritizing the needs of the users. A designer, therefore, has a lot of freedom when working on a project as long as he/she is fully aware of the audience and their goals.