UX Principles Every Designer Should Know
In the world of web development, UX design is critical. While front-end engineering skills are necessary for building fast and scalable products, it’s the UX design skills that will ensure those products are not a waste of effort. Without some knowledge of UX design, you could spend weeks or months building a product that nobody wants. UX design helps to remove doubt, so you can build products that people actually find useful.
Designers do their jobs by challenging project ideas, providing counsel to stakeholders, and advocating for users’ best interests. Along with the role comes an obligation to serve the user through principled action. Bad interaction design can have consequences ranging from slightly frustrating to severely harmful. With so many resources available on UX technical skills, it’s important to direct more attention toward essential human-centric concerns. Every successful UX designer needs to grasp the foundational ux design principles of empathy, clarity, feedback, and inclusivity.
Empathy is at the heart of ux design. You need the ability to put yourself in your user’s shoes in order to design products they will love. Fortunately, empathy is not a difficult skill to develop. If you understand why some products make you happy and why some products frustrate you, then you’re halfway there! Related: Empathy in Design: How Does it Work? Developers can sometimes struggle with empathy because UX improvements may seem minor compared to the “cost” of implementing them. If this is you, resist the temptation of putting your own convenience above your user’s satisfaction. Don’t cut corners. Have empathy. Start with the user experience and work backward.
User experience design problems often revolve around the clarity of information and instruction. Successful designs make information as intelligible as possible, with clear indication of how to perform the actions you need to take. Designers make sure people can access and understand the interaction as it’s happening, and remain sensitive to its effect on the user’s cognitive load. Lack of clarity could have serious repercussions, as in the case of a healthcare application being used by a patient to access their treatment.
A working knowledge of visual communication goes a long way. Design artifacts, even reports, benefit from a clear visual hierarchy. Even if the visual design of a user interface is a separate concern than the UX, in practice, UX designers have to collaborate with their counterparts in UI design to ensure that the interface communicates the right effect. To engage effectively on a cross-functional project with multiple team members, UX designers need to at least wield a practical knowledge of typography, color, and composition. Thinking in terms of these visual communication fundamentals allows contributors to establish a shared design language.
Clarity of communication can’t be underestimated. My company, like many global tech organizations, uses English as a primary language for everything from business discussion, to code documentation, to design critique. My international colleagues exhibit remarkable communication skills, especially considering English may be a second, third, or even eighth language. In today’s climate of remote work, it’s more important than ever to use video to enhance real-time communication—employing body language and facial expressions to underscore our words.
UX design is wrapped in written communication. The extent to which hiring managers weigh writing skills when evaluating UX candidates may surprise job seekers. It makes sense that client-facing discussions frequently focus on UX artifacts, and only astute writing can successfully document design ideas. For user research specialists, as well as generalists with user research among their responsibilities, writing is even more of a daily requirement. They design through the medium of research reports, interview takeaways, and executive summaries. Clear writing permeates the work, all the way down to the microcopy—the small bits of guiding UI text used in forms, prompts, buttons, and messages throughout an application.
Great user experience designers are still wrong all the time; they just use more feedback. Everything is a prototype, even early notes and doodles, that can evoke enough reaction from helpful sources such as usability test participants to inform improvements. All design fields solve problems through making things, actively creating new ideas to fill an existing void, and ample helpful feedback guides the solution in the right direction. Seasoned UX designers learn to apply this principle throughout their process, always scanning for meaningful feedback on everything they contribute.
Everywhere you look, there are products with design flaws that could have been improved through more user testing; not just apps and websites, but also physical experiences like vehicles, household items, or specialty equipment. Whenever a project is fast-tracked past user testing too hastily the consumer has to deal with the resulting deficiencies. Successful projects take a structured approach, testing prototypes methodically to identify problem areas. Product teams establish a feedback loop by observing user reactions, hypothesizing improvements based on those reactions, and rebuilding prototypes with new ideas to introduce into the testing cycle.
Accepting product design feedback and applying its learnings to a prototype may be a skill that takes time to develop; it’s easy to get emotionally attached to work we create, as if it were some precious thing to defend. When we ignore valid design criticism it’s the user who loses. Designers learn to separate themselves from their ideas, gathering feedback early and often, and become skilled in objectively discerning how to improve the work to make it even more clear and useful for others.
People often base their first understandings of users on the lowest common denominator—mapping out an ideal “happy path” experience for a generic user. That ideal rarely reflects the multifaceted reality of human life, and that generic user is too often a reflection of the designer’s own personal traits or their company’s business goals. To design excellent user experiences, we need to step outside our own biases and recognize the diversity of human experience.
Including a broad radius of users in the design process isn’t only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. When a service makes the effort to consider its customers with special needs, it tends to benefit a wider swath of customers. Wheelchair-accessible spaces provide a great example of this principle: the same rampways and automatic door openers which allow people in wheelchairs to navigate also make it easier for people pushing strollers, carrying armloads, and with other momentary physical restrictions.
Website design similarly recognizes the range of users navigating the virtual space. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a standard for designing interfaces which can be understood and used effectively by people with disabilities. Web and app designers rely on that guidance to ensure the display can be understood by users with a spectrum of visual impairments and blindness, and who may access the information using screen reader programs to synthesize speech or output to a braille display. Users with motoric impairments benefit from various assistive technologies such as a trackball mouse or voice recognition software. Across both physical and digital spaces, there are ample opportunities to design a better, more inclusive user experience that considers all possible customer scenarios.
The aim of inclusive design is to demonstrate respect for users by allowing them a dignified interaction with your service. Project teams would do better by incorporating the principle of inclusivity throughout their process. Upfront research and cooperative design with target users will help to avoid the pitfalls that lead to inaccessible products. Designers, engineers, and managers are all responsible for adhering to accessibility guidelines in the creation of useful tools, displays, and controls. Rigorous usability testing continuously refines the experience, and helps produce genuinely positive, inclusive interactions.
The practice of user experience design challenges abstract notions and raises important ethical concerns. As UX designers, we essentially design actions, and all actions have consequences. Multiply that by the masses of users who are touched by scaling technology, and our design decisions become exponentially magnified. All designers should consider that gravity whenever approaching their work, and take conscientious actions based on human-centered design principles.