Design with the grain, not against it. Users don’t want to have to think or adopt new behaviors. It’s best practice to stick to design conventions, unless you have an exceptional reason not to. Design conventions have evolved for specific scenarios out of sound, user-centered reasoning. “People ignore design that ignores people.” - Frank Chimero
User experiences are designed on multiple layers. Inspired by Jesse James Garrett:
Strategy is the most critical layer of a product architecture. For strategy and scope principles see my product strategy page. (Scope is part of product implementation strategy.)
Every interaction an organization has with their user is an opportunity to further engage them. The goal is to optimize every touch point and have their thoughts and feelings throughout the user journey deliberately designed.
Great interaction design feels like a fluid exchange with the product. The more the user’s behaviors are anticipated and designed for, the smoother and more in control they feel.
Great information architecture makes the user always feel oriented. Designing for easy understanding and fluid navigation is the great unseen architecture.
Usability is rooted in human factors, which doesn’t change. Despite the ever-changing landscape of consumer technologies and the increasing variety of mediums users interact with software, principles of usability will remain the same.
Amidst fluctuating aesthetic design trends, UI conventions evolve slowly. The goal will always be to reduce the cognitive load of the user as much as possible. This means working with mental models they’ve formed from years of software usage.
Great information design enables sufficient user understanding with the least mental exertion necessary. It is accomplished by designing for the following factors:
- Completion: ideas are gathered or distilled to its essence
- Sequence: ideas are ordered in a logical sequence
- Digestion: information is separated into digestible chunks
- Emotional Connection: presented with deliberate voice and tone
- Comprehension: presented in layman’s terms - or visually where feasible
- Distinction: the visual presentation reflects the quality of the text
Great user interface design looks obvious. Elements are arranged for intuitive, fluid navigation through the product. Components are arranged for optimal user interaction outcomes with the product.
Word choice is of utmost importance. “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning,” said Mark Twain. Developing a project-specific lexicon is an ongoing craft.
Sensory design is about driving subconscious results in the user. The user has invoked understanding, pleased senses, and feelings that were deliberately designed.
Outstanding visual designers and complex problem solvers are different breeds. Each have unique brain wiring and work experience. Very few expert user experience designers will also be expert aesthetic designers. If your organization prioritizes design highly, you will need both.
Design process has infinitely many permutations of tools, timelines, and skill sets depending on the context.
In practice, it is not a linear process, but the phases loosely follow this sequence:
Always begin designing in low fidelity. If a paper prototype will be sufficient to test what you need to, don’t waste time in software. Structural design is all that’s needed to explore an idea. Thinking through sensory design aspects during the problem solving stage is almost always a waste of time.
Great design documentation improves design decisions immeasurably. Great researchers, product- and business-teammates set up designers for success. Well-prepared user research, product strategy, and business documentation will make your design decisions almost feel prepared for you.
Get input from target users all along the way. Sanity check yourself and check all the assumptions you can. Interview people to surface unknown unknowns before it’s too late. It’s easy to pile layers of assumptions on top of each other, but eventually it can become too difficult to test - you will have to scrap your work and start over.
Think through the reasoning behind other company’s design decisions. If it’s a great product that you’re drawing inspiration from, then assume everything you are analyzing has reasoning behind it. Rarely will the solutions to their problems be most appropriate for yours.
Front loading your work with all the assets you know you will need maximizes your flow of work later. This includes a logical file structure for assets to be stored in an orderly way. A cluttered mind results in distraction, which is the greatest enemy to creative work.
Time boxing your work ensures your focus on the highest-priority tasks. Designs are never complete so don’t kid yourself that you will come up with all the answers in one sitting. Additionally, breaking up your work into multiple sessions is how you utilize your subconscious mental resources - which are far and away superior to your conscious ones. Your deeper thoughts will sort out the details during another task, so shift gears and return later.
Designing with a system in mind ensures consistency, reduces decision fatigue, and enables team collaboration. A design system includes some or all of the following:
- Style Guide: color, typography, grids, icons, images, etc.
- Component Library: buttons, forms, navigation, footer, header, menus, cards, modules, state components, atomic components, etc.
- Documentation: frameworks, principles, voice, identity, etc.