The prin­ci­ples of user in­ter­face de­sign

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

Justin Psaila is a Lead Dig­i­tal UX De­signer with Alert Dig­i­tal by Deloitte

Paul Rand, who was an Amer­i­can art direc­tor and a graphic de­signer best known for his cor­po­rate logo de­signs, in­clud­ing the lo­gos for IBM, UPS and NeXT, nicely summed up one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers user in­ter­face (UI) de­sign­ers come across when cre­at­ing new con­cepts. So how does one keep one­self in check and in­no­vate in a way that makes sense? Fear not, this is where core prin­ci­ples come in. Th­ese prin­ci­ples help you in tak­ing de­ci­sions and keep­ing in line when de­sign stops be­ing in­no­va­tive and be­gins to look like a big mess. When­ever in doubt, re­mem­ber them and let them be your guid­ing light.


Lack of in­for­ma­tion makes a user shy away from brows­ing a web­site. For a pos­i­tive brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the user should be well-aware and con­fi­dent of the in­for­ma­tion be­ing dis­played. Clar­ity serves both and this is best achieved through sim­plic­ity. The user in­ter­face shouldn’t be sim­ply be­cause it’s in vogue, but be­cause it serves a higher pur­pose. Once your de­sign is done al­ways ask your­self: “If I’ve just landed on this page for the first time, is what I need from the site ob­vi­ous and easy to ac­cess?”

At any par­tic­u­lar time, in any part of the site, the user should be aware of: • What just hap­pened • Where they are • What they can do • What will hap­pen if they do it


Hu­mans are crea­tures of habit and rou­tine, and our eyes love see­ing sim­ple and fa­mil­iar things. But what does this mean for de­sign­ers? When I was study­ing de­sign, I was taught to push the bound­aries, keep build­ing on what I have and never set­tle for con­ven­tional de­signs. This is also true when con­sid­er­ing the client per­spec­tive. They usu­ally ex­pect de­signer to rein­vent the wheel ev­ery time they come up with a mar­ket­ing idea.

Of course, this is what ev­ery de­signer wants, to cre­ate some­thing new and mem­o­rable. It feeds a de­signer’s pride. But let’s be bru­tally hon­est: A site is cre­ated for the end user and not to boost the ego of the de­signer and def­i­nitely not for the brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the site owner. This means that de­sign­ers should spend less time rein­vent­ing and use com­mon yet suc­cess­fully proven so­lu­tions, without feel­ing guilty. It means that con­ven­tional lay­outs will seem less com­plex sim­ply be­cause they are fa­mil­iar. Some tips that one might find use­ful while de­sign­ing are: • Use sim­ple, pop­u­lar verbs when it comes to nam­ing CTAs (call to ac­tions), links, but­tons, etc. Use com­mon colour codes such as red for warn­ings, green for suc­cess­ful, etc. Use text when you think the icons won’t get your point across • •

Ap­pear­ance fol­lows be­hav­iour

When some­one or some­thing be­haves con­sis­tently within our ex­pec­ta­tions, we feel like we are on the same wave­length - web el­e­ments should look and be­have in the same man­ner. The in­ter­face should be de­signed in a way that di­rects the at­ten­tion of the user to what is most im­por­tant. The size, colour, and place­ment of each el­e­ment should work to­gether, cre­at­ing a clear path to help users find what they want. A clear hi­er­ar­chy will go through great lengths to re­duc­ing the ap­pear­ance of com­plex­ity.

The in­ter­face should in­ter­act with the user at all times, whether their ac­tions are cor­rect, wrong or mis­un­der­stood. Al­ways in­form your users of ac­tions, changes in state and er­rors, or ex­cep­tions that oc­cur. Vis­ual cues or sim­ple mes­sag­ing can show the user whether their ac­tiv­i­ties have led to the ex­pected re­sult.


Make it as easy and as straight for­ward as you can to help users com­plete the main task in the most ef­fi­cient way; whether it re­quires fill­ing in a form, or just click­ing on a call to ac­tion. Mea­sure the ef­fort that is re­quired to com­plete the task; such as num­ber of clicks, in­put boxes and screens. Then clean it up as best you can, be­fore pro­ceed­ing to start work on the in­ter­face to help those tasks.

In con­clu­sion, UI de­sign is suc­cess­ful when peo­ple are us­ing what you’ve de­signed. Like an im­pres­sive look­ing chair that is un­com­fort­able to sit on, de­sign has failed when peo­ple choose not to use it. There­fore, in­ter­face de­sign can be as much about cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment for use as it is about cre­at­ing an arte­fact worth us­ing. It is not enough for an in­ter­face to sat­isfy the ego of its de­signer, or a dream vi­su­alised by a mar­ket­ing team: an in­ter­face must be used!

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