20 Fundamental UX Design Principles a Designer Has to Live By

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    Home / UX / 20 Fundamental UX Design Principles a Designer Has to Live By

    UX design is an ever-changing and vast field. From the user's point of view, things might be as simple as hitting the thumbs up button, but too much effort and time go into work on the designer's side.

    Fear not; design principles formed over the years will guide you in the right direction.

    Let's walk through the fundamental UX design principles that'll help you keep the design process on track and create digital products users will fall in love with.

    1- Keep Your Focus On The User

    The user comes first (always). This is one of the most common fundamentals of UX design. It's important for UX designers to put themselves in the users' shoes and design for their needs. Even though designers typically have high standards and want to deliver the best look and experience, the same desire for perfection can lead them to lose empathy for the user's point of view. 

    The best UX designs keep the users in sharp focus, meaning as a designer, you'll need to leave aside your own preferences. Instead, put more effort into understanding users' pain points, preferences, and opinions. This is exactly why design teams often spend time and effort getting to know the users in the initial stages of the design process.

    2- Usability Testing

    usability testing for ux design

    What use would it be to create a digital product that users simply can't use? The usability principle is at the heart of UX design since its main purpose is solving users' problems. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing your work might be, it won't resonate with users unless it's safe and easy to use. 

    Learnability > Efficiency > Memorability > Usability < Satisfaction < Error Tolerance

    The most obvious example can be website design. A website that's cluttered and challenging to navigate around is doomed to lose visitors. The design has a direct and powerful impact on users, hence your conversions. As a UX designer, you need to ensure each button, text, snippet, and element has a purpose and ensure the user can easily achieve that purpose. 

    Mind that the optimal design varies for different websites, brands, and products. Therefore, it's best to test usability and design elements like style, font, text, and clarity. For example, HubSpot revealed that the color red increased their conversion rate by 21% when split tested alongside the color green.

    usability testing for UX

    3- Accessibility Testing

    UX designers might overlook accessibility when they put more weight on the usability of the product. However, it's vital to ensure that all users, including people suffering from disabilities, can use the product with ease. 

    Until very recently, the accessibility of digital products was considered an unnecessary workload. However, fortunately, that's changed. The increasing demand for digital products and some new legislation contributed to the spread of product accessibility.

    For UX designers, accessibility includes certain elements like:

    • Text readability, 
    • The right amount of contrast
    • Colors that can be seen by everyone. 

    All in all, accessibility testing is key to helping more people use the product.

    4- Context Matters Both For Designers and Users

    Theoretically speaking, considering the context teaches UX designers what factors could affect the end-user and influence the problem that the solution will fix. In practice, this practice also includes the context around the use of the solution. Consider things like what device the user prefers, what may lead the user to the product, and any other factor that can affect the solution usage.

    It's not only designers that need context; users need it too. In fact, often, design teams offer users some context to smooth out possible frictions in the user's journey. Filling out forms is one of the common examples. Designers are typically more careful with form design because the questions can be open to misinterpretation.

    5- Consistency is Key

    Being consistent with design means implementing the right UI components and repeating them to help users pick up the product much faster. For example, buttons should behave in an exact way when the user clicks or hovers on them. 

    If a product takes too much effort to get the hang of on behalf of the user, it's more likely to fail. That's why consistency in UX design is a crucial principle for the learnability of a product.

    6- Less is More

    The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the first to propose the "Less is more" design principle. In terms of User experience, the primary purpose is simple; improving consistency and usability. 

    While intensely working on creativity and uniqueness, designers may unintentionally clutter the interface and even the product. The less is more approach focuses on simplicity as opposed to over-decoration of the interface. 

    For instance, in 2007, Apple streamlined iPhone's keyboard following the less is more UX design principle, just like Apple's website.

    You might also like; Top UX Designers to Follow.

    7- Keep Visual Hierarchy in Mind

    visual hierarchy for ux design

    Visual hierarchy is the designers' way of transmitting the importance of elements within a product to the user. A good visual hierarchy helps users' eyes move across the interface from the most crucial aspect to the least gradually. 

    Some common examples can be font size difference in titles and normal text or the button color difference (i.e., primary buttons' color are brighter. "Send" button can be bright red while in contrast, "Go Back" or "Cancel" button next to it is a pale grey.)

    8- Understand The Power of Typography

    When we say that your typography choice has the power to drag down a whole UX design, it wouldn't be an exaggeration. Typography significantly impacts the way users interpret any written message. More than that, it can change the usability and accessibility level of a product.

    As a UX designer, considering typographical hierarchy makes a design more user-friendly. One of the best examples is the publishing platform Medium's typography, which makes it easily and quickly readable.

    typography for UX

    9- Provide The Right Amount of Control to The User

    User control is another critical design principle for user experience. In fact, it's Jakob Nielsen's third usability heuristic for user interface design. According to this principle;

    Users select system functions by mistake and will need an obvious emergency exit to leave the unwanted action. In other words, support undo and redo.

    UI controls that typically let users go back to a previous state in the system include:

    • Undo and Redo options
    • A Cancel link to quit a task or multistep process
    • A Back link to return to the previous page or screen
    • A Close link

    10- Identify The Mental Models of Users

    The mental model concept refers to the theory that humans make meaning of how the world around them works. As a result of the mental model, a person will think and act in a certain way, which is very convenient for UX designers. 

    With the mental model principle, UX designers can:

    • See from the user’s perspective
    • Produce an intuitive product that users can pick up without much effort

    Methods to approach mental models:

    • Tree testing
    • Contextual observation
    • Card sorting

    11- Follow The UX Design Patterns

    In short, design patterns are repeatable solutions to commonly occurring problems in software design. These patterns have been tried and used a lot of times by designers over the years. In fact, today, there are many websites dedicated to listing design patterns.

    Design patterns can effectively speed up the UX design process by providing tested, proven paradigms. Consequently, they give answers to common problems UX designers encounter. 

    12- Information Architecture (IA)

    It may be tough to explain IA to new UX designers. But in the gist of it, information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, application, or other projects, that organizes everything for users. It results in the creation of:

    • Navigation
    • Metadata
    • Sitemaps
    • Hierarchies
    • Categorizations

    The goal of information architecture is to help people understand what they are looking at and where to find what they are searching for. For example, when a designer is sketching out a top-level menu to help users grasp where they are on a site, he's basically practicing information architecture.

    13- Storytelling UX Design

    In user experience design, you're telling a story to the user throughout the design process to create an impression on users that will last. People love stories, and products with inspiring stories sell more. But in the UX world, narrative design is done in a visual way. 

    Using imagery, videos, animation, and texts, design teams convey their narrative that evokes emotion. World-known brands like Sephora, Audi, and Tiffany use visual storytelling to communicate brand identity or a new campaign.

    ux story selling

    14- Understand The Function of UX Deliverables

    In web design, deliverables refer to the tangible record of materials needed to document different phases of the design process. Some of the common deliverables for a UX project include wireframes and prototypes, personas, sitemaps, usability test reports, mental models, and flowcharts.

    Creating UX deliverables help designers:

    • Turn ideas into solid examples (prototype)
    • Empathize with the users 
    • Test
    • Identifying the user’s problem

    15- Use Familiarity Principle in UX Design

    The familiarity UX principle is more common than you might imagine. Think about the concept of Instagram stories. When we trace it back, Instagram adopted it from Snapchat, and Facebook also started using it, along with other social platforms like YouTube. All these apps gave users what they are familiar with and provided a similar experience. As a result, they removed the learning curve.

    We are also familiar with certain interface designs like chat, e-commerce, and social media. In a typical user's daily life, it's possible to encounter specific UX patterns, which makes things easier for designers.

    Here are some benefits of using familiarity in UX design:

    • Reduce the learning curve
    • Improve user retention
    • Speed up the UX design process
    • Lead to faster product adoption

    16- Understand User Testing in Theory and Practice

    User testing is a vital part of any UX design process. It typically involves evaluating a digital product or service by researching it with a series of different methods. In order to see how users interact with the design, UX designers give it to real users and assess the outcome.

    When designs transmit into tangible prototypes, designers can observe how real users interact with their designs. While there are many different ways to do that, one common method is A/B tests.

    Purpose: Enables you to observe the user behavior and see if it matches your expectations of the design

    User testing methods: Though they vary, some include card sorting, face-to-face interviews, unmoderated remote usability testing, A/B tests, and session recording.

    There are many services designed specifically for digital user testing, including popular tools like Hotjar, Crazyegg, and UserTesting.

    user testing ux examples

    17- Add Personality to The Design

    One way to interest the user persona you're designing for is by showcasing a personality in your design. Users often have difficulty connecting with a lifeless design. The character of your design, however, can effectively break the ice in between. It's all about the human touch in digital products.

    18- Mind The Difference Between Web-Based and Mobile Products

    The difference between designing UX for a website and a mobile app is drastic. The main difference is the screen size, meaning all visual hierarchy and information architecture will alter from web to mobile. 

    Additionally, small screen sizes cause users to get confused and lost in the design more efficiently. That's why as a UX designer, you'll need to streamline the design even more for mobile users. More than that, it's not only screen sizes that make the changes necessary. 

    More factors come into play for mobile apps, including the context in which users will use the app and the operating systems.

    19- Use The Right Tools for Efficiency

    Using the right tools for efficiency is a UX design principle that shouldn't be overlooked. It's about having a professional prototyping tool and providing the design team with the necessary tools.

    For example, a high-quality user testing tool ensures that every single detail is attended to. Ultimately, having the right tools to manage tasks and test the designs can level up the UX design process.

    20- Keep The First Stages of Your Prototype Simple

    Yes, a high-fidelity prototype with lots of details is the ultimate end goal. But jumping straight into adding endless details on your prototyping tool right from the start may actually be a huge mistake. 

    Most UX design teams will begin imagining a solution and reflect on what it would look like using paper and pen. This practice ignites more brainstorming about which idea is the best approach to the layout, etc. From there, the team continues by creating a wireframe, highlighting the basic structure, functions, and layout. All in all, the team gradually works their way up to the prototype.

    Why all this effort? To design a product that flawlessly fits the user’s needs takes iteration, testing, and more iteration.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are the main principles of UX design?

    • Usability
    • Visual Hierarchy
    • Accessibility
    • Usability
    • Consistency
    • Context
    • User control
    • Familiarity

    How do you write UX design principles?

    1. Prefer short sentences
    2. Repeat them regularly
    3. Make them memorable
    4. Use consistent terminology
    5. Avoid jargon, idioms, slang, and unambiguity

    What are UX design techniques?

    UX design techniques are a set of methods incorporated by UX designers to test and find their way to the best outcomes. These techniques include:

    • Remote usability testing
    • Card sorting
    • Eye movement tracking
    • Usability testing
    • Field interviews
    • Face-to-face interviews
    • Competitive audit

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