Well. Maybe the rules will change one day and you need to recarve that stone a bit. But the rules you are about to read are standing for decades already. So the title of this article ain’t no clickbait.
The birth of design principles
Designing new stuff is a messy process. No news there. Luckily, designers can learn from each other’s projects and share what aspects of a design have led to successful results. Other designers can then try out assumed success factors and confirm their effectiveness, or change and improve them still. Doing so, designers together write design principles. Those principles can then become a bit like game rules. Rules to maximize the chances of success for whatever you’re about to design. That’ll make your messy design process a little easier.
Design principles can be specific, like the ones on designing voice interfaces or virtual reality apps. Some principles are even company-specific to speed up the team’s decision making. The design team of a toy brand for instance will know how strong the toy’s construction must be and what the level of intuitiveness should be.
But you expected to read 10 generic rules of thumb on UI design. So let’s scroll down. Note that the following list is not composed by us at Achilles. All credits and thank yous go to the famous usability researcher Jakob Nielsen, and his teams. We merely added some examples to clarify the rules.
Show the system statusAn interface must always inform the user about what the system behind that interface is doing. When users know the status of the system, they know what effect their actions have on the system and they can anticipate on what to do next.
The more predictable the interactions are for your user, the more that user will trust your product and your brand. Think of a print job of +100 pages. A trustworthy printer could inform the user that there’s not enough paper sitting in the printer to complete the job, asking the user to add more sheets before starting the print job. This way, the interactions with the printer are more predictable to the user because he won’t be surprised that the print job just stopped halfway.
Copy the industry standardsAt Achilles we’ve designed drinking bottles for a brand called Kambukka. People have used drinking bottles before they purchase a Kambukka bottle. If our bottle would open by turning the cap clockwise, users would be confused because all other bottle caps in the world must be turned counterclockwise to drink. So it’s a no-brainer to copy what the industry has been doing.
When a person wants to create an account on your digital platform, she must enter a user name and a password. She might write her password in both fields because she did not pay attention enough, thinking the second field was meant to rewrite her password for confirmation. If this happens, a well-designed registration page would show a pop-up (in red with a danger sign or so), informing her that her user name and password are the same. That’s to prevent her from making a costly mistake. She now has the chance to return and rewrite her user name before actually hitting ‘create account’.
Removing irrelevant stuff can also be applied to the physical world. Your coffee machine may have a reset button that you can press if the software of the machine would ever get stuck. That little reset button is irrelevant to your daily routine and should not sit next to the cappuccino button. Better place that reset button at the back of your machine. It’s an irrelevant button that only makes your daily coffee routine more complicated and prone to mistakes.
Error messages and solution suggestionsA display that says ERROR43//45.v won’t be helpful to most users. Instead, pinpoint what the current problem is all about in a language that your user will understand. Then explain what the user must do to solve the problem. Always support your error message and solution suggestions with enough visual support so that people notice the error and understand what to do.
That’s it. The 10 UI design rules that Jakob Nielsen described decades ago. They all sound very straightforward right? I know. But it doesn’t hurt to get reminded about them once in a while. So write them down or save this webpage. Whatever works best for you. Just make sure to remind yourself of design principles like the ones you’ve just read. They’ll help you to speed up your design process, decision making and increase your chances of a product success.
Good luck nailing your next design challenge!