15 UX Design Rules You Should Know

07.02.24
A UX design logo about rules to follow for UX

User experience is a broad discipline. Anyone who practices UX design should have skills in many different areas.

Even though you can’t fit all the useful information into one article, you can still talk about the most important rules that every UX designer must follow to create a great user experience.

Here are 15 basic rules every designer should be familiar with:

1. UX Isn’t Just UI

The User Interface is a major component of the User Experience!

Replacing UX with UI design is a common mistake among many designers as if the two are the same.

It is very important to understand the difference between the two disciplines.

In short, the User Interface (UI) is the area where interactions between people and a product take place, while the User Experience (UX) is the emotional outcome of an interaction with a product.

2. Know Your Audience

User research is a natural first step in the design process!

It shouldn’t be a surprise that your target audience is one of the most important things to think about when making a product.

If you plan to design a product that your users will love, you should have an idea of what your target audience really wants and needs.

This means that user research should be an important part of the UX design process. It’s very important to keep your users in focus before you start designing!

The first step in designing for your users is keeping them in focus. This allows you to provide value to the people who will use your product and focus on benefits rather than features.

3. You Are Not a User

Testing with real users is an important part of the design process!

Designers often assume that the people who will use their interfaces are just like them. As a result of this idea, designers reflect on their behavior and reactions toward users. However, it is a mistake to think that you are the user.

The false consensus effect refers to the tendency to assume that others share our beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context.

Most likely, the people who will use your product have different backgrounds, different mindsets, different mental attributes, and different goals. In other words, you are not them. There is a technique called usability testing that helps designers overcome the “false consensus effect”.

If you want to create products that users love, you should focus on testing. Testing with real users (not your teammates, friends, or family) allows designers to learn how to create the right products for the people who will use them. This can be time-consuming, but it is the only way to ensure you are on the right track.

4. Adapt the Design for Short Attention Periods

Don’t overwhelm users with too much information!

The amount of time someone can focus on a task without being distracted is referred to as their attention span. In 2015, Microsoft found that the average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds.

This means we have a shorter attention span than goldfish.

Designers need to adapt to deal with this behavior in order to provide people with the information they need as quickly as possible.

Interfaces should be made easier by designers to use by removing elements or content that aren’t needed for user tasks.

One of the best techniques that allows a good designer to achieve this is functional minimalism (the behavior of keeping things of real value and getting rid of the rest).

This is not to say that experiences should be limited. All information should be valuable and relevant.

5. The UX Process Is Indefinite

Tailor your design process to the product you are designing!

The UX process is a make-or-break aspect of UX design.

Not having a solid UX process is like taking a leap in the dark. On the other hand, a clear and concise UX development process makes it possible to create great experiences for users.

Many designers believe that there is one universal UX process that can be applied to all projects. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all UX design.

While it is possible to define individual steps for each project, a precise UX process should always be chosen based on the project requirements.

Each project is unique and has its own needs. This means that in order to give users the best experience possible, a designer must be ready to change the design process to fit the needs of the project. For example, if you are designing a new product, you may need to spend more time on user research, which requires clarification.

However, if you are redesigning an existing product, you may need to spend more time on design validation (doing usability and A/B testing or working with analytics reports).

6. A Real Product

Prototype before building!

For digital products, the design phase should include a prototyping phase.

Skipping prototyping and putting a lot of effort into building a real product is another common (and dangerous) mistake among many design teams.

When we put a lot of effort into creating something we believe is great and then release it into the wild, it can be really stressful to realize that our final outcome isn’t working as expected.

Prototyping is building a model of a product so it can be tested.

You can test your idea with prototyping tools before you spend time with an engineering team building the real product.

Designers can use different design techniques for prototyping. A useful prototyping technique is called rapid prototyping.

It’s a popular way to quickly generate the future status of a product and verify it with a group of users, whether it’s a website or an app.

7. When Designing, Use Real Content 

Avoid Lorem Ipsum and fake placeholders!

Almost every product—text, image, or video—is contextual. We can easily say that the design enriches content. Yet many designers do not consider content during the design phase. They use Lorem Ipsum instead of real copy and placeholders instead of real images.

While such a design might look great on a designer’s artboard, the picture can be completely different when the same design is populated with real data.

The goal of designers is to be as close as possible to the real customer experience. Therefore, they should not isolate themselves from the real experience.

8. Keep Things Simple and Consistent

The characteristic attribute of a great user interface is simplicity and consistency!

In the context of digital products, simplicity means that it is easy to understand and interact with a product.

Your users don’t need to read instructions or have a map to navigate through an app to understand how to use it.

As an interface designer, it’s part of your job to clarify things and deftly guide them from where they are to where they need to go.

Interfaces should also be consistent throughout the design.

To make designs look more creative and catchy, many designers deliberately add inconsistencies in style. For example, different color schemes and palettes can be used on different pages of a website. Such design decisions often cause confusion and frustration among users.

That’s why it’s always important to keep the design element familiar by reinforcing the most important aspects of your design at every opportunity. Don’t forget to apply the Principle of Least Confusion to your product design.

9. Recognition Instead of Recall

Showing users items they recognize improves usability over having to recall items from memory!

Because people’s memories are limited, designers can’t expect people to remember how to use certain parts of their products. Instead, they have to make it so that people can figure it out on their own.

Try to reduce the amount of mental work by making information and interface functions easy to see and use.

10. Make Design Usable and Accessible

Design for various user groups that will interact with your products.

When it comes to design, designers are often obsessed with looks and appeal over functionality and accessibility.

Most of us try to make everything look beautiful. Often, this leads to a situation where aesthetics become more important to designers than usability.

Aesthetics are important, but after we’ve made something that works, we should definitely try to make it look good. The most important job of digital products and services is to fulfill a function.

Accessible interaction design lets people of all abilities find their way around digital products, understand how they work, and use them successfully.

A well-designed product can be used by people of all abilities, including those who are blind, have low vision, have trouble hearing, have trouble thinking, or have trouble moving.

Accessibility puts a number of restrictions on your design that you should think about, but making your product more accessible makes it easier for everyone to use.

You can find a lot of useful information on how to make interfaces more accessible in WCAG 2.0 and the Material Design guidelines.

11. Don’t Try To Solve A Problem By Yourself

Design is a team sport, do not work alone!

As Lyndon Johnson once said, “There is no problem we can not solve together, and very few that we can not solve on our own.”

Great user experiences are made possible when designers, developers, stakeholders, and users all work together. There is no such thing as a “lone genius.”

When designing, you need to work with as many people as possible to get their ideas, insights, and thoughts about your business.

12. Don’t Try To Solve Everything At Once

Design is a repetitive process!

It is important to understand that UX design is not a linear process.

The phases of the UX process (idea generation, prototyping, and testing) often overlap significantly, and there is often a lot of back and forth.

As you learn more about the problem, the people who will be using it, and the details of the project (especially any restrictions), you may need to go back to some of the research you’ve already done or try out some new design ideas.

Don’t think it’s possible to perfect your design after a single iteration.

Instead, develop ideas to the point where you can test them with real users, gather valuable feedback, and iterate based on that feedback.

13. Preventing Mistakes Is Better Than Fixing Them

Whenever possible, design products to keep potential mistakes to a minimum!

Making mistakes is human. Errors often occur when people interact with user interfaces.

Sometimes it happens because users make mistakes, and sometimes it happens because an app fails.

Whatever the cause, these errors and how they are handled have a huge impact on the user experience. Users hate bugs, and even more hate the feeling that they trigger such behavior.

So, you should try to get rid of error-prone situations completely or check for them and let users know before you do anything.

14. Provide Informative Feedback

An app or website should always keep users informed about what’s going on!

Visibility of the system state is still one of the most important rules for designing user interfaces. It is one of Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics.

Users want to know their current context in a system at any given time, and applications should not force them to guess and should tell the user what is happening through appropriate visual feedback.

A great way to show users that an interface is working is to give them immediate visual feedback, like an animated indicator when a user starts to do something.

15. Avoiding Dramatic Redesigns

Remember Weber’s Law of Only Noticeable Differences (Just-Noticeable Difference or JND)!

Research shows that users don’t like a big change to their current product, even if these changes will benefit them.

If you do a major redesign, users are very likely to be dissatisfied with it. This phenomenon even has a scientific name. Weber’s Just Noticeable Difference states that even the smallest change will not result in a noticeable difference.

eBay is one of the best examples of this rule. eBay is one of those companies that has learned the hard way that its users don’t like dramatic changes.

Overnight, they decided to change the bright yellow background for most of their pages to a white background. They immediately started receiving complaints from customers objecting to the change.

A significant number of complaints forced eBay to change the design back. After that, the team followed a different strategy. For several months, they changed the background color one shade of yellow at a time, until eventually all the yellow was gone and only white remained.

Predictably, almost no one noticed the change this time around. Therefore, the best way to approach a redesign is to do it slowly, gradually changing it a little here and a little there. By doing this, most users won’t even realize you’ve redesigned it until you completely redesign it.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes; that’s the only way to learn!

You only truly learn when you make mistakes. If you are afraid of making mistakes and try to make everything perfect, you will miss out on learning.

Follow the guidelines above, but most importantly, keep experimenting with new UX design techniques and approaches to find what works best for you and your clients.

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Elmir Karimov
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