The 6 key UX design principles to follow

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Category: Industry insights, Innovation

This piece is written by LJ Hazzard, UX Designer and Online Tutor of User Experience Design MA (Online)

UX (User Experience) design is a process designers use to create better, more meaningful and engaging experiences for people when they’re using a product, service or interactive system

UX design focuses on understanding the needs of users, discovering their goals and motivations, and what their frustrations and pain points are in order to design better, more effective and engaging experiences. Good UX design can help businesses to increase user engagement, improve brand loyalty and drive conversions.  

Although UX design is a field that’s constantly evolving with technological change, here are 6 key UX design principles that should form the foundations of every new project. 

UX Principles

1. Focus on the user

There is no UX without users, so it’s important to put them at the forefront of the design process. Follow a user-centred design process, where the first step is to research your audience to find out their needs, goals, pain points and mental models. 

It’s important to remember that you are almost certainly not your user, so make sure you conduct research with your real users and create personas to help make design decisions that will work for them. 

Business goals are important. However, if your product, system or service doesn’t meet the needs and goals of the user then it will cause frustration and pain points. Researching what users need and testing your product throughout the design process will help you spot and fix usability issues early. The earlier problems are identified, the quicker they can be resolved and therefore save development and business costs - it’s always more expensive to fix an issue once the product is live.

2. Put usability first 

Usability is a huge part of UX. It measures the ease of which a specific user can carry out a task within your product or service. Good usability means that users should be able to complete their actions accurately and effectively, performing tasks quickly while meeting their needs and expectations. 

Usability testing is a highly valuable method to understand how users navigate a product. Testing can reveal common issues which can then be fine-tuned and resolved. You may have a product that looks amazing but if users can’t carry out their desired task, then they’ll likely give up and go to an alternative product or service. Putting the time and energy into usability testing will contribute to the future success of your product. 

3. Create consistency 

Although it may be tempting to design a product that is totally unique and creative, consistency is a key principle of good UX design. As Jakob’s Law of Internet UX states: "Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know." 

Humans like familiarity, so consistency in design can help to eliminate confusion - making your product more intuitive and usable. It’s important to use common design patterns, elements and interactions that users are comfortable with. Designing with elements that feel familiar to users not only improves usability but also learnability as users will already have existing knowledge of the way something works. The more familiar a user is with how a product works, the quicker they will be able to use your design. 

Use consistent elements, colours and styles in your design. Create a shared design system so that other designers in the team can use the components. Designing with consistency will also save time and money as the team can reuse predefined components.

4. Use visual hierarchy 

Visual hierarchy is one of the main principles in visual design. A clear visual hierarchy guides a user’s eye to the most important elements on a page. By using design principles like scale, colour and contrast, you can ensure the key elements of the page stand out. A good visual hierarchy will help users to navigate the page, understand its content, reduce friction points and improve the usability of the product or service. 

Understanding the importance of visual design principles, such as visual hierarchy, will help make your interface stand out and provide better experiences to those interacting with it. 

5. Give the user control 

Great UX design gives users a level of freedom when using a product or service. Give users the control to correct mistakes or if they change their mind, allow them the option to go back, cancel, close or undo an action.  

As Jakob’s User Control and Freedom states: "Users often make mistakes or change their minds. Allow them to exit a flow or undo their last action and go back to the system’s previous state. Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked 'emergency exit' to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue." 

Giving users the ability to control their actions or undo a mistake will improve their overall experience of your product or service. Use confirmation pop-ups asking the user to confirm an action before deleting or confirming sign up, and provide an undo option to allow users to backtrack if they make a mistake. 

6. Design for Accessibility 

‘Accessibility’ is the extent to which users can understand, navigate and interact with a system regardless of their level of vision, hearing, cognition or physical movement. Designing for accessibility means designing for those with accessibility needs - which include physical, visual, auditory or learning/cognitive needs. 

It’s estimated that 15% of the world’s population have a permanent disability (1 in 5 in the UK), and many more have temporary or situational disabilities that limit the ability to interact with a system or a device for a short period of time. 

To help make the internet more accessible, the W3C’s created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which covers a wide range of recommendations. These include practical recommendations – such as a minimum colour contrast for text on a background which will help users with low vision read the text – and is the best standard to work to. 

Make sure you follow the WCAG guidelines when designing your product or service. Designing for accessibility will not only increase the usability of your product for people with additional needs, it will also enhance the overall user experience for everyone. 

For a product to be successful, it needs to be usable, useful and desirable, so keep these 6 principles of UX design in mind at every stage of the process. 

If you’re interested in mastering the key principles of UX design and creating engaging user experiences, then join our online course in MA User Experience Design. You’ll learn how to apply a user-centred design process to create original work based on your own intellectual property. 

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