User Interface Design Principles


Clarity is job #1

  • Clarity is the first and most important job of any interface.
  • Clarity inspires confidence and leads to further use. One hundred clear screens is preferable to a single cluttered one.


Interfaces exist to enable interaction

  • Interfaces exist to enable interaction between humans and our world.
  • The best interfaces can inspire, evoke, mystify, and intensify our relationship with the world.


Conserve attention at all costs

  • Don’t litter the side of your applications with destructible material…remember why the screen exists in the first place.
  • Honor attention and not only will your readers be happier, your results will be better.


Keep users in control

  • Humans are most comfortable when they feel in control of themselves and their environment.
  • Keep users in control by regularly surfacing system status, by describing causation (if you do this that will happen) and by giving insight into what to expect at every turn.


Direct manipulation is best

  • The best interface is none at all, when we are able to directly manipulate the physical objects in our world.
  • Strive for that original goal of direct manipulation…design an interface with as little a footprint as possible, recognizing as much as possible natural human gestures.


One primary action per screen

  • Every screen we design should support a single action of real value to the person using it. This makes it easier to learn, easier to use, and easier to add to or build on when necessary.


Keep secondary actions secondary

  • Screens with a single primary action can have multiple secondary actions but they need to be kept secondary!
  • Keep secondary actions secondary by making them lighter weight visually or shown after the primary action has been achieved.


Provide a natural next step

  • Very few interactions are meant to be the last, so thoughtfully design a next step for each interaction a person has with your interface.
  • Just as we like in human conversation, provide an opening for further interaction.


Appearance follows behavior

  • Humans are most comfortable with things that behave the way we expect.
  • Designed elements should look like how they behave.
  • Someone should be able to predict how an interface element will behave merely by looking at it.
  • If it looks like a button it should act like a button.


Consistency matters

  • Elements that behave the same should look the same.


Strong visual hierarchies work best

  • A strong visual hierarchy is achieved when there is a clear viewing order to the visual elements on a screen.
  • Most people don’t notice visual hierarchy but it is one of the easiest ways to strengthen (or weaken) a design.


Smart organization reduces cognitive load

  • John Maeda says in his book Simplicity, smart organization of screen elements can make the many appear as the few.
  • Group together like elements, show natural relationships by placement and orientation.
  • Don’t force the user to figure things out…show them by designing those relationships into your screens.


Highlight, don’t determine, with color

  • Color should not determine much in an interface. It can help, be used for highlighting, be used to guide attention, but should not be the only differentiators of things.
  • It can help, be used for highlighting, be used to guide attention, but should not be the only differentiator of things.


Progressive disclosure

  • Show only what is necessary on each screen.
  • Avoid the tendency to over-explain or show everything all at once.
  • When possible, defer decisions to subsequent screens by progressively disclosing information as necessary.


Help people inline

  • In ideal interfaces, help is not necessary because the interface is learnable and usable.
  • The step below this, reality, is one in which help is inline and contextual, available only when and where it is needed, hidden from view at all other times.


A crucial moment: the zero state

  • The first time experience with an interface is crucial, yet often overlooked by designers.
  • …it should provide direction and guidance for getting up to speed.
  • Much of the friction of interaction is in that initial context…once people understand the rules they have a much higher likelihood of success.


Great design is invisible

  • A curious property of great design is that it usually goes unnoticed by the people who use it.
  • If the design is successful the user can focus on their own goals and not the interface…when they complete their goal they are satisfied and do not need to reflect on the situation.
  • Great designers are content with a well-used design…and know that happy users are often silent.


Build on other design disciplines

  • Visual and graphic design, typography, copywriting, information architecture and visualization…all of these disciplines are part of interface design.
  • Do not get into turf wars or look down on other disciplines: grab from them the aspects that help you do your work and push on.


Interfaces exist to be used

  • As in most design disciplines, interface design is successful when people are using what you’ve designed.
  • Interface design can be as much about creating an environment for use as it is creating an artifact worth using.
  • It is not enough for an interface to satisfy the ego of its designer: it must be used!


I’ve grabbed these facts from this great article.

Principles of User Interface Design

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