Principles of good UX Design

There is a lot of material on UX Design. Jakob Nieslen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design are very useful for synthesizing concepts described by many UX experts. The books “Don’t Make Me Think – Revisited” by Steve Krug and “Simple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design” by Giles Colborne talk a lot about those principles (and give in-depth background, detailed descriptions, and very concrete examples). However, the Jakob Nielsen’s principles that were formulated in 1995 still are very handy as a summary of the most important UX design concepts. According to it, a good IT system or a web site should:

  1. always keep users informed about what is going on (ex. progress bar while background process is running)
  2. speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user (ex. electronic brands at the electronic online store)
  3. provide a clear navigation through the site, clearly marked “emergency exit”, undo / redo options (ex. breadcrumbs)
  4. follow platform conventions (ex. a triangle for “play” action)
  5. prevent problems from occurring  (ex. disable not available system options in a particular state)
  6. minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible (ex. shopping basket aggregates all purchased objects)
  7. allow users to perform frequent actions (ex. shortcuts, recently viewed)
  8. not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed (ex. additional links, needless words, etc.)
  9. help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors (ex. useful error messages)
  10. provide help and documentation (ex. FAQ, pop-up help, live chat)

dont make me thinkSteve Krug’s “Don’t make me think – Revisited” covers different aspects of the above guidelines in perspectives important to designers. In addition, below are some observations that caught my attention:

  • We don’t read pages. We scan them. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.
  • “Scent of Information” = users don’t mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they’re on the right track.
  • Nothing beats a good tagline – six to eight words seem to be long enough to convey a full thought, but short enough to absorb easily. It conveys a value proposition. Personable, lively, and sometimes clever.
  • The belief that most Web users are like us is enough to produce gridlock in the average Web design meeting. Attempts to describe users in terms of one-dimensional likes and dislikes are futile and counter productive.
  • Focus groups vs Usability tests: FG = small group of people talking about opinions, past experiences, reactions to new concepts… used for sampling user’s feelings and opinions on things. UT = watching one person at a time try to use system to do typical tasks so you can detect and fix things that confuse or frustrate them.
  • Usability testing is like travel: a broadening experience.
  • Almost everything that’s different when you’re doing mobile testing isn’t about the process; it’s about logistics [really cool tips in the book]


Giles Colborne’s “Simple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design” focuses mainly on simplifying the user experience for the main-stream users. Here are some tips that I found worth remembering:

  • When you’re setting your vision, make sure the main-streamer is at the hear of it: ease of control & reliable results.
  • Avoid speculating about what users might or might not do. Reverse engineer the ideas to figure out what problem the customer was having and think about whether or not it’s something we should try to solve in our software.
  • People who were given a limited choice were more satisfied with their selection than those who’d been given more options.
  • Chunking = breaking items down into groups of seven plus minus two (number of items your brain can hold in short-term memory).
  • Hiding depends on 4 things:
    • hide one-time settings and options
    • hide precision controls
    • offer customization to experts
    • hide completely and reveal just in time
  • The ultimate in simple interfaces are ones that make sense to experts and main-streamers alike (ex. kitchen knife, piano).
  • The secret of creating a simple user experience is to shift complexity into the right place, so that each moment feels simple.
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