Despite what some might believe, good design isn’t merely visual design, usability testing, or common sense.
In reality, accessibility best practices, behavioural psychology, language and tone, interaction patterns, information architecture, colour theory, and more, are all critical parts of what makes up a great user experience.
This isn’t just the responsibility of experts in these fields, however. User experience is everyone’s job, from development to support, and their ability to empathetically put themselves in the shoes of users, and take on the responsibility of shouldering the burden of complexity — instead of passing it on — is of paramount importance.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs
The real MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
If a product is merely functional, it’s unlikely that it’s truly viable. A real minimum viable product understands that for a product to be adopted and embraced, it requires much more than to simply work.
A real MVP creates feedback loops early, which redefines what your next steps should be as not all features or ideas turn out to be good ones. It doesn’t matter how good you are at building software if you’re building in the wrong direction.
With the above in mind, it’s also important to maintain a culture of being data-informed, but not necessarily data-dictated. If you A/B test the two worst options, your best possible outcome is only the second worst one. Data gathered is only done so based on current strategies and product realities — not possibilities — and can be interpreted with bias. Data alone does not create great products.
6 principles for more human design
1. Pursue simplicity
Visually complex interfaces are rated less beautiful than simpler ones, which add additional work for the brain to decode, store and make sense of.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
2. Always consider visual hierarchies
It’s not enough to merely have great content — you need eyes to be drawn to what’s important, and create consistency in these treatments. Humans are pattern recognition machines, so pay attention to everything from weighting which enables quick scanning, to commonality in the placement of navigation elements.
3. Carefully craft affordances
Follow what works for your users, not trends. It is never a good idea to ignore the usability benefits of certain treatments for certain user demographics. Sometimes what looks better doesn’t work better.
4. Use appropriate typography
Using a font perceived as something comical probably isn’t the right fit when documenting one of the greatest discoveries in modern science. Typeface characteristics not only affect aesthetic appeal, comprehension, but credibility as well. In fact, given the same statement in Comic Sans versus Baskerville, the one in Baskerville is more likely to be believed.
5. Talk like a real person
“PC LOAD LETTER”. HP’s infamously thoughtless language frustrated users around the world, and cost the company tens of millions in unnecessary support time. “What am I supposed to load into my PC, exactly?” Of course, in America, A4 paper is called letter, and the eventual realisation is that you need to re-fill the paper tray. Design is in the details, and every detail matters — overlook them at the peril of user satisfaction and profitability.
6. Don’t make people think
Don’t insist on requesting information (such as personal details) before demonstrating value. Don’t expect recall (such as where content is) when you can design for recognition. Don’t ask questions (such as location) when you can make intelligent initial assumptions. Don’t make the user trawl through options (such as to hide or show a pane), when you can remember their decisions contextually from the place where it exists.
Most importantly, acknowledge that being “intuitive” isn’t always possible. Intuition can only exist if a user has had prior experinces that resemble yours. The first mouse to be manufactured en masse for consumers was not intuitive, but learning how to use it was fast. Sometimes the greatest ideas cannot relate to prior experiences, so strive to be quickly learnable, not “intuitive”.
UX design is not voodoo
“Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.” — Edward Tuft
A note worth closing on is that good design is largely pragmatic, not magic. Above all else, good design is achieved as a result of conscious, collective decisions to avoid personal bias, avoid anecdotes, and together employ a genuine care for how people will react to the choices we make for them.
Jamie Skella is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Horizon State, a startup helping governments build community empowerment.
This blog post was originally published on Horizon State’s Medium, and has been republished with edits.