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The top 10 principles of UI design: a rundown

UI Design

When it comes to UI (user interface) design, either its good and contributes to the success of a website or any application, or its troublesome and all over the place, which means the concept will go down the drain sooner or later. There is no in-between for UI design, and that is what user interface design principles are all about: introducing a user to an interface that makes it easier for them to navigate around and understand everything with ease, without resorting to overly complicated design cues. So, here is a rundown of the top 10 principles of UI design, explained in detail to help drive home the points. 

But before we get into the UI design principles, let us first tackle some basic questions like what is a user interface, what constitutes good user interface, and then we’ll take a look at the 10 user interface design principles that will ensure a smooth, rewarding experience every time. 

What is a user interface?

A user interface or UI is simply a point of contact between a human bring (user) and a computer. Any communication that is done with the computer is processed through a user interface, and ease-of-use is prioritized for UI design to ensure that users feel comfortable interacting with a computer. 

With the prevalence of mobile applications and websites and both pulling in millions of visitors and users, UI has expanded to both web and applications, however, the core tenet stays the same: user accessibility and ease-of-use. 

What is included in a complete UI design package?

A good and complete user interface design package will include the following four things,

  • Navigation elements: Elements that help the user work their way around a website, application, or computer, like slide bars and back arrows. 
  • Input elements: Elements that are used to provide the user with the ability to input controls or data, like checkboxes and text fields. 
  • Information elements: Elements designed to convey specific information to the user, like progress bars.
  • Containment elements: These elements segmentize and compartmentalize otherwise extensive information. This makes the resource accessible, convenient, and easy to interact with.

What are the top 10 user interface design principles?

Here is a rundown of the top ten user interface design principles that will ensure an excellent experience for the user; whether its for a website, application or a computer, these principles are tried, tested and are universal to good UI design. 

Hierarchy

Hierarchy is considered central to good UI design, and user interface should always be organized hierarchically, in order to classify and segmentize information in an orderly manner. Which screen should go first, and how should the rest of them follow? What information do you need to give first, and which parts of the application can come after that. All of this will be governed by a hierarchy; while the particulars hierarchy aren’t universal in this case, information generally starts from introductory and progresses onto details and more technical information follows. That is the general rule of hierarchy, and it should be followed to a T for good user interface design that rings well with the user. 

System status visibility

Another really important design principle for UI is system status visibility. What it means is, essentially, showing what is going on. The screen or user interface should adequately display what processes are undergoing right now, and this will help keep the user informed of these processes in real time. A good example of system status visibility would be progress bars that show up when you are downloading a file; they keep you informed of even the slightest of changes, and inculcating this in your UI design will leave users with a good impression of the resource they are using and will give them the information they need to stick around and use more of it.  

Accessibility

A UI design principle that works in tandem with the hierarchy of the resource. You see, you do have a hierarchy, but the entire resource needs to be accessible to the user. Hiding it behind a window might clear up the page, but that does not mean that the information on that particular page needs to be hidden away from the user. Accessibility in this case would mean placing elements that make the entirety of the resource accessible, and that too in an easy manner. It also means catering to some of the differently abled users who might be using that resource; a great example of it would be Trello’s colorblind-friendly mode, which swaps out colors for titles or shapes. Brilliant piece of UI design. 

Minimalistic design

In the modern era, minimalistic is the design aesthetic and cue that is really in vogue right now. Flashy, overloaded signage and elements are out of fashion right now, since this isn’t a world where people wear monocles anymore. Your user interface design should reflect this stage of design evolution; modern, minimalistic design. Interaction design principles dictate that a resource be as simple to interact with as possible, and that is exactly what makes minimalistic design a cornerstone of modern UI principles. Keep your design simple and your users will appreciate the ease with which they will be able to understand and navigate around your resource. 

Consistency in design

If you have a minimalistic design, stick with it throughout your resource. Sporting a chic design on one page and then switching to Comic Sans font on the next one is not going to sit well with your users, unless they have a really good sense of humour. Design consistency is the one thing that needs to be followed without any failing; your design language is tied to your brand, business or product, and confusion in design language consistency will ultimately result in confusion over your brand or your product. You don’t want that to happen, and neither do the principles of UI design allow that. Keep your design language same across the board and ensure a consistency in style for the user interface. Not only will it look clean, it will be better able to fulfill its purpose.

Mobile-centric design

Since we’re talking about design and how the evolution of user trends have influenced user interface design, lets not forget: 86 per cent of the population of the world uses smartphones and a good majority of all transactions are carried out through them. Which means, that a good portion or the entirety of your users will be visiting your website or accessing your resource using a smartphone. Imagine their frustration when your resource isn’t optimized for smartphones, and they get a UI that is all jumbled up and all over the place. This will pretty much kill whatever you are trying to achieve with it, so take it on good authority: include a mobile-centric design in your user interface to cater to a significant chunk of your potential users.

Recognition over recall

Its all about making the experience a psychologically relaxing one for your users; and this is reflected in this new mantra of ‘recognition over recall’, especially when it comes to user interface design principles. You see, it is easier to recognize than to recall; whether its in the real world or in the world of UI design. Using elements that bear a faint similarity to what your design language already uses over introducing newer elements that force a link between itself and your overall resource will allow users to recognize and interact better with your resource, rather than forcing them to recall something. The human attention has shrunk enough already, and frankly, most of us do not have a memory that is very conducive with recalling stuff. 

Recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Errors in your application, website or resource are common and an eventuality, which means that sooner or later, it will happen. Good UI design principles dictate that you have what is called a ‘RDR’ on hand for this: recognize, diagnose, and recover. This means that not only should your UI allow the user to recognize and diagnose the error that might have befallen them during their use, but the ‘recovery’ part should also be part of the UI, prominently mentioned, to ensure that the user promptly gets back to what they were doing. Windows does it on their word processor with the AutoRecovery option, and so should you. Because it is an integral part of modern user interface design principles. 

User control, freedom

The obvious principle. Allowing more control and freedom for the user to interact with the resource. A narrowed, restrictive website that has half the pages under maintenance with the other half requiring Captcha tests will turn away a user in a heartbeat, and you wont ever hear back from them again. Inculcating this tip in your UI design will create an interface which is not only controlled by the user themselves, but also accords them greater usability in interacting with the resource at their ease. Great UI design principle that is almost central to the knowledge of user interface. 

Usability testing (feedback implementation)

Once you’re done with your UI design exercise, you can rest easy, knowing the job is done, right? Wrong. Yes, you can rest easy, but be prepared for feedback. For UI, feedback has two stages; first is the usability testing, where the UI is put to use in the hands of a user in a controlled environment (during in-house testing, for example). Once your UI has cleared that, the next and frankly the more daunting task will be releasing it in the wild and then implementing whatever feedback you get into improving the user interface. The more user feedback is implemented, the smoother and better the interface will be, which in turn, will continue to attract users.

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