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The Four Core Principles of UX Design

Tuesday 24 February 2015, by Lewis Swift

The Four Core Principles of UX Design


What is User Experience (UX) Design, and why is it important?

The term 'user experience' (or UX) refers to the experience people have with a product. The product could be a real-life object, like a microwave or a printer, or it could be a website or app.

No matter what the product is, it will be sold in a marketplace crowded with competitors and alternatives. And the best way for a product to stand out is for it to provide users with an amazing experience.

Providing an enjoyable experience for those who use a product can result in the makers of that product achieving huge success. We can easily highlight Apple as a company who have focused on user experience in order to beat their competition and become enormously popular. (Read more about their user experience principles for apps here.)

Apple makes great user experience central to their product design process

It's important to note that 'good design' and 'good user experience' are not necessarily the same thing, although they should go hand-in-hand. A product can be beautiful to look at while still being difficult to use. UX needs to be considered alongside visual design.

Good user experience means credibility and trust in the eyes of the people who use the product, app or website. This means strong positive brand signals, and even better SEO (for websites) because users engage with the site and then return to engage again. Search engines pay attention to this kind of activity.

How can a great user experience be created?

The answer to this question varies depending on the product. But there is one thing any company or individual who is making a product can do: they can develop a set of UX guidelines based on core user experience principles.

As the User Experience Coach Whitney Hess says, user experience principles are "a philosophy about how to treat people".

Choosing a set of user experience principles helps anyone developing a product to focus on what is really important. This means they can say 'no' to most ideas and keep the product, website or app streamlined and uncluttered.

Core Principle of UX Design No. 1: Make a Good First Impression

First impressions matter. Everything we build has one chance to make a great first impression on a person who uses it, so we have to make it count.

Here, we need to consider the 'information scent' that our product provides—do users know where they are and what to do first? Nobody likes feeling lost so we need to give users plenty of signposts and cues.

Whether you've build a website, an app or a real-life device like a phone, your users will have a reason for using it. It's essential to make sure they can achieve their goal as quickly and easily as possible.

It's also very important to set expectations correctly during this first impression. You need to make clear what's possible with your product (and what's not). This will help to avoid feelings of confusion and disappointment in your users.

On a website, this might mean letting users know that there are other pages for other purposes, and making it easy for them to reach them. They'll then have a clear idea of where to start.

All puzzles should be avoided during your users' first moments with your product. Making users work hard to understand what they should do next will make them unhappy.

Providing users with context that tells them something about how and why this product exists can help them understand what steps they should take, too. Any new concepts that they are unlikely to have encountered before should be highlighted and explained.

Examples of Bad First Impressions

Examples of Good First Impressions

Core Principle of UX Design No. 2: Don't Get in the Way

It's important to stay out of you user's way when they are trying to interact with your website or app. Let them do what they have arrived at the page to do and don't interrupt them. Show only the information that is truly necessary for the task they are trying to accomplish.

Hide unnecessary information behind optional on-hover or on-click panels that users can refer to only if they need to. And if there are any steps that your website or app could complete for the user (for example, detecting their location to fill in part of their address in a checkout form), then make sure it does so.

Limit distractions for your users. It's well-known that we don't do well with too much choice. Competing instructions or suggestions will result in confusion and overwhelm which will drive users away.

Similarly, we are not very good at multitasking. So let your users focus on one thing at a time. Make sure you know the most efficient path through your website or app for the goal that your users have, and optimise your site or app to encourage users along that path.

Making it easy for users to scan a page will improve their experience with your website, so implement a helpful information hierarchy (most important information at the top) and think carefully about typography.

Examples of Getting in the Way

Examples of Not Getting in the Way

Core Principle of UX Design No. 3: Create an Escape Route

It's impossible to design a website or app in which no user will ever make a mistake. So it's important that we allow users to move backwards in order to undo mistakes without any other negative repercussions.

All actions should be reversible. For example, a blog platform should allow users to retrieve posts from the 'trash', in case something important is moved there by accident.

Users may also wish to pause a process and return to it later. They should be able to leave their computer to deal with an interruption without having to worry that their work so far will be lost.

You should never leave a user at a 'dead-end' in your site or app, where their next step is unclear and they have to figure out what to do next. Often, when faced with this scenario, users will leave and not return.

Examples without Escape Routes

Examples with Escape Routes

Core Principle of UX Design No. 4: Provide Feedback

An unresponsive website or app is jarring for users, especially if initial cues suggest something should happen when the they take an action. They will often assume that the entire site may be broken.

Giving users feedback on their actions is therefore vital. If they have entered some information correctly, they should see a positive result (even if it's just a green outline or a small check-mark). And if they have entered something incorrectly, a brief but clear message should be shown explaining how to fix it.

If users are filling out a long form or otherwise journeying through several screens on your website or app, they should also be shown feedback on their progress. Knowing that you are on the final step can be very encouraging.

Examples of Not Providing Feedback

Examples of Providing Feedback

You can choose and customise your own core user experience principles when building a website, app or other product. They will vary depending on the purpose of the product you are creating.

Be sure to refer to your core UX principles during all of the development, testing and optimisation stages that you go through. They should be applied:

  • when planning & researching
  • when reviewing progress
  • when making decisions about what direction to take
  • when setting up testing & preparing for launch
  • when reviewing analytics data
  • when planning & implementing improvements

Your core user experience principles will, if implemented at every stage, underpin your product and and help it to succeed.

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