16 Core UX Principles That Will Have Your Users Smiling

All designers should place the user experience at the center of their design work. If people have a difficult time using a product (website or app), they’re going to take their business somewhere else.

UX design is about making sure there’s a match between the website or app’s use and the user’s needs. 

We write a lot about design trends, UX/UI, and more on this blog, but we’ve never explored the underlying principles of UX design before. This blog will provide a foundation for UX designers to fall back on when they need to ensure a match between user needs and a website’s use. 

All of these principles should inform every step of the UX design process. 

Design, whether for user experience or user interfaces, is always changing. When you align those changes with these 16 core principles, you’ll never fail to make users smile at your design. 

Number 1: Focus on the User

This one should be obvious: the user needs to be at the center of your design choices. Often, designers allow their personal preferences to creep into their design work. 

Perhaps your favorite color is blue, so you have a tendency to use the color frequently in your design work. However, every color has a meaning. Other than blueberries, there aren’t any naturally occurring blue foods. So using a blue color scheme for a restaurant’s website or a food app could make potential customers choose a different website.

Or maybe you’re a really fast reader and you pack a carousel with dense text. The average adult reading speed is 200 to 300 words per minute. If you design based on your personal characteristics, you’ll turn off the people you’re trying to reach.

You can read more about the ideas of user-centered design here. https://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/human-centered-design/

Number 2: Be Consistent

A good UX is hidden from the user. When you create a consistent design feeling across all user interactions — which includes all of the elements on a website or app but also can extend beyond that to the landing pages, emails, and other materials used to move people to your website or app — the design recedes into the background and the user can simply enjoy the product. 

When inconsistencies creep in — different fonts, a slightly off-color, a completely different button style, etc. — it takes the user out of enjoying the experience; almost like discovering a fly in your soup. Consistency builds trust, helps the user navigate your site when they return, and helps people remember who you are. The most effective way to ensure consistency throughout your UX design is to create a design system

Number 3: Easy to Digest

You wouldn’t pick up an entire pizza to take a bite, you cut a pizza into slices so it’s easier to eat.

Long forms and dense blocks of text are daunting to people. When you need to convey a lot of information or gather a large number of demographic information, break it down into easy to read chunks.

Number 4: Don’t Make Users Think

The average attention span of people on the Internet is short. In 2015, Microsoft released research that claimed the attention span of people had dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. This led to numerous articles about people having a shorter attention span than goldfish. While in reality, attention is fluid, it is true that you have only seconds to grab someone’s attention online. 

Don’t make them think.

As Steve Krug pointed out in his book, “Don’t Make Me Think, “As a user, I should never have to devote a millisecond of thought to whether things are clickable — or not.” 

As this applies to UX design, every action that you want someone to take must be clear and explicit. Hyperlinks are usually bold and blue (or underlined and in italics) because that’s what people expect to see. 

A second example, buttons are ubiquitous online, yet how many are vague or sloppy? Make buttons look like buttons people are used too. Save your design experimentation for something else.

Number 5: Points, Lines, and Planes – Understand Visual Grammar

Everything visually created, from user interface elements to the arrangements of the elements on a screen, is composed of three core elements: points, lines, and planes.

These elements are combined to create, well, everything you see on a page — online or not. They are the building blocks of all design, as first defined by the Bauhaus school in the early 1900s. 

When you understand how to effectively use the three elements of visual grammar, you’ll begin to see how to focus on restraint in your UX design. As you remove complexity, you’ll create user experiences that are easy to navigate and understand, which means happier users. 

Number 6: Identify the Problem First

Don’t waste time trying to fix what you “think” is the problem. 

Do the research. Precisely identify the problem your UX design is intended to solve. Keep asking “why” until you have the real answer, not the surface reason. 

Number 7: Simple Language Is Best

Jargon confuses people and excludes anyone unfamiliar with a particular industry or group. Simplicity in writing is a key piece of successful UX design. Use simple words. Place them perfectly. 

Using fancy words obfuscates meaning; use “hide” instead. 

A good rule of thumb is to write to a 6th grade level for Web copy. Resist the urge to use complex words to appear serious. The goal is to communicate. Use simple, clear words that help you do so. 

Number 8: Have Empathy for Your Audience

Put yourself in your intended users’ shoes — walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak. One of the underlying principles of UX design basics is the concept of human-centered design. At the heart of human-centered design is having empathy for your audience. This is a step beyond understanding. 

Understanding is about knowledge; knowing the facts about the persona you are creating a UX design for, for example. Empathy focuses on feeling what your persona feels. Understanding is knowing that the mile you walked in your users’ shoes and the shoes were Nikes. Empathy is knowing that the shoes made their feet hurt.

Number 9: Provide Feedback

Let the user know how they’re doing. For instance, progress bars on a quiz or a questionnaire let the user know how they’re progressing. Or a check mark after pushing a “submit” button. These let the user know they successfully completed an action. 

When there’s an error, make the error message easy to understand and easy to see. Feedback needs to be clear and positive. Feedback messages should also remain on brand and not added in at the last moment and be disconnected from the rest of the design.

Number 10: Don’t Forget the Business

Most UX design work isn’t done in a vacuum. While the user must be at the center of your design, you need to stay in business too. Your design needs to make sense for your business as well. Work on creating a balance that creates a streamlined UX while meeting those goals. This, of course, means having well-defined business goals, but that’s a wee bit beyond the scope of this blog post! 

Number 13: Accessibility

UX designers need to create a design usable by as many people as possible. This includes making it as easy to use as possible (such as adhering to the guidelines mentioned already). 

It also means designing for those with disabilities. For instance, placing labels above a form field allows a screen reader to read those labels for the visually impaired. Doing so also has the benefit of telling users what to put in the field. High contrast between text and background also enhances readability.

Number 14: Give the User Control

People will always make mistakes. Give them a chance to correct their errors. Much like the “undo” button on word processing programs, providing an easy “back” button to the previous page or a “cancel” button before completing a task gives users a way out of an accidental or undesired action (or because they changed their mind).

Number 15: Technology Handoff

The perfect design isn’t perfect if it can’t be supported by existing technology. When considering UX design principles and creating your UX design, you must keep in mind what is technically possible.

As UX designers, we’ve all experienced the frustration of having our UX design change when handed to the programmers. 

One of the benefits of a platform like UXPin is that as you create your design, you are also generating code for programmers to use as they turn design to reality. There’s better fidelity between the UX design creation and implementation. Experience the UXPin difference, sign up for a free trial today. 

Number 16 — Reevaluate and Revise

We mentioned in the beginning that design is always evolving. Once you launch your app or website, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done and enjoy being “done” for a day or two. 

But the work of UX design is never “finished.” You need to evaluate reality versus expectations. Are people using the design as intended? Do you notice any flaws or gaps in what you wanted to have happen versus what is happening. For instance, using heat maps is a great way to judge how people are interacting with the design. 

Even if you create the perfect design that people love and use as intended, you’ll still need to revise at some point in the future to take advantage of better UX design ideas, new tools, etc. 

A UX designer’s work is never done.

Keeping all 16 of these core UX design principles in mind as you create user experiences will help provide a great experience for your audience. Of course, UX design is always changing and evolving, and this is a high-level overview of these core UX principles. 

Applying these UX design principles is easier when you don’t have to think about the platform you’re using. With UXPin, you can create your design, create design libraries, gather feedback, hand it off to programmers, and much more from within a single platform. If that sounds like UX design help you could use, sign up for a free, no obligation trial now

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