5 User Interface Design Principles to Live and Die

Modernly, it can be difficult to get a handle on what the most important user interface design principles really are. There are so many different kinds of devices commonly used, there are so many varieties of software, and so many different navigation models that have become popular, that it’s easy to get lost in it all. Of course, despite the plethora of platforms and design schemes out there, there are in fact some serious user interface design principles that they all adhere to. So, while it may be hard to determine what approach will work best overall, you can rest assured that there are some definite constants that you can focus on above all else. Not only is this a peace of mind, but it’s important to make sure you live and die by these principles, because otherwise, you’ll be left with a bad design that will probably result in utter failure of your software once it goes public. This happens to great ideas all the time, so if you don’t want to be another one of those statistics, pay very close attention to this. #1 – Avoid Custom Controls Ok, a lot of professional software and web designs have actually gotten away with custom controls, but it’s a bad idea to do this. Whatever system you’re developing for, use standard controls that respond quickly, and are readily recognized by the users the moment they lay their eyes on them. While custom controls aren’t the end of the world, it’s important to avoid this nonsense. #2 – Active Feedback It’s easy for people to think a program has frozen simply because it’s taking a minute to perform a task. Adding something lively to indicate activity (the wait cursor does not count) is a good way to keep users aware that the program has not frozen. This is a good idea for web designs too. #3 – Scalability Remember, even if you’re targeting a mobile or tablet device, it’s still a very good idea to make your interface scalable for multiple dimensions and amounts of screen real estate. It’s a difficult thing to accomplish, but it really helps. I’ve seen so many apps for tablets and mobile have problems going to smaller screens or trying to stretch to fit rotated devices. #4 – Keyboard Shortcuts Count People who are adept at your design will grow fond of using keyboard shortcuts to make their lives faster. They don’t want to click a bunch of buttons and have to mess about with that point and click nonsense. So, the trend of abandoning keyboard shortcuts (yes, even for mobile) is actually a bad idea. Bring these back, people will thank you – they do honestly use them. #5 – Consistency Consistency is the other big thing to live and die by. Maintain the same dimensions of controls, the same layouts of forms, and be consistent with wording in labels. Also, keep tab ordering (focus shift by pressing the tab key) consistent as possible from one form to the next as well. Also, be consistent with color schemes and fonts as well. So, you may still have the dilemma of choice for navigation model and aesthetic you wish to go with, no matter the platform you’re targeting. But, if you follow these important user interface design principles, then you’re off to a great start, and you’re far more likely to succeed.
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com