5 Simple UX Principles to Guide your Product Design

Clark Wimberly

Few things in life are constant: death, taxes, and strangers asking “So what do you do?” within a minute of a handshake.

As a UX designer, I’ve had a lot of practice over the years trying to nail down my answer.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

It’s my job to be inside a user’s brain. I need to look at design from the mindspace of a user (actually, lots of users) and squash potential problems or confusion.

This never-ending process requires keeping UX present before, during, and after the build is complete. It’s always a challenge to act with the user in mind—influences like due dates and bottom lines sometimes cloud the way.

To help keep your product design on the right path, I’ve assembled a list of five UX principles I use to guide my design process. Understanding how and why to make UX decisions goes a long way in explaining things to others on the team, which goes an even longer way in getting said UX decisions into the final product.

1. Digestibility


Good design is easy to digest: the brain shouldn’t have to expend a ton of energy to figure out what the heck it’s looking at. With any luck, people will just “get it” without needing a six-section explanation.

This goes beyond clear, easy-to-read copy. People sometimes need guidance to make decisions, so a menu with a list of 12 inline items may seem daunting. Organizing with some hierarchy (size, color, icons) can help highlight the more common choices, which allows someone to find what they’re looking for faster.

Another good example of digestible design is the new-user guide, often presented as staggered tips that a person can process one at a time. But imagine the opposite—hitting a brand-new user with a whole stack of instructions, removed from the context of the product. No one likes a confusing surprise.

Consider all the decisions you’re asking someone to make with your product to get to the bottom of the funnel. The brain has a limited amount of cognitive resources during the day, so using them up needlessly is rude.

2. Clarity


Good design is honest. Aside from understanding the words in your value prop, you need the user to understand the actual value. Being coy or unclear about your product isn’t going to win any fans.

Related to value, pricing is an area where clarity is everything. Users aren’t going to click “Buy now” if they can’t figure out what you’re asking them to pay. While shady “free trials” that switch to auto-billing might be the norm, I doubt they’re winning any popularity contests.

This may sound cheesy, but a good plan is to simply follow the Golden Rule. Explain things like you’d want them explained to you. Make things as clear as you can. You know what you’d expect out of the products you choose to use, so don’t you dare build something less.

3. Trust


Good design is easy to trust. Before asking someone to complete an action, make every effort to help them understand why the task is needed. Being honest and clear in explanations builds trust at each step, leading to increasingly easier conversions down the funnel.

Consider Uber (and Lyft, depending on which way you swing). They’ve made catching a ride so easy that a 100-year-old industry is now in chaos. The app saves your payment info, which you might not feel comfortable exchanging with a stranger, and facilitates a trustworthy, painless transaction.

Removing doubt will create a growingly invisible experience. As decisions require less and less resources, using the product becomes easier and more enjoyable.

4. Familiarity


Ground-breaking design is awesome, but design that converts is better. New frameworks and flashy plugins might look nice on Dribbble, but if no one is clicking the “buy” buttons, you’ve got a problem.

Platform guidelines exist for a reason. While it might seem that making your product look exactly the same from platform to platform is the main goal, be careful to pay respect to the sticky details of each OS. Using familiar patterns, icons, and presentational styles is a great way to look native, even if you’re not.

Testing your solutions on actual devices goes a long way to ensuring things feel at home in each environment, which is where a tool like InVision shines. Pretending to be a user is easier when you’re not also having to pretend to use a device.

5. Delight


It’s been said that an idea isn’t enough anymore—that execution is what wins the war. Ironically, the more the team executes, the less the user has to. The more simplicity you can bring to a complex problem, the more delighted the user will be with your solution.

The ultimate delight is when someone forgets your product is a “product”—where it’s so useful that it doesn’t even read as a product anymore, just simply as some useful thing in a person’s life.

Take the User’s Side

Building thoughtful products with clear intentions shows that you care, makes choices more comfortable, and leads to a better overall experience. And that’s important, because it’s been found that 68% of users giving up did so because they think you don’t care about them (which we know isn’t true!).

It’s easy to judge the user experience of your own product as long as you’re honest with yourself. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes, considering each action in your product from the brainspace of a tired, weary person. Would you click Next?