Monday, October 17, 2011

3 Interface Design Principles

Photo credit: ronnieb from

I have a non-designer friend who decided to save money by hiring a cheap web designer. This designer promised to do her website for $300. And this web designer plans to save money by using a cool template. Since my friend just wants a cheap website — and I'm not cheap — that is easy to update, perhaps that's all she needs. But, I fear she might get a site that doesn't work well for her business. Now, I've found that when designing any interface, whether a website or application, there are at least 3 principles that can make or break its effectiveness.
  1. Avoid novel approaches. An interface is like a map. When a person first comes to website, they are in unfamiliar territory. They need directions. A well-placed menu, familiar icons, and predictable actions go a long way in familiarizing the audience quickly. Frankly, the main point of user-interface (UI) design is to help an audience get to what they want and experience what they expect to experience without much barriers. The design should almost be invisible for site visitors. However, introducing novel approaches can create unintended barriers, even if they are cool. I always try to remember that expectations are dependent on the audience and the purpose of the website.

  2. Keep it simple. While complexity slows comprehension, simplicity increases clarity. Unless the website calls for complexity, I've found it to be best to avoid it. The audience needs to get the message, not fiddle with the site. Get the message across. Help the audience navigate the site and get what they want. And give them a reason to come back. Don't frustrate them.

  3. Design toward the main audience and purpose. If a website is for a cause, then the website should speak to folks who would resonate with that cause. Don't waste time designing a site that doesn't communicate its purpose or to its audience. And what are the viewers suppose to do? Sign up for something, tell their friends, engage, or be entertained? Make the website do whatever it's suppose to do immediately. Don't get bogged down in designing something cool, without achieving the main goal and speaking to the main audience.
I try to always remember these principles when I design an interface. They drive the discussions I have with clients before I even begin work. If we don't know where we are going, how do we know when we get there? And following, how do we know we have an interface that is effective?


  1. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Yikes, you know for $300 that designer isn't going to sit down with your friend and talk through all of those things. Concept, audience and purpose are so key yet can be neglected very easily.

  2. You got it right! You know what's happening here. My friend just wants something done, so she won't have to think about it. She's even paying this designer to upkeep the site. She just wants something quick and cheap. I suppose that's okay. It's not my money. But, you are right! That designer has no interest in concept, audience, purpose, or message.


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