Whether you are a rookie or a seasoned UX designer, this article will provide 5 UX design principles for you to follow. After reading, these principles will be engraved into your mind. Brought to you by our UX designers here at WANDR Studio, ranked #1 in product and UX design in LA and SF.
Picture this: Joe is a middle-aged man who works in a managerial position at a finance company. He hears about an incredible online SaaS (Software as a Service) product from his colleagues. According to them, this product is a huge time saver when it comes to communicating, sharing, and organizing confidential documents with other members of the company.
What we know about Joe is that he already uses a few digital products that have similar capabilities, and he is still a fan of having things out on paper. However, Joe does find himself curious about the hype of this SaaS product, so he gives in and signs up for a free 7-day trial of the service.
In the first few hours of exploring the product, Joe is feeling quite overwhelmed and agitated. Although he cannot put the finger on why he feels this way, Joe is frustrated and is starting to question the hype he has heard about the product. Was there something wrong with him, or the product?
All he can think is that this product was supposed to be convenient for him to use, combining the capabilities of the other products he is already using. However, he is finding his initial interaction with the product to be the exact opposite.
What happens next?
In brief, Joe finds the product confusing, unclear, and not user friendly.
Presumably, Joe does not upgrade to the full version of the SaaS product after his free trial is up. In fact, he didn’t even utilize the whole seven days of the trial, as he ended up quickly reverting to his old services, one of which was back to a pen and paper. He justifies his decision since the current methods were “familiar to him” and he “didn’t want to spend time learning this new service.”
Well, because Joe’s interaction and response with the SaaS product are heavily influenced by the implementation, or lack thereof, of sound UX design principles. Sadly, his scenario of a digital product creating stress for the user is far too common.
Here’s the thing: when someone is looking to switch or try a new product, you must keep in mind, for the user (and potential customers, the change can be:
A little anxiety-provoking.
For this article, we are going to keep it general and relate it to Joe’s situation. Keep in mind, more nitty-gritty UX design principles rely on the specific context (i.e., the project, company, and the company’s users and target market), which we get into in Part III of this blog series. Here, we will discuss the general UX Design principles and best practices that are standard across all products.
What are the UX Design Principles?
UX design principles and best practices follow the overarching objective of UX, which is to achieve a positive emotional reaction of users on a product interaction and thereby to create a unique selling proposition (von Saucken et al., 2013). UX best practices must take into account how widely complex, diverse, and subjective people’s needs, perceptions, and resulting emotions really are.
Recall that when Joe initially interacted with the product, he felt frustrated but couldn’t put a finger on why. As designers, it is our duty to create a design with great user experience. And it is not easy.
According to the Laws of UX, productivity skyrockets when a computer and their user interacts at a pace (<400ms) that ensures neither has to wait on the other. Now, if you are anything like me, I cannot stand when things take a long time to load or when my computer takes a long time to, well, do anything.
Doherty’s Threshold, published in the IBM Systems Journal back in 1982 by Walter J. Doherty and Ahrvind J. Thadani encompasses the discovery that the requirement for computer response time was 400 milliseconds, not the 2,000 (2 seconds) which had been the previous standard.
This was not just a discovery that rapid response time is preferred, but that it is required to keep a human being’s attention span and interest piqued. In fact, the applications that executed and returned an answer in under 400 milliseconds were deemed to exceed the Doherty threshold and were thought to be “addicting” to users.
Bringing it Back to Joe
If the product Joe tried did not load or respond to things quickly, this is a strong indicator that Doherty’s Threshold was not being met. This could have dramatically impacted the reason Joe got frustrated and dropped off from buying the full version of the product.
Essentially, this law states that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. In 1952, researchers found that the more stimuli to choose from, the longer it takes the user to make a decision on which one to interact with. Furthermore, users bombarded with choices have to take time to interpret and decide, giving them work they don’t want.
Decision making is hard for humans. In fact, neuroscientists have recently discovered that the portion of our brain where decisions are made, prefrontal cortex, is directly connected to the amygdala, which is the brain’s “fear center.”
Thus, it is extremely important, as UX designers, to remember this often and constantly try to simplify choices for the user by breaking down complex tasks into smaller steps.
Additionally, keep in mind that it is overwhelming for users to see highlighted recommended options. For this reason, it is even more crucial to focus on progressive onboarding to minimize cognitive load for new users.
Bringing it Back to Joe
Joe did not understand why he didn’t like the product his colleagues swore he would think is a lifesaver. “Was it him or was it the product?” he kept wondering. Since he found the product confusing and unclear, there’s a pretty good chance the SaaS product did not abide by Hick’s Law. Typically, not following this law is the top culprit for a product being hard to understand.
Coined by Jakob Nielsen, a User Advocate and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, Jakob’s Law is a very important one to remember as designers, especially for those of us who like to stand out and reinvent the wheel. ;)
This law explains that users spend most of their time on other sites, which means they prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. Users will transfer expectations they have built around one familiar product to another that appears similar.
By leveraging existing mental models, UX designers can create superior user experiences in which the user can focus on their task rather than learning new models. Again, the point of many digital products is to make their users’ lie easier, not more challenging.
Bringing it Back to Joe
Joe was using multiple products before exploring the other option that was the SaaS product with all the hype from his finance colleagues. He ended up reverting back to his other products, as they were both familiar and easier to use.
If the SaaS product he tried would have followed this UX design principle and kept a similar design and usability of the other products it was replacing, it would have been less foreign to Joe and he might have stayed with the product and purchased the full version.
According to the Laws of UX, humans interpret ambiguous and/or complex images as the simplest form possible, as this interpretation requires the least cognitive effort of us. The Law of Prägnanz reminds us the human brain is wired to find simplicity and order in chaotic and complex shapes because it prevents us from becoming overwhelmed with information. In fact, there are studies that show people are better able to visually process and remember simple figures than complex figures.
This law is derived from a finding by psychologist Max Wertheimer in 1910. had an insight when he observed a series of lights flashing on and off at a railroad crossing (similar to how the lights encircling a movie theater marquee flash on and off).
To the observer, it appears as if a single light moves around the marquee, traveling from bulb to bulb, when in reality it’s a series of bulbs turning on and off and the lights are not moving at all. This observation led to a set of descriptive principles about how we visually perceive objects. These principles sit at the heart of nearly everything we do graphically as designers.
Bringing it Back to Joe
Now, of course, we don’t know if the SaaS product Joe tried used complex and/or ambiguous imagery, but, if it did, that is another factor that played into Joe’s confusion and ultimate abandonment of the product.
The Peak-End rule is a newer rule, playing a huge part in user experience. This rule was established after it was found that people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak and at its end, rather than the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.
This means, as designers, we must pay close attention to the most intense points and the final moments (the “end”) of the user journey. Therefore, we should first identify the moments when the product we are designing is most helpful or valuable. Then, design it to make those moments even better. Also, it is vital to remember that people recall negative experiences more vividly than positive ones.
The peak-end rule is based on a 1993 study, where participants were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience. The first trial had subjects submerge a hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds. The second trial had subjects submerge the other hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds, with the addition of keeping their hand submerged for an extra 30 seconds, during which the temperature was raised to 15 °C.
Subjects were then offered the option of which trial to repeat. Surprisingly, more participants were preferred to repeat the second trial, despite prolonged exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. The study concluded with the following line:
“Subjects chose the long trial simply because they liked the memory of it better than the alternative (or disliked it less)”. – Kahneman et al., 1993
Bringing it Back to Joe
I am sure there were a few aspects of the SaaS product Joe was trying out that he enjoyed. However, because the Peak-End rule was not a focus of the designer(s) creating the product, Joe remembers the overall experience of the digital product is negative. Not following this rule is a reason why the digital product Joe was using failed in converting him to a paying customer.
What we learned from Joe’s experience with the SaaS product trial was that it clearly did not follow UX design principles, which is the reason it failed in converting Joe to a customer.
To summarize, here are the 5 UX design principles that could have played a part in making the product more successful:
Doherty’s Threshold → does the product respond quickly and effectively to the customer?
Hick’s Law → doesn’t bombard the user with a lot of options. Make it easier for them to make a decision.
Jakob’s Law → design the product to be like other similar products out there that have a strong customer base. New products are less foreign to people when their design is similar to other products they use.
Law of Prägnanz → simple is better than complex, in all aspects, especially images.
Peak-End Rule → Identify spots where your product is most entertaining or useful and make it better. This is your climax. The peak experience and the end are more memorable than the other details of the experience.
What are a couple of UX design principles you live by?
Ed is the Head of Strategy at WANDR. His favorite part about design is its capacity to improve people's lives by enhancing their interaction with technology.
When he's not thinking about design, he's usually reading or playing guitar.