Design Guidelines

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What are Design Guidelines?

Design guidelines are sets of recommendations on how to apply design principles to provide a positive user experience. Designers use such guidelines to judge how to adopt principles such as intuitiveness, learnability, efficiency and consistency so they can create compelling designs and meet and exceed user needs.

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Find out how design guidelines help us craft successful designs, and how to adapt them to suit the content in creative ways.

Design Guidelines – An Essential Bridge between Principle and Judgment

Over many years, cognitive psychologists provided the foundations of many design guidelines through findings from their studies. Still other design guidelines exist thanks simply to common sense. For example, users can tell when a webpage looks too busy the moment they see it. So, designers should also be able to tell, and understand why. Design guidelines fall into several groups, including these:

  1. Style – e.g., brand logos, colors

  2. Layout – e.g., grid or list structure

  3. User interface (UI) components – e.g., menus, buttons

  4. Text – e.g., font, tone, labels/fields

  5. Accessibility – e.g., Aria markup for disabled users

  6. Design Patterns – e.g., forms

Design guidelines are rules of thumb for you to create work which never frustrates users. Likewise, you should also cater to users who have a wide range of disabilities. How you apply design guidelines also depends on the contexts of use, your design’s platform and the type of interaction users will have with it (e.g., voice-controlled).

Industry pioneers such as Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen identified areas which designers and developers should consider to design products that offer the best user experience. Here’s an example of how a designer might realize one of Jakob Nielsen’s ten design principles.

Design principle: Provide plain-language error messages to pinpoint problems and likely solutions.

Design Guideline: Write large-lettered, jargon-free text in web-safe font. Use short sentences and draw users’ attention to causes and remedies.

Design rule: Use 20-pt, black Georgia on lavender background (#e6e6fa Hex). Put instructions in bold.

Note the differences. The principles represent general points of direction. The guidelines reveal how to approach these. The rules are direct instructions. So, the designer approaches the design principles and then uses design guidelines to determine the design rules. Designers often apply design guidelines subjectively when they design products. One designer might interpret a guideline differently from another.

At the Interaction Design Foundation, we follow the design principle that we use recognition rather than recall. So, we have a design guideline to always show you where you are inside a course -so you don’t have to remember.

Design Guidelines + Careful Discretion = Successful Design

It’s vital to give users what’s most fit for purpose. Brands have various guidelines for designers to tailor dashboards to minimize cognitive load and maximize readability. Microsoft, Apple and Google are examples of companies that have exemplary standards (e.g., Google’s Material Design) for use in customization. Designers also have to accommodate users’ cultural considerations (e.g., color use and text direction). Moreover, when you design for mobile devices, you have to balance between brand consistency and maximal use of limited screen space. That’s why designers often use pictures or icons to represent information on mobile designs.

Author/Copyright holder: 200 Degrees. Copyright terms and licence: CCO.

Google’s Material Design is a good example of company specific design guidelines that relates both to branding and user experience.

In all cases, it’s best to apply design guidelines with care, where you balance user data and insights with brand directives to create designs that users find intuitive and pleasurable.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

― Pablo Picasso

Learn More about Design Guidelines

Gain a practical grasp of design guidelines with this Interaction Design Foundation course.

Find Jakob Nielsen’s design guidelines for homepage usability here.

See Amazon’s design guidelines for IAP.

You can find various brand guidelines here.

Questions related to Design Guidelines

What is the rule of layout?

The rule of layout is a set of principles that guide the arrangement of visual elements in a design. These principles help designers create works that are visually appealing and easy to understand. There are several rules of layout, but some of the most common ones include:

  1. The grid: Grids give order to graphic design. They speed up the design process by helping designers decide where content should be placed rather than where it could be placed.

  2. Emphasis and scale: The eye generally needs a place to rest or something of interest to hold it. Otherwise, people will look at your design and quickly move on. You want to use scale and emphasis to communicate to the viewer.

  3. Balance: Balance refers to the distribution of visual weight in a design. A well-balanced design feels stable and harmonious.

  4. Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds divides an image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and then places the most critical elements of the image along those lines or at their intersections.

  5. Rule of odds: The rule of odds suggests that an odd number of elements in a design is more visually appealing than an even number of elements.

  6. These rules are not hard and fast, but they can be helpful starting points for designers looking to create effective layouts.

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Watch this video to learn more about the layout methods in detail.

What is the difference between design principles and guidelines?

Design principles provide general direction, while guidelines offer specific recommendations for implementing those principles. For instance, a principle may focus on legibility and readability. However, a guideline would specify using large, jargon-free text with short sentences and drawing attention to causes and solutions for effective communication. Combining these elements ensures that design decisions align with overall principles while offering actionable steps for implementation, fostering a cohesive and practical design approach. Principles serve as the guiding philosophy, outlining broad objectives, while guidelines provide a practical roadmap for achieving those objectives. The relationship between these elements is pivotal for every designer to understand and implement them.

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Refer to this video to understand more about design principles.

Where to learn more about good design?

In online education, there are many ways to educate yourself about design. You can explore courses like IxDFs' visual design course to learn more about good design. Witness the designs in action and delve into code-level examples. Additionally, broaden your knowledge by reading firsthand accounts from seasoned designers. This will help gain insights into how they apply and leverage good design principles in their projects. Engage with design communities and forums, where discussions and shared experiences contribute to a rich learning environment. Staying updated on industry trends through design blogs and podcasts and attending design conferences further fuels your understanding of good design. This will foster a continuous learning journey in the dynamic and evolving field of UX design.

Where to learn more about design guidelines?

You can enhance your understanding of design guidelines with courses from the Interaction Design Foundation. Explore design guidelines from industry experts like Don Norman and more on multiple topics. Discover various brand guidelines to deepen your knowledge and apply these principles effectively in your designs. Continuous interaction with online design communities, participating in design challenges, and seeking mentorship from experienced designers further enrich your understanding of design guidelines. This will also provide practical insights and networking opportunities. A culmination of the above will contribute to your growth as a skilled and informed designer. One of the popular courses offered by IxDF is UI Design Patterns for Successful Software. Besides these courses, you can also check Amazon's guidelines on UX design and a big repository of user interface platform guidelines.

What are the 7 rules of UX design?

1. Visibility: The design should make it easy to see possible actions and how to perform them.

2. Feedback: The design should provide feedback to the user about what actions have been performed, what results have been accomplished, and what state the system is in.

3. Constraints: The design should use constraints to prevent users from taking actions that are not allowed or that would lead to errors.

4. Mapping: The design should use natural mappings between the controls and their actions, the system state, and the user's expectations.

5. Consistency: The design should be consistent with user expectations and other products in the same category.

6. Affordance: The design should clarify possible actions and how to perform them.

7. Simplicity: The design should be simple and easy to understand, with unnecessary complexity removed.

(From Don Norman's Design of Everyday Things)

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Watch this video to learn more about UX design.

What is the format of a design statement?

A design statement is a comprehensive guide for crafting consistent, user-focused, visually appealing designs. It typically outlines design principles, associated guidelines, and rules for implementation. This structure of design rationale provides a framework for designers to curate products that align with user needs and aesthetic considerations. In UX, you need to understand the UX problem statement before working on the design statement. Incorporating case studies and user feedback into design statements enhances their effectiveness. The design statement also provides a robust framework for designers to articulate the intent and impact of their designs. Incorporating the design statement will include mapping out the users' pain points, highlighting the design's core issues, and suggesting probable solutions. This gives designers a basis to work and formulate their UX design.

How do you document design guidelines?

Design guidelines are documented by outlining principles, providing specific guidelines for their application, and detailing rules for implementation. This comprehensive documentation ensures that designers share a common understanding. This process also promotes consistency in design decisions, fostering team communication and collaboration. In addition to documentation, collaborative tools and real-world examples can also be used. This further enriches the understanding of design guidelines, providing practical insights for designers. These insights can then be effectively applied to their projects to deliver excellent, coherent, human-centric designs. Every budding designer is encouraged to adapt to the process of documenting design guidelines. This ensures a structure in their design process and will help highlight anomalies.

What are the key usability principles?

1. Simplicity: The design should be simple and intuitive.

2. Efficiency: After learning the design, users should be able to perform tasks quickly.

3. Satisfaction: The design should be pleasant, satisfying to use and meet users' expectations

4. Learnability: It should be easy for new users to navigate and use the interface.

5. Memorability: The design should be easy to remember, helping users to perform tasks with ease when they return.

6. Error Prevention: The design should prevent errors, and when they occur, provide clear ways to correct them.

7. Flexibility: The design needs to accommodate different user skills and preferences.

8. Visibility: The design should ensure all relevant options and functionality are easily accessible.

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To understand the three crucial issues of usability, review this video.

What are examples of design criteria?

The key criteria or principles in interaction design include:

1. Goal-driven Design: Designing interfaces that help users achieve their goals efficiently and effectively.

2. Usability: The interface should be easy to use, understand, and learn.

3. Affordances & Signifiers: Affordances are the potential actions the user can take, and signifiers indicate where those actions should occur.

4. Learnability: Users should be able to quickly and intuitively learn how to use the interface.

5. Feedback & Response Time: The design should provide feedback so users know if an action was successful, and response time should be quick.

6. Consistency: Components and operations should be consistent to help users understand and learn the interface.

7. Errors: The design should anticipate potential errors, prevent them, and provide helpful guidance when mistakes occur.

8. Accessibility: The design should be usable by people of all abilities in different contexts.

Remember, good interaction design isn't just about creating a usable interface; it's about creating a user experience that is pleasant, efficient, and satisfying.

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Literature on Design Guidelines

Here’s the entire UX literature on Design Guidelines by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Design Guidelines

Take a deep dive into Design Guidelines with our course UI Design Patterns for Successful Software .

Have you ever found yourself spotting shapes in the clouds? That is because people are hard-wired to recognize patterns, even when there are none. It’s the same reason that we often think we know where to click when first experiencing a website—and get frustrated if things aren’t where we think they should be. Choosing the right user interface design pattern is crucial to taking advantage of this natural pattern-spotting, and this course will teach you how to do just that.

User interface design patterns are the means by which structure and order can gel together to make powerful user experiences. Structure and order are also a user’s best friends, and along with the fact that old habits die hard (especially on the web), it is essential that designers consider user interfaces very carefully before they set the final design in stone. Products should consist of such good interactions that users don’t even notice how they got from point A to point B. Failing to do so can lead to user interfaces that are difficult or confusing to navigate, requiring the user to spend an unreasonable amount of time decoding the display—and just a few seconds too many can be “unreasonable”—rather than fulfilling their original aims and objectives.

While the focus is on the practical application of user interface design patterns, by the end of the course you will also be familiar with current terminology used in the design of user interfaces, and many of the key concepts under discussion. This should help put you ahead of the pack and furnish you with the knowledge necessary to advance beyond your competitors.

So, if you are struggling to decide which user interface design pattern is best, and how you can achieve maximum usability through implementing it, then step no further. This course will equip you with the knowledge necessary to select the most appropriate display methods and solve common design problems affecting existing user interfaces.

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