Design Principles

User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

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What are Design Principles?

Design principles are sets of generally applicable laws, guidelines, human biases, and design considerations, all of which reflect the accumulated knowledge and experience of practitioners and researchers. They serve as a starting point for the creation of new designs to solve problems. Design principles usually combine developments across all design-related disciplines, including behavioral science, sociology, physics, and ergonomics.

According to William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler, authors of the book Universal Principles of Design, design principles are aimed at helping designers find ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, teach users, and make sound design decisions during projects. The careful selection and application of appropriate principles should increase the probability that a design will be successful. Although these principles have general applicability, the choice of which to apply to a project is usually left to the designer’s critical ability. Additionally, the way in which the designer can apply each principle also heavily depends on his or her ability to rationalize, understand, and contextualize the problems he or she has been called upon to solve. Therefore, successfully applying such principles takes a keen eye and skill at making judgment calls on users’ perceptions and likely actions—attributes of a designer that tend to improve with experience in the field.

To help designers gain inspiration for implementing a particular principle, “guidelines” (i.e., practical information on how to implement a principle) come into play. A design guideline (e.g., “text should be easy to read”) sits between a principle in design (e.g., “an interface should be easy to use”) and a standard or rule for implementing it (e.g., “background: white; font-color: black; font-size: 20px”). A design principle thus reflects a philosophy or aim of design, whereas a guideline is intended to help designers understand how to implement a principle.

Literature on Design Principles

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

Learn more about Design Principles

Take a deep dive into Design Principles with our course Psychology of Interaction Design: The Ultimate Guide.

“It can be helpful to understand and even experience the part of the elephant that others are experiencing.”1 Whatever your “elephant” may be, a deep understanding of human psychology is essential for all designers when creating a user-centered product with great user experience.

While many individual differences will never cease to exist between users, we are united by our shared psychology; the constraints and abilities of the human mind are much the same for all of us. Developing an understanding of these cognitive limitations and capabilities is the key to interaction design and a great user experience. Without an awareness of how we interact with things in the real and virtual worlds, you’ll find that your designs will fall short of their potential.

This course will equip you with the knowledge to relate to your users psychologically, thus allowing you to create stand-out products. Through learning about different aspects of human cognition—and how they relate to interaction design—you will find yourself much better equipped to put yourself in your users’ shoes, shifting their thoughts to the forefront and keeping a firm hold of them there when designing your next creation.

All literature

The Principles of Service Design Thinking - Building Better Services

The Principles of Service Design Thinking - Building Better Services

Service design is all about taking a service and making it meet the user’s and customer’s needs for that service. It can be used to improve an existing service or to create a new service from scratch. In order to adapt to service design, a UX designer will need to understand the basic principles of service design thinking and be able to focus on...

  • 371 shares
  • 1 month ago
Principle of Consistency and Standards in User Interface Design

Principle of Consistency and Standards in User Interface Design

Learn to design with consistency and standards in mind and understand the reasons why they’re important to incorporate them into your work. Derived from Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich’s Ten User Interface (UI) Guidelines, ‘Consistency and Standards’ are evident in many of the widely-used products created by some of the most successful companies. ...

  • 342 shares
  • 1 month ago
Hick’s Law: Making the choice easier for users

Hick’s Law: Making the choice easier for users

Now let’s see a topic about keeping our users’ lives easy. “Isn’t that the theme of most articles here?” you may ask. Well, this one is especially geared towards users. Understanding Hick’s law means you can design so that more users will visit and stay on your website. Delivering a good user experience requires that first you find out the func...

  • 292 shares
  • 5 months ago
KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) - A Design Principle

KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) - A Design Principle

It was Albert Einstein who said; “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough.” Though it is often mis-reported as being; “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it well enough.” What Einstein was driving at was a particular application of “keep it simple, stupid”. From scientific concepts to products t...

  • 235 shares
  • 2 weeks ago
Contextual Design

Ch 8: Contextual Design

Contextual Design is a structured, well-defined user-centered design process that provides methods to collect data about users in the field, interpret and consolidate that data in a structured way, use the data to create and prototype product and service concepts, and iteratively test and refine those concepts with users. This is ...

Book chapter
Visual Aesthetics

Ch 19: Visual Aesthetics

Visual aesthetics, as discussed in this chapter, refers to the beauty or the pleasing appearance of things. We discuss the importance of visual aesthetics in the context of interactive systems and products, present how it has been studied in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and suggest directions for future work in this field. 19...

Book chapter
Activity Theory

Ch 16: Activity Theory

Foreword: Why activity theory? This chapter is about a theory that was developed decades ago. Some of the basic ideas of the theory were formulated before the word "computer" was ever invented. Then why does the Encyclopaedia of Human-Computer Interaction feature a chapter on the theory? In other words, Why activity theory? The question...

Book chapter
The Building Blocks of Visual Design

The Building Blocks of Visual Design

Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent. To create the aesthetic style of a website or app, we work with fundamental elements of visual design, arranging them according to principles of design. These elements and principles together form the building blocks of visual design, and a firm understand...

  • 221 shares
  • 2 weeks ago
15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

We’ve found that a lot of first time UX researchers have similar questions and concerns when they start working in UX design. So, we thought we’d round up and tackle some of the most common questions to form a set of useful principles for UX researchers. Of course, this isn’t a complete guide to UX research (there are some fairly weighty tomes o...

  • 230 shares
  • 10 months ago
Symmetry vs. Asymmetry - Recalling basic design principles

Symmetry vs. Asymmetry - Recalling basic design principles

Now we’re going to look at two powerful design principles that may, at first glance, seem too simple and second nature to us to warrant too much thought. However, we would be wise not to underestimate their capabilities and the benefits of their effects. Always keeping a firm appreciation for symmetry and asymmetry close to mind can equip you to...

  • 433 shares
  • 9 months ago
Design checklists: What type of designer are you?

Design checklists: What type of designer are you?

What type of designer are you? Do you have a set of principles, checklists, or methods that guide your designs? Or do you prefer to start from scratch and analyze afterwards with a checklist? If you feel more comfortable looking forward, looking backwards– or if you’re a perfectionist who likes to do both – then this article will be useful to yo...

  • 282 shares
  • 6 months ago
Responsive Design – Let the Device Do the Work

Responsive Design – Let the Device Do the Work

There may be some argument over whether responsive or adaptive designs are better, but in many cases responsive design is going to be chosen for budgetary purposes (at least today). That means designers need to become familiar with the concepts and some basic guidelines for their responsive designs. Before delving into this article, you might w...

  • 381 shares
  • 11 months ago
Visual Hierarchy: Organizing content to follow natural eye movement patterns

Visual Hierarchy: Organizing content to follow natural eye movement patterns

Let’s look at a topic that deals with, oddly enough, how we look at designs. Once you understand how the human eye processes these, you’ll find yourself better able to arrange your elements more effectively. Content in any digital page layout will follow a specific hierarchy. Headers appear above body text. Menus go at the top, bottom, left, or...

  • 420 shares
  • 1 month ago
Service Design - Design is Not Just for Products

Service Design - Design is Not Just for Products

Service design is concerned with the design of services and making them better suit the needs of the service’s users and customers. It examines all activities, infrastructure, communication, people, and material components involved in the service to improve both quality of service and interactions between the provider of the service and its cust...

  • 410 shares
  • 1 year ago
Industrial Design

Ch 6: Industrial Design

In loving memory of Prof. Dr. Kees OverbeekeJuly 18th, 1952 - October 8th, 2011 Kees left us unexpectedly on October 8th 2011, after a lifetime of dedication and warmth towards all the people who surrounded him. He was a passionate man. Kees was inspired, inspiring, engaging, dedicated, provocative and direct. He did not like easy and he was...

Book chapter
An Introduction to Usability

An Introduction to Usability

Usability and user experience (UX) are not the same thing: the usability of a product is a crucial part that shapes its UX, and hence falls under the umbrella of UX. While many might think that usability is solely about the “ease of use” of a product, it actually involves a great deal more than that. So, let’s find out more about usability here ...

  • 114 shares
  • 3 weeks ago
Philosophy of Interaction

Ch 11: Philosophy of Interaction

Over the last two decades, interaction design has emerged as a design discipline alongside traditional design disciplines such as graphics design and furniture design. While it is almost tautological that furniture designers design furniture, it is less obvious what the end product of interaction design is. Löwgren's answer is "in...

Book chapter
Tactile Interaction

Ch 20: Tactile Interaction

The following chapter describes a variety of ways in which Tactile Interaction may be used to enhance the human computer interface, i.e. the design of interactive products. Opening with a general discussion on a broad range of potential applications for Tactile Interaction, the chapter quickly moves onto to consider the key physical, perceptual ...

Book chapter
The Seven Simple Principles of Conversion Centred Design (CCD) and How to Use Them

The Seven Simple Principles of Conversion Centred Design (CCD) and How to Use Them

Oli Gardner – the Creative Director of Unbounce (a landing page builder for marketers), is an advocate of CCD. He says that deploying CCD makes each page you create on a website a piece of “accountable content”. In that you can measure the impact, purpose and success of each page as that page plays a part in converting visitors into customers.De...

  • 543 shares
  • 5 months ago
The Pareto Principle and Your User Experience Work

The Pareto Principle and Your User Experience Work

There are two things that are always in short supply on any project; time and money. The Pareto Principle can, in the long-term, help you save both. It can also help you make intelligent decisions based on your user research. Our story begins with a Management Consultant Joseph M Juran back in the 1940s. He noticed that there is a general rule ...

  • 293 shares
  • 4 weeks ago