Ten Dictums of User Experience Design

Once upon a time, while strolling through the Japanese Gardens in Portland, Oregon, I made a wonderful discovery. And all of a sudden around a bend in the path I discovered the lost “Ten Dictums of User Experience Design.” After a painstaking translation process, I can share this discovery with you.

I. Remember that she is the user, and thou art not

In my opinion, the most important UX dictum is that when you are creating or building some digital (or physical) product, always keep in mind that YOU are not the user. The moment you make something, you know how it’s supposed to work and you can no longer understand it from the perspective of someone who is new to your creation. Personas and user testing help us understand that WE are not the user. Think about her like you do the people in your life with whom you have relationships. You know the concept of the emotional bank account? Keep that in mind as you think about the user.

II. Thou shalt understand that thy view is not her view

I shudder when I see graphic artists designing websites on 27-inch Apple Cinema Displays. How many people look at the finished product that way? Those designers are the “one percent!” We need to stop staring at our 27-inch Apple Cinema displays and look at our mom’s Windows laptop or take out our smartphones and tablets and look at how others are viewing our work.

III. Less shall be more

In the words of Henry David Thoreau: “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the words of Luke Sullivan: “why not just say ‘simplify’”? That goes to a very important rule of thumb that I like to use: avoid the temptation to ADD things like explanatory text to fix usability issues. Instead ask if there’s something that can be removed to simplify the UI, and what can be done to make it more intuitive?

IV. Thou shalt seek, but not covet novelty

Creativity, yes! Innovation, yes! But the best creativity solves problems rather then creating them. Novelty can be ok, but NOT in the UI or any aspect of your digital product that could frustrate a user. This is a withdrawal from her UX “emotional bank account.”

V. Thy guiding light shall be intuitiveness

You want users to engage the automatic part of their brains, not the part that requires thinking. Every time she has to think instead of being able to act intuitively, it’s a withdrawal from her UX emotional bank account. After too many withdrawals she just leaves you for another guy. Having to think even for a split second can be enough to make a withdrawal. Here’s a rule of thumb: 3 mindless clicks = 1 click that requires thought.

VI. You shall provide affordance, mapping, feedback, a good conceptual model and forcing functions

A well-designed user interface provides…affordances (tells the user how to grasp, tap, pull, hold or generally manipulate the design); mapping (tells the user what will happen if an action is taken); feedback on the user’s action (usually in less than a second); a good conceptual model (gives the user some sort of sense for how to operate the overall device); forcing functions (features that prevent a user from making an error).

VII. Remember thou that thy home page is not the front door to thy website, rather Google is thy front door

When she starts in the middle of your website (because that’s where she lands when she comes from Google), is she lost in a maze or can she quickly get oriented and find her way around? Imagine being dropped in the middle of a large department store, not knowing which way to the check-out or the exit. What would help you best find your way? Likewise, how do users navigate or get home when then enter in an internal page of a site? (Not all users know to click the logo to go home.)

VIII. Accessibility shall not be seen as an albatross around thy neck

54 million adults in the U.S. have some form of disability. Those people represent $200 billion in buying power. 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. 20% of the U.S. population will be over 65 in 2030, experiencing some level of impairment. Making digital (and physical) products usable for people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do, it make business sense. People with disabilities are the largest minority market in the U.S.

IX. Thou shalt prototype, test, iterate and retest, until all is well

The mantra is “test early and often!” Build mockups – from the simplest sketch to the most elaborate interactive prototype – and test them with users, either informally and formally. Change things based on what you learn, test again, and repeat this cycle over and over until you finally are ready to build. This process is an investment that pays countless dividends in preventing problems and saving time and money later in the development or manufacturing process.

X. If the user is befuddled, it is thou who art at fault, not she

In our vanity we like to think that if someone is having a hard time figuring our how to use our stuff, it’s “user error” that’s at fault. As creators and builders of digital (or physical) innovations, we need to abolish this thinking and instead ask ourselves what we can do to make our products easy and intuitive for anyone to use.

Does UXD kill creativity?

I’m a strong believer that “Functional + Innovative = Genius.” Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most innovative people of the 20th century, said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” UX best practices enhance creativity rather then limiting it. What’s more, it just makes good business sense to be sure your digital (or physical) products provide people with positive experiences.

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