7 Interface Design Rules You Shouldn't Break

Roman Belotserkovets, Design Team Leader
25 Nov, 5 min read

There are certain rules in life that cannot be broken. In the same way, user interface design also has rules to live by. These are repeatable, time-tested patterns that help users navigate the interface. A well-designed interface always follows the principles outlined below. A poorly designed interface is likely to be missing one or more principles.

1) The system should always inform users of what is happening through appropriate and timely feedback.

It is very important to provide users with relevant information, clues and context so that they know their location in the system. This allows the user to feel in control and be aware of the next stages. It is important to ensure that users have answers to essential questions such as: Was the product added to the cart? Was the edit saved? How long will this process take? What is the status of my order? What is happening now?

2) The system should speak the language of users by using familiar words, phrases and concepts, not system terms. Logic al and clear rules are very important.

Don't overcomplicate the wording. The meaning of the word or icon on the screen should be clear to your target audience. People come to your site or application with formed mental models and experience that allows them to interpret the patterns.

One of the greatest advances in technology came with the advent of the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Before the GUI, the computer screen was limited to incomprehensible text commands that you had to remember and repeat whenever you wanted to perform an action. Then everything changed. The screen displayed small images of folders and files and a hand cursor. These were all visual symbols that people instantly understood. They don't need to be explained because they refer to mental models of the real world.

3) Users should not wonder if different words, situations or actions mean the same thing.

There are two types of sequencing: internal and external. Internal consistency refers to patterns on your site or app. It can be as simple as links of the same color across all pages, or one icon for one concept. Extraneousconsistency refers to conventions used in other programs and systems used by most people. For example, a shopping cart. Most people are familiar with how a shopping cart works, there is no need to reinvent the wheel;maintain consistency and avoid unnecessary confusion for users.

4) Rather than good error reporting, rely on a well - thought-out design that prevents the problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate the error-prone conditions or test them and provide users with confirmation of the action.

With critical system operations, such as, deleting files or sending mail to 1,000 recipients, make sure users are aware they are doing something important. Before taking an action, show them a confirmation dialog or provide additional information that clearly identifies what will happen. This will prevent them from moving on if they are unsure of their actions, and more importantly, prevent mistakes.

5) Accelerators that are invisible to a novice user can often speed up the interaction for the experienced user, so the system can serve both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to customize frequent actions.

When an application or system repeats certain tasks over and over again, you can make the experience more effective for users. For example, using a swipe in the mobile app to save or remove items from a list. The usual way to remove an item is to open it and then click the remove button. The advanced method is to simply swipe and instantly remove an item from the list.

6) Minimalist design and aesthetics. Dialog boxes should not contain irrelevant or rarely used information. Each additional piece of information in the dialog box competes with the relevant pieces of information and reduces their relative visibility.

When designing for art, it doesn't matter if we go baroque and fill the screen with artifacts, textures and images. But when designing interactions, we strive to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio. This makes the interface more user-friendly. You can apply this principle by simply minimizing the content displayed on the screen, be it images or text, so that the user can focus on the task at hand without distraction.

7) Help users recognize, diagnose and fix errors.

There will be errors. It's unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the UI designer to determine what happens after the user encounters an error. In this way, we can help users by designing clear error and warning pages that provide solutions to the problem. For example, let's look at a widespread 404 page. As designers, we know what a 404 page means, but usually users don't. To help them, we must translate the 404 code into plain language by adding text explaining the situation.