Architecture & DesignThe 8 Principles of Great User Interface Design

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By Rafi Sweary

Have you created an application, marketed it, and been disappointed by the market response? Even an infinite investment of time or money spent on marketing won’t overcome an unsightly, confusing, or unfriendly user interface. Your user interface can make or break your application; it’s what separates the Apples of the world from other companies that try to imitate them. Not everyone can be an Apple, but you can still aspire to have the most user friendly, attractive, eye-catching and simple interface out there. Here’s the low down on the best practices to follow to make your user interface as amazing as your application.

1) Understand Your User

If you want the chance to win users over, then you need to get into your users’ skin: live like your user, think like your user and use like your user. Start with ‘Who is my user?’ Think, ‘What do they need?’ Then work forward from there. The interface is doomed from conception if this vital rule is overlooked. Don’t focus your energies on trying to create the coolest, most eye-popping or intricate designs; instead focus on achieving your users’ goals. Make sure you identify your users, and then start thinking like them.

2) Less is More

Simplicity is the key when designing a user interface. Before adding ‘bling bling’ to your user interface ask yourself ‘Is this completely vital?’ Or ‘Does this actually add anything to the interface?’ The best user interface designs are the simplest. I often say to myself when designing a user interface, ‘Is this something my grandmother would be able to use?’ If you use your grandmother or father as your test case, as a general rule you can’t go wrong.   

3) Use Color Wisely

Color is an obvious way to draw attention to particular elements, especially those that are designed to be a ‘call to action.’ Red is a good example of such a color; red is the color of action, red demands attention, a la ‘download now’, ‘play now’, or ‘click here.’ Conversely, however, make sure you don’t overuse red since it’s also closely associated with danger! Warmer tones possess a natural brightness, which attract the eye. Blues generally conjure feelings of safety and wellbeing, increasing the chance of your user feeling at ease or relaxed within the interface.

4) Be Consistent

Consistency is vital, since it makes your users feel safe. Consistency is required in everything from fonts and layouts to language and themes. They need to feel that once they master something, they will be able to repeat the process many times over, and that they won’t have to adapt to an interface that keeps changing the rules.

5) Assist First Time Users

Instead of leaving your first time users to the mercy of “how-to” video tapes or sending them to the help desk they seldom call, add some “on demand” instructions that can guide them. This acts like a GPS or a tour guide, that escorts users through your app’s key features, or helps them complete tasks. These non-intrusive tools like “walkthroughs” from WalkMe can increase your users’ satisfaction while keeping your website clean from cumbersome explanations.

6) Acknowledge Your User’s Achievements

As soon as your user has mastered your interface make sure you tell them, reward them and acknowledge what they’ve accomplished. Don’t break down complex tasks anymore; migrate your user relatively quickly to using keyboard shortcuts and getting used to using more intricate aspects of your interface.

7) Test and Iterate

While alienating your users with a continually changing UI is never advisable, it is just as bad to keep things the same for five years and let your competitors overtake you. Everyone can get attached to a particular design on a website, but things need to be tweaked, updated and polished every now and then. As you make changes, be sure to test users’ response, since you don’t want to make a change that actually detracts from your application’s usability.

8) Don’t Give Up

UI Design is part art, part science. With all these variables, you will face challenges when designing the ultimate User Interface and just because you stumble at the first, second, third and maybe even fourth hurdle, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep on going with the project. Rome wasn’t built in a day and generally speaking, your UI won’t be, either.

Your User Interface isn’t something you’re likely to get 100% the first time around and if you do, make sure you send us the formula! Don’t be disheartened if your first attempt isn’t the user friendly, aesthetically pleasing, eye catching interface you hoped it would be. Incorporate these principles as you improve your UI, and your app will be on the path to success.

About the writer:

Rafi Sweary is the Co-Founder and President of WalkMe, the only step-by-step website and web app guidance system.  Rafi was previously the co-founder and CEO of Jetro Platforms, a global provider of software delivery systems, which was acquired by the RDT group. For additional information on WalkMe, visit

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