Mark Thomas Miller

On user experience design

When I design, I often recite ideas about how an interface should work. Some of these have stuck with me, so I decided to write them out.

Balance

For any design, there is a yin and a yang, a balance of light and dark. Adding content dilutes other content. Adding options decreases the probability of users reaching other options.

Designers dance with their end users. Ideally, a designer gives a user the exact amount of information they need to make a decision. Then, they provide the means to make that decision. Any more or less, and the interaction risks failure. The designer’s task is to find this balance.

Truth

Strip your projects to their simplest truths. Reason upwards from there. The simplest truth will usually be, “A person will use this to accomplish ___”.  Then, you can think about how the person can accomplish something in the least amount of steps.

Aside: Beginner designers think in terms of information. They have content or features, and they need to put them onto a page in a visually pleasing way. That comes first; the user’s ability to interact with the structure comes second. Experienced designers work in the opposite direction.

Power

Your users can only choose between the options you give them. You must find a balance between features and usability that fits their profile.

If you need a simple interface to handle a lot of information, leverage technology to handle as much of their work as possible. I haven’t found any situation where simplicity wasn’t the ideal choice.

Ego

A great designer understands that their projects are not made to showcase their design prowess. How often have you wasted hours trying to make something look pretty without making it functional first?

Flow

Great designers understand that end users should either (1) explore or (2) be directed. Sites like Facebook, Smart Passive Income, and Tumblr are made for exploration. In contrast, directive interfaces like an email subscription box, menu editing interface, or Tweet composer are made to direct users to take a specific action as seamlessly as possible.

Aside: Many small businesses use explorative interfaces when they should be using directive. Explorative only works if you have the content to back it up.

Humanity

You are creating simple, organized experiences for complex, messy humans.

You’re not designing for “users” – instead, you’re designing for Deborah, your next door neighbor with a son in the military and a love for crossword puzzles. If you remember to make every option for Deborah, you’ll stop creating uninviting error messages, complex layouts, and allowing yourself to add vanity options that “might be nice” but Deborah will never need.

Mind

Understand the conversation inside of your user’s head. Present them with appropriate options at the right time. How and when do they want to see information?

If you visit a blog for the first time and a “Subscribe!” popup immediately appears, you’ll close the popup (or the site) in seconds. If the “Subscribe!” popup appears after you enjoy some of the content, you’ll be more inclined to take action.

Aside: Google now hates intrusive popups. It might be time to switch popup plugins to something more beautiful.

Feedback

When designers get rid of their ego, they can discard stubbornness and correct themselves after being critiqued. Nothing is ever right, and nothing is ever perfect, but feedback will increase your chances of making something good.

Be harsh, rational, and truthful with yourself when it comes to the way your designs work. Give yourself feedback and accept it from others. It can only make you better.

Nature

A skilled pianist’s timing will be off by milliseconds; each of their notes will have a different volume. The speed of the song will swell at some parts and drop at others. A virtual composition program, on the other hand, will have level timing, volume, and rhythm throughout the piece. Why is it more inviting to listen to the pianist than the computer program?

Because sometimes, what’s seemingly imperfection is actually what people want.

Make your interfaces feel warm and inviting instead of rigid and perfect. Look at Google’s material design where every animation feels natural, is filled with energy, and provides you with immediate, aware feedback.

Put simply, give humans interfaces built for humans.