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Patrick Morrow · Jun 6, 2016

Guidelines for designing interfaces

“The task of the designer is to give access to the subtle and the difficult.” — Edward Tufte

As simple as possible, but no simpler.

Understand project requirements and create designs that meet them. Then remove parts of your design until it no longer works as intended. The goal is to identify the last step before that point of failure — that is where your design is as simple as possible.

Remember on-boarding and empty states.

Empty states are a great opportunity to educate and guide your users. On-boarding states for new users should convey purpose and provide instructions about what to do next. Empty fields can contain hint text indicating purpose.

Describe intent and guide the user.

Show how using your interface affects other parts of the user’s workflow. Provide feedback and status messaging where necessary and provide quick access to help at the points that it’s needed.

Make it intuitive and effortless.

The appearance and layout of your design must imply its behavior and purpose. Help your users effortlessly perform tasks and strive to design intuitive solutions that meet their needs.

Natural, concise and supportive language.

Be specific — ‘Cancel’ is not the same as ‘Close.’ Be clear by using words that describe an interaction’s exact purpose. Use as few words as possible, and avoid jargon and abbreviations.

Reduce visual clutter.

The simplicity of an interface’s visual design should balance the complexity of its content and functionality. The best design is invisible and allows users to engage directly with it in an intuitive way.

Delight must have purpose.

Overuse of unnecessary elements and patterns like animation, icons, and color can be a distraction and will cause friction. Use these elements sparingly, and only for emphasis or to focus attention.

Respect and be honest with the user.

Make your design’s intended use as clear as possible, while also explaining any obstacles and gaps that may exist. Use design to build authenticity and you will build trust with your users. Be aware that people will use your interface in unexpected and unintended ways.

Objectively validate your design.

Assess your work often and thoroughly to make sure it matches your user’s requirements. Explore multiple design solutions, then identify and pursue the ones that are the most successful. If possible verify your assumptions with user research during and after the design process. Always remember the fundamental purpose of your interface, and make sure your design supports that purpose.