8 rules supporting a successful UI design

I might be telling you what you already know,like it’s not only about what you think you know, but what you do – for some reason there sometimes appears to be a gap between these two: knowing and doing. For me this is a way of reflecting the way I currently work and for you it may be a chance to compare. Maybe even comment on how you approach the matter? I’d appreciate it, even if it’s ridiculously negative. ;)

1. Request all available material!

Nothing is more disappointing than working on a user interface design just to discover that your favorite color scheme or icon language that you developed for a fair amount of time collides with that fancy game scenery. This may be very obvious, but I have seen people work on designs without taking a look around them.
Apart from that, if you can get your hands on wireframes or schematics created by – or in corporation with – game designers AND user experience designers, you’re up for a grand slam. Usually these schematics or wireframes already ran through endless steps of refinement and passed a bunch of decision makers to work very well as orientation for your design work. You can simply concentrate on what a interface designer does best, designing an interface.

2. Keep it simple!

From own experience – or should I say inexperience – I know that a designer sometimes gets overwhelmed by countless features of a software package, by empty space or just by him/herself and eventually gets lost in detail…and especially time. And since time will usually be a crucial factor in any production, this may cause problems one can’t even foresee.
I would recommend starting out very roughly, across the whole spectrum and gradually adding detail to the design.
But truth be told, although I know this is best for me, I usually start out totally exceeding the necessary, loosing myself in countless “awesome” ideas. I rage and rampage over a design for a couple hours, love myself for such great ideas, get even further into details and start arranging individual pixels. Totally exhausted from such an outburst of creativity I turn away and do something else. When I return I move that piece straight to the folder “personal design library” for later reference and start out fresh – but this time I try to stick to bare and simple. I have done pretty much everything before and now I will automatically keep it clean and simple, at least because I don’t want to repeat myself.

3. Create extremes!

If you are working in large teams or even just between a couple people, it’s sometimes interesting what kind of paths designs take. I am not sure if I put this right, but a path can either be a circle turning round and round returning where you started, it costs a lot of time, or – which is of course a bit more desired – move forward along a relatively straight path towards a goal. For decision makers to make decisions, it’s always helpful from my experience to give them something to decide upon.
Two variations minimum helps everyone to say what direction a design should take. Sometimes it’s easier to find out what you want by ruling out what you don’t want – thus I recommend at least 2 extreme contrasting designs, if you have plenty of time even more. The one that meets the taste and requirements most is a perfect starting point for refinement. Once a decision has been made, and it’s important to stress that decision, and have people sign up on it, now we have a direction to move along. Even if this will still be modified along the way, nothing is more frustrating than working for weeks on one design that in the last instance gets ripped to pieces, leaving you with nothing, because just one in the line of participants feels that it went the wrong way or is missing an important aspect.

4. Use real content!

Many steps in creating and designing a solid piece of UI requires the participating people to be on the same page and understand each other. As a person with a fairly developed imagination it is absolutely no biggi for me to imagine stuff that I can’t see with my eyes. Thats probably the reason why I am working in a highly imaginative industry. But what I realised over the last couple of years was that people are all the same but very much different. Imagination may be a quality asset of a designer, but I doubt that a tax consultant would mention this as a selling point for his/her service.
Long story short, adding all available real content to your design instead of placeholders can enhance the acceptance of your design considerably.
Once a team member from the management profession was confused by the weird Latin copytext I used in my design, asking if we will actually go live with it.
This efford of collecting the available resources may cost some additional time but will in the long run save more. It may even result in your design being perfectly prepared for actual content.

5. Get feedback!

There are different people around us and I will divide them into 3 categories (…but only for the point I am trying to make!) You will meet the ones that have no own opinion and feel they need to tell you what you want to hear. There are also people that feel quite the opposite, that is, they always have to criticise because they either feel constantly bad, or believe it’s expected of them. My favorite category is the professionals that view their own work critically, but – because of a healthy self evaluation – don’t feel perfect, yet professional enough to stand strong for their commentary.
Actually there is another category, and my most favorite combination of feedback comes from the latter In addition to a perfectly average person, absolutely unrelated to my job or the media I am working for, like a close friend of mine.
I believe I have a perfect example. That is, the wonderful controversial font comic sans! At this point, if you are a designer yourself reading this, you’re immediately overwhelmed by disgust, while if you’re a perfectly average person and I would show you a nice word written in that font, you would feel noting but joy. Got it?

6. Accept feedback!

Every seasoned designer probably remembers a time when “feedback” was taken personally as a stab to the heart, a blow to the face or like someone trying to hit on your girlfriend. Good that this is over and we all learned a way of utilizing positive AND negative feedback to reach an even more complete design, didn’t we? We did, right?
I am sure though that some people are so talented that they almost always hit bulls eye! But there it is, the important word: “almost”. In my experience as a designer in general the magnitude of “almost” turned out to be between “never” and “98% perfect”.
Maybe its also a question of character, but my -almost- most important hint is accepting every feedback you can get and try to extract something that helps you to make your design even better – because that is what happens. It – and eventually you – will gain from this.

7. Make it easy to reproduce!

At a later stage, if you work with other team members, it will cost a lot more time and especially nerves if the design requires absolute equal artistic style or at least skills to add or change content. But also if you yourself will be responsible for enhancing, modifying and adding content to the interface and it’s subparts, you are going to be thankful if the design is utilising the full potential of for example Photoshop’s path editing tools and effect layers. Keeping the sources non destructive and scalable will speed up production pipelines, even if it may take longer for you to get into it for the first time.
From my own experience you will meet more and more people who are more than happy to work with you and that usually has major influence on the overall quality of the product you are working on, not mentioning the overall joy of collaborating.

8. Clean your sources!

Last but not least I have to repeat what has been said many times before by most likely millions of designers all over this small planet. Passing on a file to another teammate or other workgroup with around 500 layers lacking proper naming, 200 of them being absolutely redundant and scattered randomly over hundreds of folders, is simply a crime that should be prosecuted in a court of law, and penalised with a lifelong donut prohibition.

The title of this post was originally supposed to be something about 10 aspects, I wanted to call “hints”. Yet I decided to leave it at 8 and call them “rules”. No need to force anything, 8 rules is just fine for now. :)

One Comment Add yours

  1. Oliver says:

    Yes, I wanted to be first…and test the comment function!

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