Do This, Not That. UX Dos and Don’ts if You’re Just Starting Out

There’s this great quote usually attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I’d say that UX design is kind of the same. Seamlessly taking the user from A to B and giving them exactly what they came for is damn hard, and certainly not a skill you can master in an afternoon.

You could, for instance, go to Amazon, search for “UX” and then read the top 10 books there. And while I encourage you to do just that, you probably don’t have the time right now. I understand.

So, just to give you somewhat of an overview, here’s a list of dos and don’ts around the topic of UX design. Check it out if you’re just getting started with UX and want to know what’s up:

1. Do Understand the End User Deeply

This being the first item on the list is not accidental. “The user comes first” is perhaps the most fundamental UX design advice out there. It comes up in pretty much every UX book (not that I read them all), and there’s a very good reason for that.

The user is why you’re building something in the first place. You want to take them from A to B. You want them to be able to achieve something specific via the thing you’re creating. That’s why having a deep understanding of what those users need is key.

Here’s Mark Uraine, designer at Automattic, with his input on the no.1 “do” of UX design:
We’re building things for people. We want their experience to be improved in using whatever we’re building. So the no.1 “do” is getting involved with who you believe might be using whatever you’re building. Understanding what their needs are, what jobs they need to get done, and how is your product serving that. So, first and foremost is understanding the people involved with your product or service.

With that said, the tough part is that you cannot really know what the goals of your users truly are until you actually meet those people. And I don’t just mean imagining them or defining a vague user persona. I mean really finding them, interacting with them, getting input and feedback from them, and then making it the foundation of your work.

2. Do Make it Clear What the No.1 Most Important Thing Is

That thing can be a feature (commonly when dealing with an app), or a piece of content (when dealing with a website), for example. No matter what it is, though, there’s always just one, single most important thing.

If you think you have two, narrow down to one.

While I can surely relate why it’s tempting to try providing a couple, a handful, or even tens of features and remain under the impression that they’re all equally important, this is not a good path to take. For at least a couple of reasons:

  1. Survivorship bias. Defined as, “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not.” For instance, Facebook offers a ton of features, yes, that’s a fact. However, they didn’t start like that. It’s through years of experimentation and thousands upon thousands of improvements and tests that they arrived at what they have today. During that time, users have learned how to use the platform and what it can do. But Facebook is a survivor. There are hundreds of other networks that failed. Don’t try to emulate what Facebook is today. If anything, emulate what they were when the platform started.
  2. Curse of knowledge. Defined as, “a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.” You know everything about the thing you’re building. You’ve already spent more than X hours interacting with it. You know where things are and what they do. Your users, however, don’t. They need a starting point. They need one feature that’s going to convince them that the thing you’re building is indeed worth their time. If they don’t find that one, single feature, they won’t bother checking out what else is available.

3. Do Make Everything Work the Same on All Devices

Building your project for multiple devices can be a challenging thing, and especially if the user goals are slightly different from device to device. However, at the same time, you absolutely need to do whatever you can to keep the experience consistent no matter how your app, tool, or website is accessed.

These days, for instance, it’s very common for users to start their web browsing session on mobile, and then transition over to desktop to finalize “whatever they’re doing.” This is often referred to as “sequential device usage” and it’s a way for the user to take advantage of each device’s strong points.

For example, mobile allows them to check things quickly while on the go. Whereas desktop is better for more in-depth research and possibly completing their purchases more reliably.

What all this means is that people will indeed interact with different tools or websites from multiple devices, no matter if we want them to do it or not. These days, mobile web usage is already higher than desktop, for instance. This is something that cannot be neglected.

4. Do Keep It Simple

This comes back to making it clear what the no.1 most important thing is in your app or website.

Generally speaking, all design is more about how much you can remove from a project and still make it functional, rather than how much you can add to it.

Filling the screen with irrelevant content is never a good decision because it takes people out of the experience and makes the purpose of the thing you’re building obscure and unclear.

I can certainly relate to how tempting it can be to keep adding on top of what you already have just because you can, and especially when you want to impress your client. But that really isn’t the right UX-driven decision to make.

Go the other way around, emphasize the main goal. Make sure that it’s clear. If not, start removing elements to make it so.

5. Don’t Assume You’re the End User

Designing for yourself is a very common UX mistake. After all, it’s your project, you know what it should probably be, you know what you want it to look like, and it was your idea to begin with, right? (Please notice all the “yous” in that sentence.)

But at the end of the day, “you” don’t matter. Who matters is “them” – the end users.

Try putting yourself in the user’s shoes. Don’t think, “do I enjoy this feature/element/whatever?” Think, “will my users enjoy this?” Don’t think, “this feature is pretty straightforward for me to use.” Think, “will this be straightforward enough for my users?”

Remember what I said about understanding your users and their goals deeply? This is where it applies more than anywhere else. If you build things alone, in solitude, and only then reveal them to the world expecting everyone to be highly impressed, don’t be surprised if they’re not. As Mark Uraine continues:

The no.1 “don’t” is locking yourself in the closet and building it out yourself. Don’t go alone! Don’t do it alone! Because when you do, when you do it by yourself, it’s not inclusive, you’re not understanding the overlying principle of what you’re doing, and humanity suffers.

6. Don’t Confuse UX with UI

Okay, they both start with the letter U, but that’s where most of the similarities end. Or, rather, it’s more like that:

We talked about this in one of the recent posts here on the blog, so let me just summarize the key differences in a few sentences:

7. Don’t Make the Navigation Confusing

Whatever awesome feature you’ve built for your app, or whatever awesome content you’ve created for your website, doesn’t matter if people can’t navigate to it. Sounds obvious, right? However, it’s incredible how many popular software applications ignore this principle entirely.

Multiple menus. Blank canvases. No user onboarding. No “welcome” guides. You’re on your own…

Expecting the user to know where to go is kind of okay-ish for products that have already been in the market for years, and thus people can be generally expected to possess some knowledge about how to use them. Cars, washing machines, fridges, those are okay. But building a new website or app … bad navigation design is not acceptable.

Frankly, if your user needs to ask the question, “okay, now what?” then you’ve failed at navigation design.

Here’s how to overcome this:

Here’s an example illustrating that last thing. A website you should be familiar with:

Look at the “What’s happening” field. It is only once you start typing that you see the “submit” button (in this case labeled “Tweet”).

The traditional way of designing UIs would be to simply have the message/tweet field and the submit button displayed from the get-go. But Twitter knows better. They know that the button is not relevant until the user types something in.

And speaking of buttons. If something is meant to be a button, please don’t try to be clever with your design decisions, just make it look like a button. Users don’t really need to be guessing what’s clickable and what isn’t. The same goes for links.

8. Don’t make certain decisions for your users

Those are:

9. Don’t Put Beauty Over Function

UX is not always directly correlated with how nicely something seems to look. That’s also one of the reasons why minimal designs have risen in popularity so much over the last couple of years.

Overall, if the thing you’re building doesn’t function up to the user’s expectations, no amount of beautification will save it.

On the other hand, even seemingly ugly things can still be incredibly useful… Have you heard about a small site called Craigslist?

10. Don’t Force Your Users to Repeat the Same Actions

For example, if someone makes a mistake filling out a sign-up form, why forcing them to re-enter every single thing from scratch? They might be willing to repeat everything once, okay, but if they make a mistake again, you’ve just lost your user for good.

The same thing goes for missing shopping carts, or even user errors that force people to start over instead of just allowing them to fix whatever didn’t go well. Having to redo anything – anything! – is just too annoying and really bad for UX.

In the end, UX design is tough. It’s probably one of the most challenging branches of the vast design universe as a whole. Particularly since it’s entirely centered on users and the quality of their interactions with whatever you’re building. With that said, I hope these dos and don’ts will steer you in the right direction and help you get started in your UX design journey.