What makes a good user interface? 10 essential UI design principles


Slinky Creative

Alright, digital design aficionados and UI curious cats, let’s dive into the wild and wonderful world of user interface design! Buckle up, because we’re about to embark on a journey through the 10 essential UI design principles that’ll make your interfaces smoother than a buttered slide.

But first, let me tell you a little story. Picture this: It’s 2005, and I’m trying to set up my grandmother’s new DVD player. The remote control looks like it was designed by a sadistic alien with 17 fingers and a grudge against humanity. Buttons everywhere, labels that made no sense, and a layout that seemed to actively resist logic. Poor Nana never did figure out how to play her Matlock DVDs. And that, my friends, is a perfect example of what happens when you ignore good UI design principles.

So, what exactly makes a good user interface? Well, it’s like a perfect first date – it should be attractive, easy to understand, and leave you wanting more. (Unlike my last Tinder date, who spent the entire evening talking about his extensive collection of belly button lint. But I digress.)

Let’s dive into these 10 essential UI design principles, shall we?

1. Clarity is King (or Queen, We’re Not Picky)

The first and most crucial principle of good UI design is clarity. Your interface should be clearer than a mountain stream, more transparent than a politician’s promises should be. Users should be able to understand what everything does without needing a Ph.D. in Computer Science or a magic decoder ring.

Think about it like this: If your grandma can’t figure out how to use your app, you might need to go back to the drawing board. (Unless your app is specifically designed for tech-savvy millennials with a penchant for obscure memes. In that case, maybe don’t use Grandma as your test subject.)

Real-life example time! Remember when Apple introduced the iPhone? That thing was a game-changer. Why? Because it was so dang clear. No stylus, no complicated menus, just intuitive gestures and clearly labeled icons. It was so easy to use, even technophobes were suddenly becoming app-addicted zombies. (For better or worse. Sorry, productivity!)

2. Consistency: The Spice of UI Life

Consistency in UI design is like continuity in a movie. If Harry Potter suddenly showed up wielding a lightsaber instead of a wand, you’d be pretty confused, right? (Although, let’s be honest, that crossover would be epic.)

The same goes for your UI. Keep your design elements, color schemes, typography, and overall style consistent throughout your interface. It’s like creating a familiar environment for your users. They should feel at home, not like they’ve been suddenly teleported to a foreign land every time they click a new button.

I once worked on a website where each page had a completely different design. It was like walking through a haunted house where each room was designed by a different interior decorator with conflicting tastes. Needless to say, users fled faster than you can say “inconsistent user experience.”

3. Feedback: Talk to Me, Baby

Good UI design is like a good conversation partner – it gives feedback. When a user takes an action, the interface should acknowledge it. It’s the digital equivalent of nodding and saying “uh-huh” during a chat.

This could be as simple as a button changing color when clicked, or as complex as a congratulatory animation when a task is completed. Without feedback, using an interface feels like talking to a brick wall. And let me tell you, brick walls are notoriously bad conversationalists.

A great example of this is the iOS keyboard click sound. Love it or hate it, it provides clear feedback that you’ve pressed a key. Although, maybe don’t have it on full volume in a quiet library. Trust me on this one.

4. Efficiency: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

In the words of the great philosopher Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Your UI should be efficient, allowing users to accomplish their tasks with minimum fuss and maximum speed.

Think about Amazon’s “Buy Now with 1-Click” button. It’s the UI equivalent of a shortcut through a secret alley that gets you to your destination in half the time. (Just hopefully with less chance of running into shady characters.)

I once used an app that required 7 clicks to perform a basic function. It was like playing a game of “How Patient Are You?” Spoiler alert: I wasn’t very patient. That app is no longer on my phone, and I may or may not have left a strongly worded review. (I did. It was scathing.)

5. Forgiveness: To Err is Human, To Forgive is Good UI

We all make mistakes. I once sent a text meant for my girlfriend to my boss. (Pro tip: Don’t use pet names for your superiors.) A good UI should be forgiving of user errors and make it easy to undo actions.

This could be as simple as an “undo” button or as comprehensive as autosave functionality. The point is, users shouldn’t feel like they’re walking on eggshells, terrified that one wrong move will destroy everything.

Gmail’s “undo send” feature is a prime example of forgiving UI. It’s saved my bacon more times than I care to admit. (No, Professor Johnson, I didn’t mean to call you “snookums.”)

6. Visibility: Hide and Seek is for Children, Not UI

The principle of visibility is simple: make important elements visible and easily accessible. Don’t make your users hunt for basic functions like they’re on a digital scavenger hunt.

Think about your car’s dashboard. The most important controls – steering wheel, pedals, gear shift – are right there where you need them. You don’t have to open a hidden panel to find the brake pedal. (If you do, please take your car to a mechanic immediately.)

I once used a photo editing app where the “save” button was hidden in a submenu of a submenu. It was like the designer was playing a cruel joke. “Oh, you want to save your work? Good luck finding the button, sucker!” Needless to say, that app and I are no longer on speaking terms.

7. Affordance: Make it Obvious, Darling

Affordance in UI design means making it obvious how an element should be used. A button should look clickable, a slider should look slidable, and a text input field should look, well, input-able.

It’s like how a door with a handle affords pulling, while a flat panel affords pushing. (Although, let’s be real, we’ve all had that moment of panic when approaching a door, wondering if we should push or pull. It’s the universal human experience.)

Skeuomorphic design, which was all the rage a few years back, was all about affordance. Remember when the notes app on iOS looked like a yellow legal pad? That’s affordance, baby. It practically screamed, “Write on me!”

8. Hierarchy: It’s a UI Caste System (But in a Good Way)

Visual hierarchy in UI design is about arranging elements to show their order of importance. It’s like how you organize your fridge – the stuff you use most often is at the front, while that jar of pickles from 2019 is hidden at the back. (It’s probably time to throw that out, by the way.)

Use size, color, contrast, and positioning to guide users’ attention to the most important elements first. Your call-to-action button should stand out like a peacock at a penguin party.

Think about any well-designed news website. The main headline is big and bold, less important stories are smaller, and ads… well, ads are everywhere because capitalism. But you get the point.

9. Accessibility: Design for Everyone (Yes, Everyone)

Good UI design should be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good business. After all, why would you want to exclude potential users?

This includes things like providing alt text for images, ensuring good color contrast for readability, and making sure your interface can be navigated using just a keyboard.

I once worked with a client who insisted on using light gray text on a white background because it looked “sleek.” I had to gently explain that “sleek” doesn’t mean much if half your users need a magnifying glass to read your content.

10. Aesthetics: Make it Pretty (But Not Too Pretty)

Last but not least, good UI should be aesthetically pleasing. It’s like dating – being nice is important, but let’s face it, looks matter too. However, don’t sacrifice usability for beauty. A gorgeous interface that’s impossible to use is like a supermodel who’s terrible at conversation – nice to look at, but not much fun to interact with.

Aim for a clean, uncluttered design that’s easy on the eyes. Use color psychology to your advantage. And for the love of all that is holy, choose readable fonts. Comic Sans has no place in professional UI design. (Sorry, Comic Sans fans. I’m sure you’re both very upset.)

Remember Apple’s skeuomorphic design phase? Everything looked like its real-world counterpart. The bookshelf looked like wood, the notepad had faux leather binding. It was pretty, sure, but it eventually gave way to the cleaner, more minimalist design we see today. Why? Because sometimes, too much pretty gets in the way of usability.

Wrapping it Up (Like a Burrito of UI Goodness)

So there you have it, folks – the 10 essential principles of good UI design. Keep these in mind, and you’ll be creating interfaces smoother than a jazz saxophone solo in no time.

1. Clarity is your best friend
2. Consistency is key (unless you’re going for a “chaotic nightmare” vibe)
3. Feedback is not just for performance reviews
4. Efficiency is the name of the game
5. Forgiveness is divine (especially in UI)
6. Visibility is not just for ghosts trying to make friends
7. Affordance is about making things obvious (unlike this pun)
8. Hierarchy is important (in UI, not in the workplace. Down with corporate ladders!)
9. Accessibility is for everyone (yes, even for your cat who likes to walk on your keyboard)
10. Aesthetics matter, but don’t go overboard (looking at you, MySpace circa 2005)

Now go forth and design interfaces that would make even the most technophobic grandma say, “Well, isn’t that just neat as a pin!” And if you ever find yourself designing a DVD remote, please, for the love of all that is holy, keep it simple. My grandma thanks you in advance.

1. Nielsen Norman Group: 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design
2. Interaction Design Foundation: User Interface Design Guidelines
3. UX Planet: The Basic Principles of User Interface Design

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go redesign my cat’s feeding app. Apparently, “Meow” is not specific enough for choosing between tuna and chicken flavors. But that’s a tale for another time. Until then, keep your interfaces user-friendly and your wit sharp!