5 Principles of Successful User-Centered Design

5 Principles of Successful User-Centered Design

It would seem to be obvious. When you design a page, you do so with the user front and center. Yes, there are many important decisions you have to make while designing your page, but your users, they are the most important. And yet so many pages don’t seem to be capable of following that rule. I don’t think it’s because they don’t want to. I think it’s because they haven’t thought long and hard about what it means to design for users. And because they haven’t done that, they miss their target.

For that reason, today let’s look at the five principles of user-centered design. No doubt you’ve run into them before in various guises, but that doesn’t mean looking at them again isn’t important. In fact, it’s vital. After all, we get so much information thrown at us nowadays that it can become overwhelming. In those moments you need to return to the fundamentals to find your way again. So here goes.

Explore your users and their needs

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? And yet it needs to be said first. Why? Because many designers don’t design for their target audience and their needs, but instead design for some kind of fantasy that they hold in their head of what they think their target audience is like.

That is not the way to go. The reason is that once you know something, or understand something, it’s very hard to imagine that somebody else doesn’t. And since designers know so much more about websites and layout than audiences that’s a problem.

For that reason you have to take the time to research your target audience so that you know what they want, need and understand.

Build a design that’s easy, consistent and enjoyable

The next step is to use that information to create a design that fits with the expectations of your audience and does so in a consistent manner. That means finding out how these users look at the page and putting those elements they will be looking for closest to where they will start looking.

This means creating icons which make sense, writing perfect content and placing all the elements of your page in their proper place. From there you then build on that design, so that once the users has understood how your layout works, they can apply that knowledge to whichever page they go to. This will smooth out the user experience and create a feeling of intuitive logic that will serve to make the page enjoyable.

Obviously this means taking into consideration how your user will be accessing the website, with different devices having different dimensions and ways of interacting with your website environment.

dialogue

Build a dialogue between users and the design

The next step is to make the website responsive to the user, so that they have the feeling that when they do something the website responds. This means that if they mouse over a button, that button reacts. If they press it, it reacts differently.

If this is done properly, the user will have the sensation that the product follows the rules of their innate real-world model and its’ physical rules, which will make it feel like a far more intuitive and natural experience.

If, on the other hand, your page doesn’t respond in this way or lags when people click on things, they will feel it isn’t as intuitive and the illusion that they are interacting with a real world object breaks down. They’ll be back to using a web page, rather than an intuitive product.
thinking

Don’t make your users think

Keep the instructions as simple as possible and the operations that users have to carry out as straightforward as possible. The less users think, the more intuitively they’ll be using your product. And that greatly enhances the user experience.

The key elements to look at when trying to apply this rule is, ‘what actions do users do a lot on my page’ and then taking steps to simplify those, either by using micro-interactions or through some other way that you can think of. Also, try not to have complicated unnatural key strokes, or if you do make certain they are only shortcuts and that there are easy alternatives available.

Let the user test drive the process

And finally, if you want our design to be user centric, then make certain that the user is never taken out of the equation. Pay attention to what the users are doing either through heatmaps or by looking at how they use your website. Then, fix those areas where they’re having trouble or where you’re seeing people are not finding what they’re looking for.

Always keep looking to enhance the user’s experience by finding the sticking points on your website and removing them. Yes, obviously  it’s also nice to improve the functioning aspects of your site, but always remember that bad outweighs good.

That means that however nice your site is, if your users are struggling with some aspect of your page on a regular basis, their user experience will be negative. So your focus should always be on removing the errors first.

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Written by Patrick Cole

Patrick Cole is an entrepreneur and freelancer. He is also a contributing blogger for several websites. Patrick loves self-education and rock music. Connect with Patrick via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter