7 (updated) principles for interaction design

picture of ideaAlthough first published almost 20 years ago  Jakob Nielsen’s 10 general principles for interaction design are still incredibly useful and relevant in the field of interaction design.  For example, in his principles, he talks about “Consistency and Standards” which is of course, still a core principle of good design and comes up regularly when we are discussing the creation of design guidelines or pattern libraries.

Coming up to almost 10 years working in usability and user experience myself has made me reflect on what I have learned during that time.  And specifically, when thinking about good practice in design, what principles I keep coming back to. Building on Nielsen’s (and others) principles my seven key (updated) principles for interaction are. 

  1. Create a world that users can easily locate themselves in.
    Users need to be able to quickly get a sense of where they are, what is going on and where they can go from there.  Sensible information architecture and clear navigation are key to this.
  2. Design for limited attention and scanning.
    Users have limited time, limited attention and limited patience.  Cut unnecessary content (noise) from your site, break content into easily digestible chunks and make key tasks highly visible.
  3. Use plain language.
    Avoiding jargon is good for everyone but especially important when considering accessibility and making the web experience accessible to all. Gov.uk provide useful guidelines for writing for the web.
  4. Make it obvious how things work.
    Design with “affordance” in mind e.g. use visual cues to ensure users are clear on how to engage with design elements.  “Norman doors”  is the classic example to illustrate this.
  5. Design for how people perceive and group information.
    We humans share commonalities in how we perceive and make sense of the world around us. An understanding of principles such as Gestalt allows us to create designs that speak to those commonalities.
  6. Make it easy for people to compare options and make decisions. 
    Hick’s law
    tells us having fewer options available makes it easier to make a choice. Couple this with strategies such as product reviews ( social proofing) to give users more confidence and help them make a decision.
  7. Design with emotion in mind.
    Understand user’s emotional states when they engage with your experience.  For example, they might be concerned and want to be reassured or may be bored and looking for entertainment.   Designing an experience that connects with those emotions adds value and meaning to every interaction.


Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design

Don Norman and his (revised) book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’

Susan Weinschenk and  her book ‘100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People’

Steve Krugs and his book on ‘Don’t make me Think’






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