#DESIGN

7 Design Principles: How design principles help create delightful and compelling user experiences

One of the most frustrating parts of a designer’s job is receiving vague feedback from clients, leaders and their peers. During the design feedback sessions, everyone has their opinion and more often than not you would hear phrases like-

  • Huh…What do mean by the button should be smaller?
  • Have you heard of the word..umm…whatchamacallit — yeah… consistency?
  • Don’t you think there is too much of white space here?
  • What on the earth is wrong with using Lorem Ipsum? You can always replace them with real data!

And not to forget the highly nerve-wracking one-

  • “I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel alright”.

The reason for this chaos is simple- lack of codified design principles.

Lack of standardizations is bound to show up the difference in a group’s design philosophies and what people value individually. It’s not that the designs are bad, or the designers aren’t capable of keeping up with the trends. It’s just that in the absence of a shared understanding and common principles, everyone takes the liberty of changing the world, the way they wish to see it.

After experiencing this ourselves, we, at Quovantis, decided upon 7 Design Principles which all of us have imbibed as a group. We realized that a lot of design organizations still don’t have any codified design principles, so we wrote this book to help them realize the importance of design principles. This book is an epiphany of all those chaotic design discussions and how we decided to arrive at a decision to make our own design principles. It’s an attempt on our part to help explain to the creative teams and product evangelists why the designs look the way they do. 

The book consists of seven chapters – one for each design principle that we codified. The chapters describe the design principles in detail with examples to illustrate the point. The examples are from the industry – some created by us and others that we found inspiring.

Here’s the first chapter of that book. You can download the complete ebook from Amazon Kindle.

Chapter One

Empathize with users

“When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.”

—Susan Sarandon

Good design has just one purpose- to solve users’ problem.

This, however, often gets ignored by the seductive pull of design fads and designing with the assumptions that one knows what users want. The result? We end up designing for ourselves, instead of the real user.

To break away from this, it’s important to understand that we are not our users. And to know what real users want, it’s crucial that we go and talk to them and empathize with the problem that they are facing.

Empathy, not sympathy, helps us to see what they are seeing, feel what they are feeling, think what they are thinking.

The effectiveness of this process in building great designs is evident from the revolutionary Adventure Series MRI scanner built by Doug Dietz. Prior to Doug’s invention, MRI scans were a nightmare for children with no alternatives. When many others were trying to build bigger or ‘better’ machines, Doug Dietz spent time in trying to understand what was causing this nightmarish experience.

He observed children’s struggle firsthand, heard their cries, saw the terror in their eyes, and tried to understand their fear of going into a ‘black hole’. He worked with pediatricians and daycare institutions to understand children’s emotional state, their fears and how to overcome them.

After years of research and observing children in the hospital, he created a one-of-its-kind prototype which the world knows today as the “Adventure Series” MRI scanner.

Design thinking in MRI machine for Children

Example 1- The MRI machine redesigned by Doug Dietz (Source)

The lesson is simple – if you are not in sync with the needs of the users, their operating context and their mental models, or not aware of their goal, then it doesn’t matter how innovative your solution is – it’ll never be good because you’re not making a difference in your users’ lives.

And to do this, you have to let go of your preconceptions about what you want to create and start looking at it from what they want. You need to move from designer-centric to a more user-centric vision.

And to do that effectively, follow this mantra-

Get married to the user’s problem, not your solutions

There are a lot of ways in which you can understand the user’s worldview and create meaningful solutions. Here is a quick list to start with-

Get out of the building

Steve Blank, father of modern entrepreneurship came up with this phrase- Get out of the building. In this video, he explained how and why entrepreneurs fail when they wait too long to gauge the interest of real users in their products.

The idea is to talk to real users. Discover them, interact with them, spend time understanding their needs. One can’t design for people if one doesn’t understand what they go through on a daily basis.

Observe

It’s important to observe users in their natural environment so that you can witness the impact of small things on the user’s experience of that product. This is a very good way to not only put aside your assumptions but also to derive meaning from their interactions.

If they are already using a solution, observe how they interact with the existing solution. Pay close attention to their body language- do they feel comfortable? Are they fidgety? How do they react if they feel stuck at some point? Do they ask for help or exit from the application?

Observing users in their natural environment is a crucial step and it takes you an inch closer to the unfiltered view of the user’s world.

Ask open-ended questions

Technology may work in binary, but human beings don’t. Close-ended questions lack empathy as they fail to understand the crux of the problem. For instance, a question like- “Do you like this application?” has only two possible answers- Yes or No. This limits the response without giving any context or background to the response on how you may improve the application.

On the other hand, open-ended questions like “Tell us about your experience when you logged in the application for the first time“, allow users to explore a breadth of feelings which they usually keep aside until they are prompted to share. When asked in this manner, they tend to share their expectations, what worked and what did not work for them and what they like most about the experience. Such questions open the door for a conversation and users end up articulating their real needs into words.

So if you want the information to flow without any prejudices and discover interesting interpretations, always ask them to explain their experiences.

Reduce biases

All of us have our objects of affection and dissatisfaction making us move towards the one which we like and away from the one we don’t. All of us have a preference towards something or someone that cannot be explained rationally. This is a bias.

Biases skew our perception and can make us opt for sub-optimal solutions. Biases make us put more of ‘us’ in the design instead of the ‘user’. Essentially, biases take us away from the main objective of focussing on users’ needs.

So if you listen to your user without any disorderly prejudices and assumptions, you would be able to create better user experiences. Empty your mind, be open to different perspectives, and allow users to express themselves.

Good designers look for ways to keep their biases aside, especially confirmation bias, which enables them to get married to their users’ problems. We highly recommend reading Thinking Fast, Slow by Daniel Kahneman to understand these psychological biases and be cognizant of them.

Build personas

Personas give you the diversity of your user group as well as a realistic representation of your intended users so that you can prioritize and evaluate the features that are important to them. Once you identify a group of users who think, behave and act in a similar way, it becomes easier to drive design decisions by considering their needs.

persona making for user discovery

Example 2- Personas for the recruiter and hiring manager of a web interviewing platform

From Example 2, you can see that by building the personas of the two type of users, we get to know about their needs, challenges, and motivations. We can easily identify what each one of them would like from the application. The Recruiter persona struggles with an ineffective feedback system, hence they would want a clear way to capture feedback. On the other hand, the Manager persona is frustrated with the problem of unreliable agencies so they would want a system to help them to see some ratings or reviews for the agencies to choose the right one.

In this manner, personas help designers in working with clearly defined insights for a user group instead of working off on assumptions.

Personas also serve as a reference point for the entire design team to come back to in case of any confusion, again eliminating gaps that may arise due to inaccurate assumption.

Validate

While every designer attempts to put as much ‘logic’ as possible in the solutions, at the end of the day,  the best judge of the solution are the end users of the platform.

So, in order to know if you are on the right path or not, it’s always a good idea to validate your research at an early stage. This helps in uncovering any blind spots or incorrect assumptions. If your idea is validated against your findings then you can move ahead in the design process, but if it’s not something which resonates with the users, then you need to work on the research again.

Checklist to design with Empathy


If you liked reading the first chapter, you might also enjoy reading the entire book. You can get your copy from here. We would love to hear your feedback, so please consider leaving your reviews once you are done reading it.

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