July 23, 2014

Predictability: 5 Principles of Interaction Design To Supercharge Your UI (4 of 5)

In last week’s post, we discussed the second core principle of interaction design, learnability. Today I want to talk about a principle of interaction design that goes a long way in making users feel confident, comfortable and in control: predictability. Predictability means that all aspects of the interaction design should set accurate expectations about what will happen – before the user taps, swipes or clicks on something.

Principle 4: Good Interaction Design is Predictable.

“If you can accurately predict what’s going to happen next 
in an interaction, it’s because the action you’re taking is understandable, clear, logical, and makes you feel confident.”
Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Predictablity in interaction design can be measured pretty easily, and Steve Krug’s excellent book Don’t Make Me Think sums it up perfectly. Ask yourself if users will be able to answer these questions:

  1. Where am I?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. What can I do here?
  4. Where can I go from here?

Krug says that if you can drop a person into the depths of a site or application, ask these four questions, and get correct answers to all four, then you have:

  • provided a strong sense of place
  • set the correct expectations
  • made it possible for people to accurately predict outcomes 
of interactions

The sense of comfort that is created as a result is a critical factor in keeping people on the site, fully engaged and moving forward. A sense of control – which is a hard-wired cognitive requirement in the brain – speeds task completion and makes people feel good about what they’re using, what they’re doing and what they’ll be able to accomplish.

The following infographic provides some interaction design principles to help you


July 15, 2014

Learnability: 5 Principles of Interaction Design To Supercharge Your UI (3 of 5)

In last week’s post, we discussed the second core principle of interaction design, visibility. Today I’d like to share the next principle of interaction design critical to UI Design and Good UX: learnability. The bottom line: interactions should be easy to learn and easy to remember

Principle 3: Good Interaction Design is Learnable.

When we talk about good interaction design, our ideal hope is that people we’ve designed an app, site or system for 
use it once, learn it rapidly and remember it forever.

The truth, however, is a little more practical. What usually happens is that they 
use it a few times, learn it, and hope they remember 
it for next time. Our job, as designers, developers and UX professionals of all stripes, is to make that learning and remembering possible. How do we do that? By making our interfaces intuitive.

What “Intuitive” really means

While there are lots of opinions here, what the term intuitive really means is 
“single trial learning.” Meaning that once we run through it, we’ve got enough of a handle on it that we’ll be able to do it again. That doesn’t mean we automatically remember everything the next time around, though; it simply means the Interaction Design is clear, consistent and visible enough that we’ll be able to easily infer what to do first, second, third, etc.

Even interfaces that are easy to use may require learning, and the more we use them the easier it seems. Leaning is also enhanced when the interaction cues we see mimic those we’re familiar with. We learn behaviors from our experiences across the web, devices, and real-world places and objects. These experiences are what create our expectation and intrinsic assumptions and understanding of how things are supposed to work.

The learnability of a product can be measured


July 10, 2014

Pick My Brain #007: How do I create a UX portfolio with no real-world experience?

Today’s question comes from Rashmi Bhat, one of the 8,267 students taking my User Experience Design Fundamentals Course on Udemy.

Q: Joe, I was reading a blog on how to find job as a UX/UI especially if you are new to this field. As I am just in learning mode, how can I make a portfolio without having worked on any real projects (without any experience)?

A: Rashmi, this is an excellent question, and it’s something that every new designer or developer struggles with. The unfortunate reality of this industry is that you’re expected to be able to demonstrate proof of your ability, via a UX portfolio, but nearly all entry-level UXers haven’t had any real clients yet. It’s a rather large Catch-22, to say the least.

However, that does not mean you can’t show proof of what you’ve learned, and how you are able to apply that knowledge! What any potential client or employer is looking for is proof you can help them in some meaningful way. And while they will most certainly lean toward candidates who have actual client experience, I assure you it’s not a requirement that will keep you from getting your foot in the door. The key to overcoming that lack of experience is making a strong showing of how you use your UX skills to improve things. Here’s how you do that.

Create projects for yourself.

Take a website (or an app or a piece of software) you feel could be improved and develop a new Information Architecture for it. Or create a set of wireframes that show how the site’s UX or UI could be improved. In your UX portfolio, you show every aspect of the process, not just the finished UI design: your notes, sketches, Information Architecture, Workflows, wireframes, etc.


July 8, 2014

Visibility: 5 Principles of Interaction Design To Supercharge Your UI (2 of 5)

In last week’s post, we discussed the first critical principle of interaction design, consistency. Today I’d like to share the next principle of interaction design critical to UI Design and Good UX: visibility. Put simply, you can’t invite interaction and engage visitors if they’re unaware that the opportunity to interact exists!

Principle 2: Good Interaction Design is Visible.

One of the ways our brain shapes experiences is that it’s constantly noticing and interpreting clues in our surrounding environment: what is it, what does it mean, what does it do? And while we notice just about everything (even unconsciously), there’s a balancing act required for interaction design that (a) invites action and (b) is easily understood. People should be able to easily tell that an opportunity to interact is available, and they should be able to reasonably predict what the result of that interaction will be.

A word of caution, however: while interaction design cues should always be made visible, requiring no conscious thought, too many cues is often worse than none at all.

When we can’t tell what’s interactive, or when we can’t tell the difference between options, we guess. We click, tap and swipe at everything in sight, which leads to coincidental system actions and results. And if the results aren’t what we expected, we get nervous. Have you ever clicked a button more than once because the system didn’t seem to be responding? And then experienced a series of chaotic events when it did respond? That’s what I’m talking about here.

Good visibility means that obvious prompts and cues are present, which:

  1. Lead the user through an interaction
  2. Guide them through a series of tasks
  3. Indicate what possible actions are available to them
  4. Communicate the context of the situation.

July 3, 2014

Pick My Brain #006: How Do I Get Started in UX?

How Do I Get Started in UX?

Today’s question “How Do I Get Started in UX?” is something I’m asked almost weekly, so I thought it’d be helpful to address it here.

Q: I am new to UX/UI, and I’m feeling like there is so much I need to know that I worry I’ll never  be able to learn it all. What advice or suggestions do you have for people who want to start a career in User Experience Design?

A: My advice to those of you just starting out in UX or who are looking to make a career shift into UX can be broken into six parts:

  1. First and absolutely foremost: be patient with yourself. There is definitely a lot to learn, but you do NOT have to do it all at once. Realize that it’s absolutely OK to feel fear, to worry that it’s too much to take on. That’s normal! There’s this pervading myth that successful people are somehow fearless in their endeavors. That’s not true. People who succeed are people who are feeling more fear than they think they can handle — and they dive in and do it anyway. It’s a mantra I repeat to myself daily: feel the fear; do it anyway.
  2. In the early stages of your learning or career, don’t fixate on any single aspect of UX or UI design. Take a wide, holistic view, because ALL of these things have to work together in order to create a valuable User Experience. Design isn’t enough, technology isn’t enough, good ideas aren’t enough. Consider Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Ethnography, Graphic Design, Programming, etc. While you may not be able to do all of these things equally well, you do need to understand that

July 1, 2014

Use These 5 Principles of Interaction Design To Supercharge Your UI (1 of 5)

Not everyone is familiar with the role Interaction Design plays in creating great user interfaces (UIs). Not everyone realizes how crucial good Interaction Design is to good User Experience (UX). In fact, I often hear from folks who’ve never heard the term at all. No problem, it’s all good. In essence, Interaction Design:

  • Defines how interactive systems are structured, how content and/or data is organized and how the system should behave in response to user actions
  • Is based on the designer or developer’s understanding of user goals, tasks, experiences, needs, and wants
  • Is also based on business goals and technological capabilities, and the “sweet spots” where these overlap with user goals, needs and wants
  • Seeks to establish a relationship between people and products that is perceived to be useful and valuable.

When Interaction Design is done well, it:

  • Communicates to the user what functions are available, and allows them to infer how to interact with what they see,
  • Allows the user to predict what’s about to happen, be aware of what is happening now and understand what has just happened.
  • Gives the user a clear sense of workflow – how many steps there may be, how long it may take and a general sense of their level of effort.
  • Prevents users from making too many mistakes through smart defaults and appropriate visual design of UI controls.

From a formal standpoint, there are 50+ timeless design principles that make up what we know today as Interaction Design. But the truth of the matter is that while they’re all relevant and useful, there are 5 that you should focus on first in order to make significant improvements in the UX of your apps, sites or systems.

Principle 1: Good Interaction Design is Consistent.

Creative types – including


June 24, 2014

The Truth You Should Know: UX Secrets for Print & Digital Design (Audio)

UX Secrets for Print and Digital Design

I was recently very fortunate – and very, very honored – to be interviewed by none other than Mr. Magazine himself, Dr. Samir Husni. Widely regarded as the leading expert in magazines both in the US and internationally, Dr. Husni is the last word when it comes to connecting content to people. The common thread running through the different topics we discussed was my UX secrets for print and digital design, along with why they work and how they’re applied to each medium. Our discussion exposed a critical truth that I think every person practicing UX, UI or Print Design needs to know:

The principles of effective design are the same in both the print and digital worlds.

Backstory: I recently found myself designing for print again after nearly eighteen years exclusively focused on digital design. The result was DINOSAUR magazine, which recently won a Platinum Hermes Award for excellence in magazine design as well as a Communicator Award for excellence in Overall Magazine Design.

I mention these awards not to toot my own horn (even though it’s nice to see those words); I mention it because my approach to the design of these pages – and the intended experience for the reader – follows the same principles I use for digital, onscreen products. Whether you’re designing a site, an app, a system, a book, a magazine, a catalog, a poster – the essential design and UX rules for powerful, memorable experiences are exactly the same.

I hope you enjoy the interview, and I’m interested to hear what you think:

Do the same rules apply to both print and digital design? Or are they separate worlds with separate rules?

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think, or what you’ve experienced!

. .


June 17, 2014

The Easy Way to Create User Personas: Tips, Tricks and Two Free Templates


Today I’m going to show you how to create better user personas. And by better, what I mean is a true understanding of a user that’s informed by the messy realities of what it’s like to be human. There are plenty of prescriptions for persona creation, but they’re all essentially the same: laundry lists that suggest it’s possible to understand a person’s motivation – and create an accurate, useful user persona – simply by checking boxes and asking questions related to behavior.

This is not that, because that, in my experience, doesn’t work.

So instead, I’m going to give you a practical process and two companion templates that will put you on the path to creating user personas that deliver real value to your design approach.

There are two key steps in this process:

  1. First, you have to develop empathy for the person. Empathy goes far beyond demographics, likes, dislikes, job roles and responsibilities. Empathy is about understanding the emotional drivers that affect the user’s behavior, because emotion will trump intellect in almost every situation users find themselves in. Design for the emotion and you’re truly designing for a person instead of a collection of possible attributes.
  2. Next, you have to uncover the person’s behavioral attributes in the context of multiple situations. What has the person just done or just finished doing when they encounter your product (site, app, tool)? What are they thinking and feeling at that moment, and how does that affect what they see and how they act? What stress is present in that situation, and how does it affect the person’s perception and action?

User Persona Creation Happens Earlier Than You May Think

As I said in an earlier Pick My Brain post, I


June 16, 2014

Pick My Brain #005: Which UX Deliverables Format Should I Use?

How Do I Get Started in UX?

Today’s excellent question comes from Greg Soper, one of the 7,229 students taking my User Experience Design Fundamentals Course on Udemy.

Q: Can you give me examples of the best format or method for different UX deliverables? I.e. user scenarios, user stories, site maps, etc. I guess what I’m looking for is a “making your very first site-map” kind of thing.

A: Hi Greg – that’s a really good question. And the answer, which you may or may not like, is that there are multiple methods to create these kinds of UX deliverable documents…and I use them all :-)

Reason for that is because every client is different, and the combination of people in the room at any given point who need to consume this stuff is different. Which means that while one or two folks may easily, completely understand one site map format, two or three more will have no idea what they’re looking at. And here’s the important part: they won’t say anything. They won’t tell you they have no idea what this stuff means, what it represents or how it informs the work you’re all doing together.

So the way you combat that is by making sure you have more than one way to present the deliverable, and you take some steps to qualify the approach and the format long before you have to deliver it.

For example, nearly every meeting I have with a client at the outset of the project involves me writing on a whiteboard as we talk. I do that for two reasons:

  1. It lets them know I understand what they’re telling me, and
  2. It allows me to make sure they understand what I’m telling them.

So if I give them a hypothetical


June 11, 2014

10 Brilliant Design Principles from UK.gov’s GDS Team

10 Brilliant Design Principles from UX.gov

Earlier this week, Udemy student Cristoffer Hansen, one of the 7,040 students taking my User Experience Design Fundamentals Course, shared a link to the British Government’s phenomenally simple and useful website. Specifically, they present the 10 core design principles their GDS (Government Digital Services) team follows , along with some great practical examples of how they put those principles into practice.

This is one of the best resources I’ve seen in a very long time, and absolutely worth 20 or 30 minutes of your day to check out (and bookmark)! Here’s the condensed version of the list:

  1. Start with needs. The design process must start with identifying and thinking about real user needs. We should design around those — not around the way the ‘official process’ is at the moment.
  2. Do less. Government should only do what only government can do. If someone else is doing it — link to it.
  3. Design with data. Normally, we’re not starting from scratch — users are already using our services. Watch, learn and let that behavior inform our design work.
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple. Very often people have no choice but to use our services. If we don’t work hard to make them simple and usable we’re abusing that power, and wasting people’s time.
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again. Iteration reduces risk, makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons.
  6. Build for inclusion. Accessible design is good design. We should build a product that’s as inclusive, legible and readable as possible
  7. Understand context. We’re not designing for a screen, we’re designing for people. We need to think hard about the context in which they’re using our services.
  8. Build digital services, not websites. Our service doesn’t begin and end at our website. It might start with a search engine and end