Tips & Advice

How can a print designer break into UX?

How Can a Print Designer Break Into UX Design? By Joe Natoli

This is a question I am asked several times a week, and it’s a good one. It’s also a hot-button item for me related to a myth I’d like to annihilate. A significant portion of the media — aided and supported by UXers in fear for their jobs — would have you believe that UX is an exclusive club that only those with the right talent and extensive training can join.

It’s not true.

In my opinion, every designer — whether we’re talking print design or UI design — is a UX designer to some degree. Design as a discipline starts with visual communication, how visual things resonate with people, and how they interpret and act on what they see. If you’re a designer of any kind, you already have much of what you need.

I started my career in 1989 as a print designer, and all I did when I moved to UI/UX a few years later was to apply the same principles of good design that I used to design in print. We didn’t even call it UX then, by the way — the term didn’t exist. Many of my colleagues and I were doing the same work we have all come to know as UX. We just called it design.

Design is solving problems, not drawing pictures.

At Kent State University, we were taught design as a


  Tips & Advice

5 Rules for Better UX Interviews

5 rules for better UX interviews

If you’re responsible for helping make a product reality, then it’s also your responsibility to uncover what’s going to make that product useful, usable and valuable, to both users and to your client’s business. In other words, it’s your job to identify the strategy behind the work you’re doing and make sure you’re solving the right problems.

The best way to do that, of course, is the UX Interview. Talk to the people who have the most to gain (or lose) from your work: stakeholders and users. These interviews are typically the place where you begin planting seeds of UX success — or failure. There are only two possible outcomes here:

  1. You correctly identify and address user needs and business objectives, and you deliver an experience that is the answer to someone’s prayer.
  2. You don’t do enough digging, or skip the interviews and guess wrong, and you end up solving problems no one on either side really cares about. Which turns the product into everyone’s worst nightmare, including yours.

There are 5 rules I follow religiously for making sure that last scenario doesn’t happen. Here they are:

1. Let go of every preconception you have.

They will only serve to alter your perception of what you’re hearing. Objectivity is not impossible; it’s actually little more than ingrained habit that comes from discipline. While you’ll certainly form an immediate opinion of


  User Experience

London Bound: I’m speaking at DEVWEEK 2015!

Join Joe Natoli in London for DEVWEEK 2015!

I’m sure some of you have noticed the radio silence lately — that’s because I’ve been busy preparing for DEVWEEK 2015 this coming week. I am absolutely honored to have been asked and am looking forward to a fantastic week of learning from all the sharp minds sure to be in attendance.

I’ll be doing three sessions; here’s a quick summary of each.

Think first: why great UX starts between your ears
(and not on the screen)

Wednesday 25th March / 11:30 – 13:00

When developers are tasked with improving UX, their focus tends to be on the screen: elements, interactions, workflow — often accompanied by the harried cry of “I’m not a UI designer!” Fortunately, I have good news: you may never be a UI designer – and it doesn’t matter. You can still design great user experiences without a shred of visual design talent. In this session, I’ll show you how changing the way you think about features, functions and implementations can make a massive, positive change in the experience people have with your UI and your product as a whole.

The big lie: why form doesn’t (and shouldn’t) follow function

Thursday 26th March / 16:00 – 17:30

The prescriptive interpretation of “form follows function” has guided the work of engineers, programmers, developers – and even designers – for a very long time. The result of this has been sites, software and systems


  UI Design

4 Reasons Minimal UI May Mean Minimal Users

4 reasons less UI may mean less users

Common UI elements — buttons, menus and common actions —are a very significant part of what makes a site or app useful. The “chrome” as these elements are called, is being minimized in favor of increasing the amount of valuable content on the screen. In theory, Minimal UI is a solid approach; the intent is certainly noble and logical.

But hiding those elements, while certainly trendy, comes at a cost that many designers, developers and organizations are slowly waking up to.

Take our ubiquitous friend the hamburger menu, for instance. Originally designed for small 5-inch mobile screens, it’s also becoming widespread across apps and sites for larger tablets, laptops and desktops. And it confuses the hell out of people in those use cases.

Designers, developers and tech folks tell me, “everyone uses the hamburger, so people are used to it now.” But what I hear much more often, from a much wider swath of users across age groups from 17 to 70, is “how the hell do I…”

So I’m calling bullshit on the “people are used to it” bit. The people who are used to it are tech-savvy by nature and by discipline, and are mostly comprised of first- and early-adopters. Exploration and discovery constitute a positive user experience for them, so a Minimal UI approach makes sense.

The majority of users, however, are not so inclined.

The only studies I’ve seen over the past


  UI Design

9 surefire tips for better data visualization design

9 Surefire Tips for Better Data Visualization Design

Imagine you are standing in a room with 100 other people, all of whom are shouting at you at the very top of their lungs. You are expected to (a) hear every word of what each person is shouting, (b) fully understand what each person is shouting, and (b) recognize all the ways in which each person’s diatribe is related to all of the others.

Impossible, right? Of course. But that’s exactly what happens when a user is confronted with a poorly designed data visualization.

The purpose of data visualization is to bring order to chaos, to allow a user to quickly read and understand multiple attributes of a particular issue, topic or data point. However, the majority of data visualization design I see does the exact opposite; the UI design styling adds complexity instead of simplifying it.

In the majority of sites, portals and systems, for example, data usually appears onscreen in the form of a table. That’s because this format usually an apples-to-apples correlation to how that data exists in a database. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except for the fact that these tables are almost always very poorly designed.

The visual styling far too many designers and developers use is informed by poor sources (Word and Excel, I’m looking at you). The proliferation of ubiquitous CMS templates created by folks who are decorating instead of designing has only made


  Tips & Advice

3 keys to launching your UX career


Not a day goes by that I don’t receive an email from someone who’s new to the world of UX and isn’t sure where to start. Whether you’re just out of college or are transitioning from a related field, the discipline can seem daunting because it’s comprised of so many parts and processes. But while there’s definitely a lot of ground to cover in answering that question, there are 3 keys to launching your UX career that are absolutely at the top of the list.

So if you’re at the beginning of your journey, take a deep breath, focus squarely on these 3 things, and let the rest come by itself.

  1. Become an Information Sponge. Absorb and learn everything you can about ALL areas of UX — 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. You may not be able to do all of these things equally well — and you don’t have to. But you do need to understand what role each discipline plays and what impact it has on work in other areas. You DON’T need to know every new practice or process or method that comes out and is talked about

  UI Design

5 Crucial Principles for Great Mobile Design

5 Crucial Principles for Great Mobile App Design

The exponential and continual explosion of apps for mobile devices is certainly keeping us designers and developers on our toes; it’s tough to keep up. The good news, however, is that while technology advances and devices evolve at breakneck pace, the principles for great mobile design remain the same. Here are the five you need to know and apply.

  1. Design the parts to be consistent with the whole. Designers are often expected to break with convention. Apple encourages all of us to “think different.” But you need to remember that your app is a part of a larger family — everything else on the user’s device. Any OS introduces conventions to the user, consistent interaction patterns that allow them to get a quick handle on how things work, a model that shouldn’t be broken. When Sheila’s favorite app suddenly introduces a way of deleting content that runs counter to the way she deletes something in all her other apps, she gets frustrated. And that is often enough for her to start seeking alternatives or delete the app altogether.
  2. Make opportunities to interact obvious and visible. A user can’t interact with something on the screen if they can’t tell the element is interactive. The ubiquitous “hamburger” menu, for example, is quickly becoming a design convention — but the jury is still very much out on whether the majority of users know

  Tips & Advice

Pick My Brain #011: Do I have to use blue for hyperlinks in my UI design?

Blue for hyperlinks in UI design

Today’s question comes from Krista, one of the 11,000+ students taking my User Experience Design Fundamentals course on Udemy.

Q: Is it important to use blue for hyperlinks? Blue clashes with our color palette. Do I need a different color for links moused over? selected? If so, what is a rule of thumb for that?

A: Great question Krista. The short answer is no, blue is not required at all. What is important, however, is that:

  1. The hyperlinks stand out visually from the other text, and
  2. On laptops or desktops, there is a state change that indicates interactivity.

For phones and tablets, there’s no hover state, so #1 above is most important. In that scenario, you can change color: for example, make hyperlinks orange if the text is black or dark grey (use a significantly different color). You can also make hyperlinks bold, a different font size, or a different font altogether. And, if it’s not visually distracting, you can underline them. All of these approaches send a clear visual signal that this piece of text is a link; that it does something.

For #2, you’d do this in addition to making the link visually distinct. When a link changes appearance on hover, for example, you’re sending a clear signal to the user that reinforces their suspicion that this does something. An appearing underline, a change to bold, or a significant change in color all reinforce the message that this is a link.

And in my opinion, you


  Tips & Advice

Pick My Brain #010: Navigation Design vs. Interaction Design

Blue for hyperlinks in UI design

Today’s question comes from Ganesh Kumar, one of 11,000+ students taking my User Experience Design Fundamentals course on Udemy.

Q: If I am not wrong, interaction design is where we make decisions like what happens when user clicks on a button, e.g. should it launch a new window or take the user to another page etc. Isn’t that the navigation as well? I am very confused on these two elements, could you please clarify?

A: Thanks for the great question Ganesh, and it’s one that gets asked more often than you think. If you haven’t done so yet, read through the similar question here on interaction design vs. interface design, as it’s related and may help. Here’s the short answer to the difference between Navigation Design and Interaction Design:

When I talk about Navigation Design, I am not talking about interaction, or even the interface. Navigation design is the conceptual model of how information is structured and organized, and how the user will get to all of it. Categories, subcategories and links between them.

Navigation design can be done on a piece of paper or with a text-only outline in Microsoft Word — because the only things you’re trying to figure out are:

  1. How much content (or workflow steps) do we have,
  2. How should it all be organized, and
  3. How is it all related?

So in terms of your question, think of it like this:

How a navigation menu behaves when someone
interacts with it is Interaction Design.


  Tips & Advice

4 Tips for Adding Lean UX to an Agile Development Process

As organizations of all shapes and sizes come to grips with the fact that UX is critical to project and product success, a common question resurfaces time and again:

“How do we add Lean UX practices to our current process?”

When I hear this question, I know that what’s really being expressed is concern, and in some cases, fear. What they really want to know is how can we do this without screwing up the way we do things now? In some cases, that’s a legitimate fear. Companies whose agile development processes are well-managed and well-executed are understandably reluctant to add anything new to the mix. Any change brings difficulty, and the simple fact is that there is no way to add Lean UX to company culture or process without experiencing some bumps in the road.

That said, there is most definitely a way to minimize the disruption and get past those speed bumps quickly. Adding Lean UX practices into an agile process successfully can be a complex process, and the specifics change depending on the organization, the project and the deadline. However, in my experience the are are 4 truths, 4 pieces of advice that apply to any situation.

1) Hire experienced UX analysts and designers; you need at least one experienced, senior UX member capable of sharing the driving. 

Ideally, they need to be part of your team as early in the process as possible. Meaning when you’re scoping the project, they’re at the table. They should be sitting side-by-side