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  • Writer's pictureAnda Sărăcuț

Everything Around You is UX - Principles of UX Design

If you heard the term “user experience” or “UX" before, probably the first thing that comes to your mind is that it has to do with a digital product, like a website or an app. You are not wrong, but people tend to forget that we are all some kind of users, from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to sleep at night, coming across different experiences with several products. Toothpastes, shower gel bottles, doors, chairs, cars, microwave ovens, etc. - the user’s experience is fundamental for everything we use in our daily lives.

Generally speaking, UX refers to the emotional experience that customers have while engaging with a website, app, service, or any other kind of product from a company. The fact that UX spans more than one area of creativity is what makes it so appealing to creatives. Psychology, computer science, statistics, content strategy, graphic design, and so much more are all used in this field. When it is executed properly, UX provides users with a simple and enjoyable experience, free from difficulties and tension.

principles of ux design

If you look a little closer at your daily life and observe UX in its natural habitat, it’s interesting to see how many times you blame yourself when you can’t make an object function the way it should be functioning. Maybe you pull the entrance door when it should be pushed, or maybe you can’t make the coffee machine work. You sometimes feel discomfort and frustration, when in fact, in most cases the design is the faulty one.

There are some usability principles stated by Jakob Nielsen that can help you evaluate what might be wrong with an object that frustrates you, or they could make you think about what would you improve about an object. It’s a fun game to be much more aware of the world around you, and to think about these kinds of details, especially because these principles can be adapted to almost every product we use daily.

So, here are the principles of UX design along with some relevant examples from the real or digital world, to figure out what they are about.

Principles of UX design

1. The system should show its current status

The design should always keep users up to date on what’s going on, by providing suitable feedback in a timely manner.

  • Great example: MacBook’s charger - plug the charger into the charging port of the device, and it tells you the status of its charging, through a small LED. The LED changes its color depending on the charging status: it turns red while charging, and green when it’s fully charged.

2. Match between the system and the real world

The design should speak the user’s language. Use familiar words, not internal jargon and scientific phrases.

  • Great example: Stovetop controls - when they match the layout of heating elements, users can quickly understand which control maps to which heating element.

3. Give control and freedom to the users

Users frequently make mistakes. So give them a clearly indicated “emergency exit” that allows them to exit fast without going through a lengthy process, or give them a way to take a step back.

  • Great example: Undo and redo buttons make everything easily reversible, so users don’t have to worry about their actions.

4. Consistency and standards

Users should not have to guess whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. In the use of a product, learnability grows as complexity decreases. When there is no consistency, users must learn something new, which raises their cognitive load.

  • Great example: Check-in counters - they are usually located at the front of the hotels, on the ground floor. This consistency meets customers’ expectations. It would be very confusing for users to place the counter on the last floor.

5. Prevent the errors

While good error messages are very important, the best designs take care to avoid problems in the first place. Either remove error-prone conditions or check for them and give users a confirmation choice before committing to an action.

  • Great example: Dead end road signs - being placed at the entrance of the road, it warns the driver that the path they are on doesn’t connect with a different street. It prevents the driver from getting frustrated that he has to turn around when getting to the end.

6. Recognition is preferred more than recall

Make items, actions, and options visible, to reduce the user's memory load. The user should not have to recall data from one portion of the interface to the next. When using the design, information should be always visible or easily accessible.

  • Great example: When using a search query on a website, showing search suggestions or recently viewed/searched items can make users’ navigation easier.

7. Make tasks flexible and efficient in use

Experienced and inexperienced users can choose the most suitable method of use for them. Shortcuts that are hidden from beginner users may speed up the interaction for the expert user, allowing the design to accommodate both novice and experienced users. Allow users to customize their routine actions.

  • Great example: On Instagram you can like a post by double-tapping a post, making the browsing process faster, rather than always searching to tap the little heart icon.

8. Use aesthetic and minimalist design

Every additional unit of information competes with the relevant units of data, lowering their relative visibility.

  • Great example: Elegant teapots - excessive decorative components, like as an unpleasant handle or a difficult-to-clean nozzle, might make them unusable

9. Help users notice, understand and recover from errors

Error messages clearly state the problem, using plain language, and they should also offer a helpful remedy.

  • Great example: When you mess up your password when signing in, most of the websites warn you by using the color red to tell you clearly that something is wrong, and sometimes they offer to help you with recovery.

10. Help and documentation

It’s preferable if the system doesn't require any further explanation. However, documentation may be required to assist users in understanding how to complete their tasks.

  • Great example: Information kiosks in malls are easily recognizable and solve customers’ problems in context and immediately.


A great book that changed the way I see the objects around me is The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman. It teaches you exactly what I was saying earlier, to free yourself from the frustrating sensation that you are to fault for your inability to execute simple tasks on a regular basis. It helps you comprehend that, while humans are destined to make mistakes, designers should definitely assist us in minimizing failure.

A faulty design, on the other hand, has far more damaging implications than disappointing or frustrating a person. Don Norman also mentions in his book how some calamities could have been avoided if the designers considered the circumstances in which the product will be used. For example, the worst accident in US commercial nuclear power plant history (The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania) that occurred in 1979, could have been avoided if the labels were less confusing and the buttons weren’t badly designed.

On the digital side, even when UX designers work on a website or app, they consider the user’s experience outside the online world, as well as behavior patterns that are not necessarily tied to the digital experiences. For example, the user research that is done at the beginning of a design process, usually aims to learn about users’ demographics, daily lives, and previous experiences. Then, while designing the interface, there are different principles and laws regarding the design psychology that explain how people usually perceive objects and groups of objects in real life.

“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.” - Jared Spool, founder of User interface Engineering




  • The Design of Everyday Things - Don Norman

  • 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People - Susan M. Weinschenk

  • Emotional Design - Don Norman

  • Hooked - Nir Eyal



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