Prioritize Design with Principles

In the world of software things rarely work out in an ideal fashion. This is especially true when operating as a UX “army of one”. My experience as the lone UX Designer has taught me that I cannot accomplish everything UX in the same manner as I did when I was part of a great design team. User Research reports turn into executive summaries, fewer design concepts get developed, and other UX deliverables become nice to haves that just don’t happen. Through the frustrations I have learned the importance of prioritization and focus. 

One of those UX deliverables that becomes a nice to have is a UI Design Pattern Library. Design Pattern Libraries are a great tool to promote consistency across a product or an enterprise of products. When done well it can lead to a smoother, easier to learn user experience. However, they take a very long time to develop making it very hard for one UX designer to give it the focus it needs. 

I was glad to see Peter Hornsby’s recent UX Matters article on using Design Principles over standards and patterns. Not only is creating a Pattern Library a lot of effort, but I have to agree that patterns can lock designers and developers into the way things have always been done. I believe that User Experience is a group activity. Which is why I like to encourage developers to challenge my designs, and find ways to deliver the best possible user experience within our technical constraints.

Design Principles create a foundation for the open ended discussion that pushes for a better experience. They become a guide during design reviews. When tied to specific emotions, they can help build empathy for the users within the team. And ultimately, they can help create a desirable design culture.

Here are a few simple design principles that I particularly like to live by. These are inspired by Lean UX principles, the HIMSS elements of a usable EMR, and over 10 years of design experience:

  • Safety First: This one is the most important principle in the healthcare domain, as patient lives are at stake when software or a medical device is not run properly. Design solutions need to make sure we protect our users from causing themselves or others harm. It should be hard to make errors, yet easy to recover from them.
  • Know who you are designing for - This is one of my favorites as it focuses on the importance of User Research. Know the personas, their goals, their workflow, and have empathy for the roadblocks they come across. 
  • Build what is relevant – A good design solution solves a specific problem or problems that have been well researched. Do not build “cool” features that do not solve an actual problem - that seems to only work for Apple and social media applications. This principle goes hand in hand with keeping the designs simple so as to not overwhelm users with information overload
  • Prioritize! – Once you know what is relevant, focus on the primary tasks and the important data needed to complete those tasks. Make the most critical data easy to see and access, and show anything secondary elsewhere to reduce clutter. This is another principle that relies heavily on solid User Research and keeping designs simple. 

This is by no means a complete list. These principles are some of my favorites that I work with to deliver usable designs. I like to keep them simple, sweet, and easy to explain. I also make them easy to see by placing the list in places where the development teams have their meetings. 

Bottom line - a solid set of principles are very important tool in the UX toolbox, especially for the lone UX designer.