5 User-Centered Design Principles From Innovative Tech Companies

| June 4, 2015
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Does your design team have a specific set of beliefs that serve as guiding principles for your work? Some of the most successful tech companies do.

Facebook’s team has defined and written down the qualities that they strive for in their work. They use these principles to evaluate whether something “is Facebook” or “isn’t Facebook,” and whether the design they’re working on could be improved.

And they’re not the only ones who have committed their philosophies to writing. Companies like IBM and Google have followed suit. Smart companies are beginning to realize that:

  • Their brand is only as good as the user experience of their product
  • User-centered design leads to higher ROI

And in order to maintain a consistent experience across a wide variety of products, services, and channels, design teams need a core set of principles to influence and direct their work.

I’ve curated and collected design principles practiced by some of the most powerful, influential tech companies. Take them, copy them, adapt them. But whatever you do, use them in your business.

1. Serve your users first and the rest will follow

Our users’ worlds are inevitably more complicated than what’s observable on the surface. Strive to understand what you’re asking your users to do and the impact it will have on them… We must be authentically thoughtful in our software design and respect what a user needs —IBM

Before you start designing anything, the first thing you should do is stop and ask yourself, “What problem are we solving for our users?” You could create the most beautifully designed product with more features than anything else on the market, but if it doesn’t solve a specific problem for your audience, it’s not going to be useful to anybody.

Focus on serving your users needs first, rather than your own internal goals or bottom line. Start by identifying the problem you’re solving and exactly who you’re solving it for. Then focus all of your creative energy on building a solution that makes your users’ life better, in a way that almost seems magical in how easily it solves their problem. Serve your users first and the rest will follow.

2. Design for speed and simplicity

Design for fast, effortless, and intentional interactions. Simple and common tasks should be frictionless and obvious; complex tasks should feel efficient and delightful. But, speed should not lead to inaccuracies. —Asana

Don’t make your user think. Don’t put the cognitive burden on them to figure out what they need to do.

Instead, put in the time and effort to make complex tasks as easy and simple as possible. Do all of the hard work so that users can easily do what they need to do. If you make it difficult for them, they’ll just find an easier option.

3. Design for mobile

You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer. The world is increasingly mobile: people want access to information wherever they are, whenever they need it. —Google

People are on their mobile phones looking for entertainment, checking their email, calendar events, watching videos, researching products and purchasing options, connecting with faraway family and friends, etc.

No matter what your product is, your users will want to access it in diverse settings. It’s not only important to design for these situations, but you also need to take mobile user intent into consideration.

4. Create a consistent experience

We invest our time wisely, by embracing patterns, recognizing that our usability is greatly improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways. Our interactions speak to users with a single voice, building trust. Reduce, reuse, don’t redesign. —Facebook

If users have a different experience of your company from one channel to another, they will never feel certain they can trust you. It’s important to invest the time and energy to create a consistent omnichannel experience across all the touchpoints where users interact with your brand.

5. Get user feedback

Empathy for the people you are designing for and feedback from these users is fundamental to good design. —Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

Stanford’s design school might not be a tech company, but their perspective on design thinking has had a major influence on the tech industry. In order to design great products, you need to cultivate empathy for your users. According to the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, cognitive empathy — sometimes called “perspective taking” — refers to our ability to identify and understand other people’s’ emotions.

The only way to take your user’s perspective and understand what they’re feeling is to observe them using your product and get their feedback. Use this feedback to inform your future iterations, and continue to get user feedback each time you make changes to your design.

Conclusion

Your organization only exists because of your users—always remember that. When you design products for them, you should always be their biggest advocate.

Your brand is only as good as the user experience of your product. In order to craft a delightful omnichannel user experience, your design team would greatly benefit from defining your guiding principles.

These are some of the design principles that help a handful of the most successful tech companies build products that have an impact on millions of people every day. Take them, copy them, adapt them. But whatever you do, use them in your business.