We were all newbie UX/UI designers once, making mistakes and producing designs that would never make it into our portfolios today. But, from those early mistakes came valuable lessons that made us better designers.
After twelve years in the industry I look back at my early work with both nostalgia and mortification. As cringe-worthy as they are now though, those designs and mistakes were necessary for my growth.
Some of us have teachers and mentors to correct our mistakes and push us to grow. Others are more self-reliant, focusing on practice, tutorials and even client feedback for growth. I was definitely in the latter group.
By twist of fate, I was thrown into the deep end early in my career with a couple of major mobile design projects for the likes of Coca-Cola and M&C Saatchi. While cutting my teeth on these projects I made a lot of rookie mistakes that seem quite amateurish by today’s standards.
Some of my early design work for Coca-Cola / Pump water.
Luckily for me, digital UX/UI design was in its infancy when I started out. This meant I got to grow with the industry and avoid the scrutiny today’s new designers face when they enter the workforce.
What new UX / Ui designers face today
Over the last few years, the bar has been lifted to astronomical heights. There are now so many amazing UX / UI designers doing amazing work and it only takes potential employers or clients a few clicks on Dribbble to find them. This is the new benchmark designers are judged by, so learning quickly and perfecting your art fast has never been more important.
Here are the five most obvious and critical mistakes I see new UX / UI designers make and how to avoid making them yourself:
- Embrace the space – Don’t suffocate your design
- Consistency is king – Designing without rules leads to chaos
- User journey maps – Without a map you are lost
- Good navigation is boring and predictable
- If you have to explain your design, it’s no good
1. Embrace the space – Don’t suffocate your design
French composer Claude Debussy once said,
“Music is the space between the notes”
The same could be said for good UX/UI design. Space helps to create clarity, focuses the user’s attention and eliminates distractions. Decluttering your designs isn’t just a minimalist concept. If creating intuitive and enjoyable user experiences is your goal, mastering the use of blank space is essential.
As you can see in the example above (left), giving the elements on your page some breathing room makes it more inviting and less distracting. The eye can focus on one event at a time instead of being pulled around the page by different content (right).
2. Consistency is king – Designing without rules leads to chaos
A lack of consistency sticks out like a sore thumb to an experienced designer but for some reason it can go seemingly unnoticed by a novice.
Inconsistent fonts, font sizes, colours, padding and margins all demonstrate a lack of attention to detail. Whether consumers consciously notice the inconsistency or not is beside the point. These details matter to the subconscious. Even minor inconsistencies lead to confusion and mistrust. Pick a limited set of fonts, font sizes, colours, margins and padding sizes and stick to them religiously.
While the two examples above might not look too dissimilar at first glance, closer inspection shows a number of common inconsistencies in the design on the right. See if you can spot the following:
- Too many different fonts and font variations
- Different margin widths for different elements
- Inconsistent spacing between elements
- Misalignment of elements
3. User journey maps – Without them you are lost
In my opinion, starting a UX design project without a user journey map is going into the project unprepared… and it’ll show in your design. Not to mention, user journey maps will save you a ton of time in revising and reworking flows later.
Dead giveaways that the designer didn’t start with a plan include weird and inconsistent navigation, pages crammed with information because they forgot about details and needed to squeeze them in at the last minute and a generally unintuitive user experience.
You don’t need to spend days mapping out elaborate and detailed user journeys. A simple set of sticky notes depicting the flow of each user story or epic will suffice. I like to use online tools like Miro or Concept Board which are great for collaborative virtual journey mapping. For more information about how to create simple user journey maps check out this article from Appcues.
4. Good navigation is boring and predictable
You don’t want your design to be boring and predictable but you absolutely want your navigation structure to be.
Navigation is like visual effects in movies. When you get it right the audience won’t notice you did anything at all.
This isn’t to say as a UI designer you can’t get creative with page transitions and menus. By all means, wow and dazzle your users but make sure navigation through your site or app is simple and follows the established best practices. The user should intuitively know how to get around the second they open a page.
How you make navigation simple and intuitive is a little more complex. Here are some tips to ensure you get it right:
- Start with user journey maps
- Design a site map before you design your pages
- Never put back buttons on top level pages in the nav hierarchy
- Never put back buttons on drawers, popups or modals.
- Don’t put a back button on a screen that follows a confirmation action
- As a general rule, use a tab bar if you have 3-5 core sections in your app and a hamburger menu for any more or less.
5. If you have to explain your design, it’s no good
Scrap the instructions. Guiding the user through the app using good design choices, instead of text instructions will reduce cognitive overload. Plus, users just don’t have the attention spans for lengthy instructions anymore.
Good UX/UI design doesn’t require a whole bunch of instructional text or tutorials anyway. Screens loaded with instructions is another tell-tale sign of an inexperienced designer. You’ll find that your ability to design apps without the need for instructions will improve with practice. By all means explain what a function is and use the occasional hint or tooltip but be sure to keep it simple or rework the UX until it is.
Beyond the top 5 mistakes for UX / UI designers
Of course, avoiding these five mistakes isn’t a surefire path to design perfection, but it is a good start. Once you have mastered these basics I’d suggest focusing on the following important but perhaps less obvious areas:
- Reduce barriers / steps for users
- Reduce options and give users a clear path (See 5-Pass reduction wireframing)
- Break complex processes up into bite-sized chunks
- Incorporate progress indicators and benefit from completion bias
- Give users constant feedback and reassurance
By Joseph Russell – Founder and Creative Director at DreamWalk.
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