Know your users is a fundamental product design rule. While it’s impossible to summarize all the information about users in a single article, it is still possible to highlight the most important rules every UX designer should follow to create an excellent experience for people.
Here are 10 essential rules that will help you design better user experience.
1. User attention span
Attention span is the amount of concentrated time a person can spend on a task without becoming distracted.
Estimates for the length of human attention span are highly variable and depend on the precise definition of attention being used. Common estimates of the attention span of healthy teenagers and adults range from 10 to 20 minutes.
Side note: Some studies tell us that the average human attention span is reducing. According to data from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds, while the average human attention span has gone down by 33% since the year 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015. But it’s vital to remember that this data is not relevant to goal-oriented experience (when the user is focussed on completing a particular task). For example, users can have this attention span when they browsing Facebook newsfeed; but they will have a different span when they filling out a finance report.
- Prevent distraction. When a user is working on an important task, try to prevent situations when she has to switch to another activity. Even when you have to show some important information, try to do it in the context of the operation.
- Provide system feedback within 400ms in order to keep users’ attention and increase productivity. Productivity soars when a user does not have to wait for a computer.
2. Peak–end rule
How users perceive experience with your product or service. The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic that tells us that people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., where the user feels the most extreme reaction, whether it’s positive or negative) and at its end (where the customer ends her journey), rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. According to the heuristic, other emotions aside from that of the peak and end of the experience are not lost, but it is not used.
Impressions become memories
- Use peak-end-rule as a framework to understand where to focus your UX efforts. For instance, you can map out a user emotional journey for typical user flows and analyze the peaks in its journey.
- Focus on improving common negative experiences. Focus on unfinished tasks — Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than the completed task. Redesign components that make users abandon the process and conduct usability testing to understand how the reworked version behaves.
- Always try to end customer journey on the positive peak.
3. Banner blindness
Banner blindness is a phenomenon in web usability where site’s visitors consciously or unconsciously ignore information that looks like an ad.
Only 14% of consumers remember the last ad they saw; Just 2.8% thought the ad was relevant (source)
- Use relevant content. Don’t deliver ads without first identifying what your visitors want.
- Use contextual links within blog posts instead of dedicated banner blocks.
4. Familiar experience works better
Users spend most of their time on other sites/in other apps. This means that users prefer your app/site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
- Use familiar design patterns. By doing that you’ll simplify the learning process for your users.
5. Fitts’s Law
Fitts’s Law states that the time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.
- Make elements you wish to be easily interactable (i.e, buttons and other UI controls) large and position them close to users.
6. User scan patterns
How users consume information on individual pages. When it comes to blocks of content, the F-Pattern describes the most common user eye-scanning patterns. The pattern was popularized by NNGroup eye-tracking study which recorded more than 200 users looked at thousands of web pages and found that users’ main reading behavior was fairly consistent across many different sites and tasks. This pattern called F-Pattern because it looks somewhat like an F and here is how it works:
- Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
- Next, they scan a vertical line down the left side of the screen, looking for points of interest in the paragraph’s initial sentences. When they found something interesting they read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
- Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement.
- Avoid using fancy fonts for text that users should read. ‘Decoding’ fancy fonts required more time, that’s why users tend to ignore them.
- Keep your content short & simple. Short paragraphs work better than long ones.
- Break the content using bullet points and headlines.
- Read more tips here
7. Cognitive tunneling
Cognitive tunneling is a phenomenon in digital products usability where users become immersed in the experience so they ignore events that happen around them. For example, users who play an AR game can fail to perceive what happens around them.
- Design stop points in the user journey. Let users pause or save their progress. For instance, if you design an AR app, design points where users can save their progress.
8. Problem of choice
Many product designers believe that the more features or options they provide, the more valuable a product will be. It’s the wrong assumption. This abundance of choice can result in decision making paralysis and increased anxiety. This phenomenon is known as the paradox of choice.
It happens because the decision-making process will require more time and effort from users. Hick’s law states:
The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.
And the situation becomes worse if users have to memorize the options. Miller’s law states:
The average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory.
In 2010, The New York Times published Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze. This article referenced a famous jam study — an experiment where researchers offered samples of either 6 or 24 flavors of jam to customers at a store. When customers sampled 24 flavors, only 3 percent purchased a jam, but when customers sampled 6, 30 percent decided to buy a jam. The same principles apply to digital interfaces.
Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.
- Trim the fat. Prioritize all features/options you have according to the user’s needs, and remove all unnecessary options.
- Chunking. Simplify choices for the user to ensure by breaking complex tasks into smaller steps.
9. User complains
Are your users happy with your product? According to Lee Resource, for every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent.
And according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9–15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. At the same time, happy customers who get their issue resolved tell about 4–6 people about their experience.
- Make sure it’s easy for users to get support.
- Ask users for feedback on a regular basis. This is especially important if you solve the user problem.
10. The power of aesthetics
Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that’s more usable.
Attractive things work better
Don Norman has an excellent article on the role of emotions in design. He mentions that aesthetically pleasing design can make users more tolerant of minor usability issues. He also shares some of them in the following video: