During my short internship at the development center of the Skoda factory in Mladá Boleslav, I had the honor of meeting the then chief designer, Josef Kabáň. The most important lesson he gave me as a junior designer was that the best design is not actually the one that looks the best, but rather the one that most balances aesthetics with functionality. He used to like using a comparison of the Philippe Starck juicer with general, conventional kitchen appliances. While a classic plastic or stainless steel bowl with a push-button at the top won’t catch anyone’s attention, it performs its function reliably and without much effort or demand for service and maintenance. The shiny chrome tripod is precisely the opposite.
Every product designer, therefore, has the ultimate goal of finding the most effective and functional solution to a particular problem. Whether you’re designing a car, a smartphone, a web page, or a mobile app, you should adhere to a few basic principles for better user-friendliness.
1. Do not seek inspiration; create it
One of my favorite designers, Johny Vino, has recently released an article titled ‘7 quick life lessons for designers,’ where he says ‘Stop looking for inspiration, design your designs,’ and ‘devote 90% of your time to researching and finding solutions. Devote 10% of your time for designing itself.’
During my design process, I spend a lot of time searching for inspiration on a visual level. I store a lot of clippings, screenshots and thumbnails from a variety of apps and portfolios, without deeper reflection on the meaning of the design itself.
The research should, in contrast, be a little bit different. You should look for case studies, statistics, and various best practices. Visual inspiration should then be sought alone.
2. Don’t pay attention to trends
Oh yeah. Don’t use bold font. It’s not trendy. Design naturally evolves and requires a lot of effort to keep up — so too the taste and style of users. However, you need to realize that what’s trending today, may not be functional and trendy tomorrow (yes, I’m looking at you, skeuomorphism.)
Do not worry too much about designing your product visuals. The primary task is to solve the function and sense, and then the visual coat. The less you succumb to ultra-hype trends, the more timeless the visuals will be.
3. Do not force the user to think
In 1960, U.S. Navy (according to Wikipedia) first used KISS: ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ as one of its basic design principles. We follow this rule at every step in many interpretations. Steve Krug wrote a book on the interaction and usability of digital devices called ‘Don’’ Make Me Think,’ Steve Jobs said, ‘Most people want a new device however they don’t want to read the manual.’ at every launch of an Apple product, and Elon Musk said, ‘Any product that needs a manual to work is broken.’
Minimization is sexy, and users should concentrate on their work, not on serving the application or the device. So always ask what the user really needs and what is just superfluous and feature-masturbation. Focus on creating an intuitive interface, not documentation and tutorials.
4. Be consistent
Following the previous point, consistency is an almost magical spell. If a user gets to know your environment, any sudden surprises or changes will make them very unhappy. The interface interaction method must be consistent across all user paths. Therefore, editing, saving, downloading or uploading methods must be the same wherever they appear.
The consistency pressure is then higher in larger product packages. If you’re familiar with the environment of one app, you won’t have a problem working in the next application. This is well done by Google Docs, Presentation, Spreadsheets, and Microsoft Office Packages. On the other hand, there is Adobe, which is behind with its keyboard shortcuts of Photoshop / Illustrator which make things more complicated.
5. Get to know your target audience, and listen to them
Try to be as close as possible to the target group. Get to know their needs, their problems and identify potential risks. Do not be stubborn, but rather accept their opinions. Do not be angry at people with worse eyesight, not appreciating your magical color palette and fine writing. Do not be angry with an administration worker who has been inputting data into Software602 for 20 years and does not understand your design. Listen to them and step-by-step create a unique product together that they will fall in love with. Be humble, open to any criticism and ask the right questions. Just do not hurry …!
Remember that it is users and customers who decide whether or not the product will be successful. Therefore, focus not only on visual quality, but look carefully at solutions and operating mechanisms. Design prototypes, test them and consult them with others. Be empathic and let them fall in love with your design.