Design principles back all great digital products. You can think of them as core values everyone understands and promotes. They guide the design process, teams, and end-product vision. These principles are more or less universal and are used to build world-class products at companies like Spotify, Airbnb, and Figma.
Five universal product design principles
Let's take a closer look at these principles and ways you can apply them to your design process.
Put the user first
When it comes to building a digital product, no one is more important than the person who's going to be using it. Whether it's a visitor of a website or a user of an app, you need to make sure that your design puts them front and center. It's the key to attracting and retaining users. And no one can understand the users better than a product designer.
Product designers are the only people in the company who cover both sides: the user experience and business goals. That's why we're so valuable.
Before you start designing your idea, learn who the users are and what are their needs, wants, and problems. It's your job as a product designer to figure out what users are currently using to solve the problem they have and find a way to solve it with your product in a more effective and aesthetically pleasing way. Ask what would make them use your product. What do they want to see in it? How are they going to use it?
Once you research, create the designs and use prototypes to evaluate your ideas. Use focus groups or in-person testing to validate the concepts. These steps are critical to delivering a design that works for the end user.
One of the best product design tips you can ever receive is this: simplicity is the key. Modern-day users expect to see results instantly, which means if your website or app loads for more than 3 seconds, the visitor bounce rate increases by 123%.
There's a reason why the best websites and applications use the same general layout and native components. There's a reason why you can go from searching Amazon to buying a product without barely moving your thumb. You don't have to go through the shopping basket anymore, thanks to the "Buy Now" option.
It's the designer's job to make everything effortless. And it's better to remove obstacles rather than help the user to overcome them.
Based on your research, you can identify at least a few areas where you can make a decision for the user to prevent them from completing an extra step in their journey.
Use the data to make better decisions
The most prominent mistake designers make is designing products relying on their gut feeling. It can be great to spark genius work at the initial design stages, but the vision becomes different than reality.
That's why product designers must use the data to determine their decisions. It makes the user experience more valuable and prevents the misdirection of resources.
A product designer can use two main types of data in their work: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative data is non-numerical, like characteristics or emotional responses. Quantitative data is numerical, like website traffic or the number of app downloads. If you think of a glass of sparkling water, the quantitative data will tell you how much water you have, while qualitative data will tell you how it tastes.
Designers use surveys, user testing, A/B testing, focus groups, and targeted feedback to extract data from users. While collecting the data, remember that users may only sometimes put their input into the right words. Be sure to observe not only what they say but also how they interact with the product. This will help you understand the context better and draw the correct conclusion.
Bear in mind that by combining several sources, you can form a better hypothesis that will inform your design decisions. E.g., if the users enjoyed using X, we'll also implement Y. If they bounced back to A, you remove the B.
While data is critical as you design your product, it continues beyond there. Keep testing your assumptions and user feedback, creating an excellent user-centered product.
Make consistency and hierarchy your primary focus
All digital products are fighting for users' attention. This is why consistency and visual hierarchy are essential design principles that play a significant role in the design process. It's all about creating products that flow without overwhelming or confusing the users.
Consistent design harmonizes layouts, icons, fronts, and colors.
The visual hierarchy, meanwhile, is about prioritizing where users look. In other words, your main message takes precedence. This will be in something other than a 1-2-3-style format. You can shift the user's eyes across the page using images, font sizes, typography, and color. The brighter and bolder it is, the more important it is in the hierarchy.
Combining consistency and hierarchy allows you to draw attention to your users' areas that matter most.
A few fundamental product design principles will help you create a successful digital product. You need to put your users front and center and seek to minimize their effort as they engage with your solution. Everything they do should be as intuitive as can be! To make that possible, learn about human behavioral patterns and apply the rules of visual hierarchy and consistency.
Finally, don't forget that a digital product is never a finished project – people change, and so does your competitor's landscape. So, apply user and product data to drive the best decisions. Good luck with your design!
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