My User Experience Guiding Principles

A few posts back, I talked about leading with user experience principles. My premise is that each product should have a custom set of them and they inform decision making on the product. I got to wondering, as a UX practitioner what are MY user experience principles. These are the principles that guide how I approach UX.

  • Establish UX principles first.
  • Continuous, evolutionary improvement. Learn as you go.
  • Minimum Viable Wireframes
  • Gather metrics for evidence of what you know you don’t know
  • Do observations to find out what you DON’T know you don’t know.
  • Research by proxy
  • Evidence based design
  • Get out of the users’ way!
  • Performance is critical to user satisfaction.
  • Attend the little things, they make up the big things.
  • Curate, curate, curate.
  • Seek to express purpose and create trust.
  • Follow the ant lion approach when designing for tasks.
  • The humanity of a software drives how it’s embraced.

A few of these might be cryptic. I’ll briefly explain them. I think they may be good topics for future posts.

Minimum viable wireframes: A term I coined to describe my practice of only delivering the least polished UX artifact possible to get the feature into production. I’m in the business of making software better, not making pretty pictures or fancy presentations. I have been bit by high fidelity mockups more than once. If a napkin sketch works, go with it. A whiteboard session with stakeholders is my favorite. Take a photo and build. 

Research by proxy: I am an interaction designer and information architect at heart. I fell in love with research because evidence makes designing so much more effective. As a UX team of one its hard to conduct research, design and build. I found that regular meetings with Customer Service and Sales provide a ton of info from employees who are in the field doing demos or helping users with issues. These departments are my goto source for how users are doing.

The ant lion approach: More to follow. :)

Being a User Experience Pro is like being a Barbecue chef. There are a few core ingredients, but they are mixed with care and each chef adds their own distinct flavor. Honesty, craft and attention to detail always show through. And good UX, like good barbecue keeps the customers coming back!
Chef Tim

Performance Monitoring App

These are mockups of an application I designed to monitor IT Jobs and metrics for managers who want to check on status before work or after hours.

Image 1

This design uses a “deck and card” pattern to organize metrics by category. Each card has instant impact and secondary information lends detail to the main data. Affordances indicate UI opportunities.

Image 2

This was a different approach that didn’t work as well. For instance, I found the users only were interested in the jobs that didn’t run. The OK jobs were not interesting.

Image 3

I explored running an algorithm that would tabulate all the jobs that passed and failed and set a gauge  the user could look at to see how their day was looking like. 

Portfolio Management App

Screenshots of the dashboard for a portfolio management app for money managers out of the office. The first is an actual screen. The second an early mockup.

Image 4

Mobile portfolio management app dashboard.User research let me know they are careful about their data. I added a tap on the metric bar to hide numbers. The buttons on the left act like diving boards.

Image 5

This is a very early mockup (pre-colored) of an idea I had to sort through reports like files. I wanted a 3D view with carousels in compartments.

The myth of consistency

Adding consistency to a user interface is certainly a best practice. But it has become an umbrella term often rattled off by executive stakeholders with little understanding of exactly where consistency matters. It’s phrase that has become a victim of “scope creep”.

What consistency is

Consistency is important at the micro level. Interactions should have patterns that the user can follow. Similar tasks should have similar flows. Feedback and messaging should follow a well thought out and consistent. pattern. Feedback and messaging are one of my favorite aspects of UX. Communicate state and accomplishment to users in a recognizable, and regular way. This is the correct application of consistency. Consistency beyond the micro level has little impact…

What consistency isn’t

     ”Consistency is the spice of life.”

Um, No it isn’t. Users don’t connect to a site that is so patterned that changes are in recognizable. They need a difference in pace, style or layout to let them know they have arrived at a new modality in their user journey.

Consistency does not mean make every grid, color and element placement on every page exactly the same. When apps look like this there is no sense of difference. An app becomes a soviet housing project. Bland boring and oppressively ordered.

Even button placement, (I have argued this one)… Don’t be afraid to change the placement of an action button (if need be!). 

If you take some one to a different task that needs a different pattern. Don’t avoid the new pattern because the button will be in a different place. Apply whatever construct leads to results, even if its not like other places on the site.

When you add variations to a site or app, users attach meaning to them based on changes in the design. They will become cues that something different is offered or expected of them.

Variations can even offer users more than one way to get something done. Different users can attach to a layout that appeals to them. 

A good example that comes to mind is The home page offers a way to discover patterns that is gallery like. Click the design patterns menu button and the same info is organized in four column lists. I prefer that page and go to it immediately when I visit the site.

The bottom line is that I encourage designers to not over apply the consistency term. Be consistent in providing solutions or direction but remember variation to your styles, layouts or flows allows for more delight and meaning.

The Chokehold of Calendars

This article has good insight into how workers have their scheduling priorities backwards and use software that perpetuates the practice.

Meetings shouldn’t rule our workday, we should  

When I worked on scheduling software at, I learned that one of the features our users appreciated most was it’s ability to easily block off time so that their customers couldn’t book when they didn’t want them to. Availability could be set on a recurring basis or amended on the fly as seen here.

Drag and drop availability is used to allow organizations to offer online booking to their clients. Many businesses limited available time slots based on their needs. I even saw users with wide open schedules block off time just to appear “booked”, This feature is sorely missing in Outlook where our availability is usually set .by the exchange server and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or is there.

Tomorrow, I am going to set up some recurring "work" appointments throughout my week . I might add the project name to work on or set aside time for research or testing. This way I can offer a couple of hours a day for meetings.

Take back your schedule with me.


Always honor your users’ agenda first.

This is a rule for a successful product that is easy to break if there’s an agenda YOU want your users to follow.

A perfect example is the latest facebook update for android mobile.

They made a simple change. They switched the order of what information they deliver first. Previously, it loaded the notifications first… then the newsfeed. This way, you could quickly see if anyone responded or reached out to you and bail on the app before the feed finished if no one did. That’s handy for several reasons. For users like me, the newsfeed is unimportant; who’s talking to me is. Secondly, in low bandwidth situations, you don’t have to wait long to check your communications.

Alas, they switched the order and the newsfeed loads first. Now the app has this uncertain quality about it because the notification badges suddenly appear long after the app is opened. And the ability to quickly check messages is gone. My agenda is out the window.

Why would they do this? I have a feeling it’s more important to THEM that there’s eyes on the newsfeed. I suspect they put their agenda first at the expense of UX.

All apps have to strike a balance between user needs and the goals of those who deliver the product. But if company goals get honored ahead of users, you may see them flock to alternatives that keep their agenda first.

Contact Management Interface Tour

I think the contact management feature of is my favorite part of the application.

I like the architecture, the attention to interesting moments, the detailed interactivity and feedback.

I also like it because of the collaboration between UX and engineering. I delivered tight wires and a solid design doc. We discussed the interesting moments of the feature and filled in the holes. As it came to life we adapted to problems that came up. It set precedence for the rest of the features on the app and defined the design pattern for the   administrative features of the product.

Booking Calendar Admin Interface

Here is a walk through of a feature for creating a booking calendar for a website. It incorporates a two panel grid with the primary panel used to present options and the secondary one for revealing a preview of the choices made. It shows off how to use heuristic elements, revealing options and choice feedback to guide the user through a complex task.

User Directed/Data Directed Interface Design

This is an example of a dynamic and responsive user interface designed to react to the direction a user takes to accomplish the goal. It changes based on the the state of the task and the amount of options that are present. Please watch the video or read on to get more of the details.

Read More

Animations can add more than polish to your designs

Subtle and unobtrusive animations can add a bit of polish to an application and let users know the product has a little pulse. But they can also serve the user and do more than just provide a little sizzle.

Read More

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union