UX Design Principles

I was at an enterprise designer meetup last night.  An interesting topic came up which was, “What are your enterprise design principles?”  I thought I had collected quite a few over the years that have helped me design.  Here they are with very short explanations.

1. Don’t move the cheese
If a user knows how to do something, don’t move it.  It’s annoying to relearn muscle memory.  If you HAVE to move something, prepare for alot of angry customers. More details on moving the cheese.

2. Simple things should be simple.  Complex things should be possible.
Part of this means, “use intelligent defaults”.  When you add something, have it in working order right away.  Allow the user to do the happy path right away.  Power Users don’t mind jumping through hoops to make their edge cases work.  In other words, don’t burden the beginner/intermediate users with advanced features.  Hide them inside “edit details” actions.

3. Customers can’t afford to pay attention.
They already pay for your product.  Now you want them to pay attention too??  You are greedy.  Realistically, users don’t read instructions and don’t pay attention to details.  Make things obvious, or better yet, just do the right thing for them and don’t allow bad behavior.  More details on user distraction.

Great example:  In JIRA, I did a search and it said, “No results.”  In a line way underneath it said, “Maybe you should login.”  My principle would be to protect the user and forward them automatically to the login screen.

4. Remember the three travelers
It’s a story about three experiences.  Perfect, Terrible and Bad at first with a positive recovery.  See details about the three travelers.  The punchline is that bad at first with a positive recovery is actually better than perfect.  (Spoiler: Perfect doesn’t actually exist)

5. Consistent is better than perfect.
It’s always tempting to design the perfect UI for every specific situation.  It’s better to be consistent with the rest of the application than to introduce new patterns all the time.  New designers to an organization are often tempted to invent all new patterns.  Users don’t appreciate it.  They want consistency. More details on consistency.

6. Minimum Lovable Product – not Viable.
I hate minimum viable products (MVPs).  They usually suck and are lame.  People don’t want task completion.  They want a delightful experience.  Make sure it’s lovable.  It’s not about features, it’s about the quality of the feature you release.  People don’t remember the date you released.  They remember how it made them feel when they first used it. More details on MLP.

7. Five pennies is better than one dime.
Ask any child and they know it’s true.  Five small features trump one big one.  Instead of delivering big features all the time, release a bunch of small features that are easy to love.  More details on Five Pennies.  Also more details on how the little things matter.

8. Fun to use is better than easy to learn.
Lots of things are hard to learn.  Surfing, skiing, tennis, chess, UX, programming, guitar, etc etc.  Yet people obsess about them and do them all the time.  Why?  Because they are fun.  Make your application fun and it will pay off in the long run.  Not stupid fun (like with useless irrelevant gamification), but fun in that it makes people happy to use.  A great designer should aspire to a design that thrills people to use. More details on product fun.

9. Don’t fall in love with your own work.
A wise man once told me, you have to learn to eat your young as a designer.  We called it “Eating your baby”.  When a better idea comes along, you throw away the old and focus on the new.  A great designer knows when a better idea is presented and immediately adopts it.  More details on Eating your baby.

10. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to be proud of it.
I have two bars: Perfect and Proud.  As long as it’s over the Proud line, then I feel good about releasing it.  Enterprise software is impossible make perfect and include all the features needed.  But don’t accept it if you aren’t even proud of it.  We use a concept at work called “Chips”.  When you care alot about it and it’s not making you proud, you can say, “I am willing to use my chips on this.”  We don’t keep track of chips, but people know you are serious when you go “all in”.

Ten principles seems like a nice round number. I love these principles and they guide me every day.  I hope they help you in your UX journey too.

Practical Wisdom

I just finished reading Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz. (Author of the great book The Paradox of Choice. – not to be confused with The Wisdom of Crowds, also a great book.) Practical Wisdom is a decent book, but more importantly, it points the way to design our ideal civilization.

The book points out how incentives are often ill-designed and elicit the wrong behavior.  Example: Teachers aim for test scores instead of engaged, interested curious students.  Also, that writing down rules for every situation is virtually impossible because of the nuance and complexity of the real world.  Example: Mandatory sentencing has filled our jails with people who are no threat to society.

I find that, as a design manager, you can’t just write down all the rules or make blunt incentives for designers and expect the right outcomes.  It takes judgement, talent and experience to make the right decisions.  There are design principles, but they must be applied with practical wisdom.

The book make me think of the “right size” of something.  Take the following example:


Stress is a good thing up to a point.  Too much or too little is less than ideal.  Some stress gives you energy and purpose.  The same can be said for all sorts of things like alcohol, games, studying, water, exercise, sex, food, honesty, war, aggression, etc etc.

War might strike you as “any is too much”, but when a nation is running rampant over other countries, war is better than appeasement.  Too much, of course is awful.

We live in a complex and wonderful world that is easy (and hard) to change.  Some change is good, too much is bad.

One should be aware of their enviorment and ask the question, “Is this the right amount?  Am I using practical wisdom here? or am I just trying to follow the rules?”

GPS Broken in my Samsung Note 3

I need my phone to do about 2 things:  Call Katie and Google Maps.  I have a terrible sense of direction.  When I was younger I would drive with paper maps.  I would need to pull over every mile or so to make sure I was where I was supposed to be.

The navigation feature of a phone is absolutely brilliant and has changed my driving life.  I love how Google Maps looks and works.

By the way, most car manufacturers have GPS maps build in to the car.  They look like shit.  Why is this?  They know what Google looks like.  I am sure they could license the technology.  It’s pathetic how poor of an experience most car GPS systems are.  (I’ve heard that BMW may have improved theirs recently).

Anyway, Google Maps is great, but about 4 months ago, my GPS started acting all weird.  It would spin in a circle.  It would turn me sideways traveling 65 miles an hour on the highway.  It would put me in the woods to the left of the highway on a regular basis.  Google Maps became useless.

I tried everything.  I tried other map software (waze). I tried to fix the GPS with several apps.  I got a replacement SIM card.  Factory default reset. Exorcism with an ancient Egyptian talisman. Nothing worked.  Finally, I took it to the Verizon store and they said they fixed it in about 2 seconds.  Wrong, nice try.  It was still broken.  So they FINALLY ordered me a replacement.

Now it’s fixed.  There was something wrong with the hardware, but I can not say for sure what it was.

Now it’s fixed and it’s all good.  Back to the miracle of modern science.  It’s amazing how something can be so powerful and then so useless, all because of a broken doodad.

The UX of Confluence 5.5

I’ve been working on a new system for help articles at work.  We decided to try a Confluence Wiki from Atlassian.  I have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised by the excellent UX.  They clearly have poured a decent amount of love into this thing.  Here are some thoughts that come to mind:

Mobile Display
Just on a lark, I looked at a page on my phone.  It was perfect.  I didn’t need to mess with it, it just worked.  Smooth action, good font-size.  Menu looked right.  No bugs.  What more can I ask for?

Their whole macro language has a little bit of a learning curve, but has surprising flexibility.  The architecture of templates, blueprints, gadgets and macros gives us the ability to make all kinds of specially formatted widgets.  Again, not immediately obvious or intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, there is very little you can’t accomplish.

Probably the high point of the system.  It has thought of everything.  Easy keyboard shortcuts, nice markup, macro objects, automatic cut/paste/upload action.  Good affordance for power features without cluttering the UI.  One of the best editors I have seen.  Even better than WordPress (if that is possible).

There aren’t nearly as many as WordPress has, but it is a decent collection.  I am using the Ad Hoc Workflow plugin and it does exactly what we need with flexibility for the future.  I’m sure I will use more in the future.

Confluence Questions
They have a product that is called Questions.  It’s pretty much a straight rip-off of StackExchange.  With that said, it’s still great.  If you are going to copy a UI, copy the best.  It works like a charm.  I’m a little confused as to how they handle the pricing for it, specifically how do they define a “user”.  This could make it a little pricey.

Speaking of pricing, the lowest level, which gives a read-only view is trivially cheap, like $10-30 bucks.  However, as soon as you go over the 10 user level it costs thousands.  The self-hosted one is a one-time fee, I believe.  They could make this clearer, but I understand they want to make money in the enterprise space too.

OK, here is some bad news.  The admin section is not good.  There are like a hundred items in the nav and it’s hard to see which one is LIT.  It doesn’t stay on the screen, so you lose your context pretty quick.  They seriously need to think about the information architecture and make an easier way to navigate different admin functions.  It’s out of control.

There actually is alot, but I find it often more confusing than helpful.  They have separate docs for every version.  That must be exhausting for them to maintain.  This is why SaaS is such a good model.  I don’t envy their docs department.  Asking them to make it better is easy, but I know it’s easier said than done.

I love it for a documentation site.  I think it’s the best tool I have seen for it.  Lot’s of little nice touches.  Not perfect, but very well done.


Yesterday, I showed my kids the meme of “planking”.  Admittedly, this is a fairly dated meme, but they are young, so it’s new to them.

Planking is a photo fad which involves lying face down with arms to the sides in unusual public spaces, photographing the scene and sharing the image online. In form, it bears striking resemblance to the Lying Down Game, a similar photo fad that became popular among UK Facebook users in 2010.

Here is a photo one of my kids sent me today.


And my youngest made up his own meme that he called Snailing.


I like that he is going outside the box.  I’ll have to show them LeBroning, Tebowing and maybe even Faith Hilling. I did a Google search for planking.  Some of the photos crack me up.  Some, I can’t believe someone can even do that.  Here is my favorite.  Difficulty and high kickassity levels.




The UX of Breaking Bones

My kid just broke his arm.


He was on a skateboard for the first time.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, he smacked onto the pavement and broke both big bones in his forearm.  Luckily, he was only a block away and his brothers came and got me.

I could see from 40 feet away.  Yup, broken.  Just like Joe Thiesmann’s leg. (1:42) **Warning** Do not click that link.  Do not look.  Look away! You have been warned.

Anyway, Jared seemed fine when I saw him.  His arm looked like a boomarang, and it hurt a little but mostly he was fine.  Obviously, he was in shock.  I immediately got him in the car and started driving to the emergency room.

During the ride (20 minutes), the shock started to wear off.  The pain started showing up.  It wasn’t pretty.  He was starting to panic.  We arrived at the emergency room and walked right in.  They knew it what happened immediately and walked us to a triage station.

The nurse asked him, “On a scale of 1-10, how much does it hurt?”  His answer could be seen on the look on his face.  It screamed, “Duh! 10!”

They gave him some drugs pretty quickly.  The pain subsided to a 5 out of 10.  Next, x-rays.  Yup broken.  Then they needed the anesthesiologist to knock him out to fix it.  They said they needed to wait 8 hours after last eating.  I get why they do this, but it meant we had to wait until 2:30 am to get his arm fixed.

He hung in there like a trooper.  They knocked him out and then manhandled his arm until the bones snapped back into place with an audible CLICK.  Then a nice soft cast because there is swelling.  In a few days, he will get a hard cast for 2 months.

The hospital was a pleasant enough experience, but you could tell that every person was very careful with their words.  There is a very real malpractice lawsuit potential in a hospital.  They never want to mismanage expectations.  Better to say, “I don’t know”.

I’ve broken my wrist and ankle. There were lawsuits about the ankle, which were settled, but I think in hindsight it was all my fault. The psychology is straight-forward, we feel that broken bones are painful and inconvenient.  We should be paid for this situation.  We sue because we don’t want to feel like it’s just my own damn fault for climbing over that snowpile.  Or for Jared, stepping on that skateboard.

Clearly, there are times when someone legitimately screws up, like being drunk during an operation.  But lawsuits for malpractice have made it difficult to practice medicine, which have made it very expensive.

Broken bones heal.  I’m not sure how we heal the other parts.

GarageBand Thank You

I’ve got alot of different kinds of computers in my house.  A desktop from dell, a little Intel NUC, a Mac Mini, iPads, xBoxes, etc etc.  I am not generally a Mac user, but I help my kid with his Mac Mini.

He (11 yrs old)  is a musician and plays drums and base guitar.  He is experimenting with writing music.  I said, “Hey! GaraBand on the Mac is supposed to be good.”  So last night, we started using it.  Keep in mind, I am not an Apple fanboy and use Windows 8.1 most of the time.

Let me just cut to the chase; GarageBand is fantastic.  It’s so easy to use and get started.  It has ridiculous amounts of features.  He literally write original music in a few minutes.

Take a listen.

Now, I am a proud father of course, but still, that kicks ass.  He just needs to add guitar and vocals and we will be rich!  Famous rock stardom here we come!

Well, maybe not immediately, but with GarageBand we feel confident.  Thank you Apple.

By the way…Apple doesn’t make alot of money off GarageBand at all.  It seems like a lifestyle product.  I am thrilled that they put resources towards it and hope it continues.  Sometimes wonderful products like that get shelved when the going gets tough.  Thank you again Apple!

UX = User Experience