Even the best-looking UI design can still be nothing but an obstacle, an unusable collection of nice-looking elements.
Everything a user sees onscreen does one of two things. Each element either:
- Illuminates the path to their desired outcome and helps them get there easily, or
- Serves as an obstacle standing between them and what they hope to find and accomplish.
In my travels, I’m sorry to report that number 2 is the most common outcome. And with the UX and Design industries’ current fixation on technology and tools — libraries, frameworks, templates — most sites, apps and systems I see are pretty… but unusable.
Why this has become the norm?
Reason 1: design education sucks.
I have always felt that since the dot-com boom right before the Millennium, design education took a sharp right turn and started focusing on tools and tech instead of theory and principle.
Institutions’ short-sighted curriculums only ensure that UI designers spend far too long learning to use tools and leverage templates and libraries. Instead of learning that successful, effective UI design comes from the same principles behind great (print-based) graphic design.
In other words, design students are taught to use their hands instead of their brains.
Reason 2: worth is measured in software + coding knowledge.
Every job posting I’ve seen over the past 10 years has been a laundry list of technical skills: know this specific software and these specific coding languages to produce these specific deliverables. An assumed mathematical equation where the outcome is somehow good visual design.
It just ain’t so, friends.
You may be able to produce those deliverables, but without knowing and applying principles of effective visual communication in that work, all you have is a pretty pile of code that functions properly.
Which does not, in and of itself, make it helpful, useful, usable or valuable to anyone.
Reason 3: Online Courses push tactics instead of critical thinking.
Go to Udemy (or any other online course platform) right now and search for “UI Design.” You’ll get a massive number of courses all promising to make you a great UI designer or boost your career and your income.
And you will notice that nearly all of them focus on software (Sketch, Adobe XD, etc.) or on tactics and techniques.
And I am here to tell you, swearing on my own life, that NONE of that will make you a great designer.
What it will do is teach you to design and build good-looking interfaces that never achieve the desired result, for both users and the organization behind the product.
If I see one more bullshit article around how using libraries & frameworks & AI will make you a better designer, I’m going to scream.
If you want to be a better designer, you need to learn how to design. Which means you need to know how to solve visual communication problems.
You DON’T need another set of tools. You need to learn how to THINK and apply that thinking to what winds up onscreen, from color to content to typography to interactive elements.
You need to fully understand the relationship of visual organization to human perception, understanding and behavior.
You need to learn these critical principles of visual communication and know how to apply them, know how to ensure every visual decision you make has a purpose.
Yes, I created a course for that.
It’s called DESIGN RULES: Fundamental Visual Principles + Practices for Great UI Design.
It’s part of my NEW online school, the UX 365 Academy.
I created it for one reason and one reason only: to serve as an antidote to the unbelievable, ever-expanding mountain of bullshit I am describing in this post.
You get 50 lessons across 5 hours, packed with timeless, ironclad, unchanging rules for good UI design that you can apply to anything and everything you ever work on. Trends will come and go, and it won’t matter: your UI will still be useful, usable, appropriate and relevant for its users.
- You’ll learn how to make it easier for people to interact with what they see on the screen – whether they know what to tap, swipe or click, and whether what happens meets their expectations and moves them closer to their goals.
- You’ll learn how to create and apply hierarchy, color, contrast, typography and gestalt principles to design appropriate visual cues so people know where and how to take action.
- I’ll show you how to make good visual decisions for even the most challenging applications, from simplifying complex visual information to designing with data.
My goal with this course is to give you everything you need to know to make great UI design decisions, no matter what the content, context or product may be.
You will walk away with the know-how that separates great UI designers — those who create meaningful work and outcomes — from their decorator counterparts.
See you in class — and GIVE GOOD UI!