FutureLearn’s UX & Design Principles

Jun 20, 2018 · 4 min read

In this post Sandra Meek, a Product Designer at FutureLearn, talks about how the UX Research and Design team developed a set of principles to help guide their work.

Design Principles have long been a hot topic in the design community, and one which has gained traction in the digital space as we aim to create delightful and usable experiences.

Dieter Ram’s “Principles for Good Design’ introduced the idea in the late 1970s, as guidance for producing sustainable and coherent design in a world that he saw as being “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.

Since then, many individuals and organisations have created their own principles to help inform their design practice. Here at FutureLearn though we were working with a shared understanding of what we were trying to achieve amongst the design team, but without anything written down.

The posters for our 5 principles

We thought it was time to change that so we could communicate more widely what we believe good design is for FutureLearn. Together we’ve come up with 5 principles that can be applied to everything we design — from user flows to presentations and visual interactions.

Make it relevant

Does this speak to the intended audience?

We give our audience information and/or experiences that relate to their situation and context.

An empty field error message

Our error messages for example, give timely and contextual feedback to the user, relevant to the action they’ve just taken.

Provide clarity

Are we being as clear as possible?

We make FutureLearn easy to understand, ensuring everything is clear. We show rather than tell, where appropriate.

An at-a-glance visual explanation of how programs work on FutureLearn

We use this formula design to explain visually how our programs work. It would have been easy to use a paragraph of text instead, but we wanted our learners to understand at a glance what a program is.

Embrace consistency, not uniformity

Are we being consistent?

We anchor the audience in our world, creating experiences that connect and support one another.

Call to action buttons from across our site

FutureLearn’s buttons are a good example of this. They are all visually similar so that a user can recognise them wherever they are on our site, but they aren’t uniform as they relate to the context in which they sit.

Evoke the right emotion

How will this make someone feel?

We evoke the right emotion, at the right time, with every interaction.

How we welcome learners to a course they’ve just joined

This is a principle that was used recently when designing some legal information that needs to sit prominently on our site. We wanted to reassure the learner that we take their privacy seriously, without overwhelming them with a large body of impenetrable text.

Think universally

Is this welcoming and accessible?

We ensure that our products and services are accessible and usable by as many people as possible.

FutureLearn’s colour and text visual guidelines

We carefully considered legibility when initially designing FutureLearn, and have a guide for which colours we can use as text and background and in what combination, ensuring that our site is useful for a wide audience.

With these principles we’ve created a framework that we can use to guide our work as individual designers and that can help us have constructive conversations and design crits as a team. They may develop and change as we iterate but right now, we’re embedding them into our day to day practice. If we can say we’ve done or considered all of our principles, then we’ve been rigorous and have made good design decisions that suit our product, our brand and most importantly, our learners.

Does your organisation have design principles? We’d love to hear how other companies have approached their design principles, so please do share your thoughts and own experiences in the comments below.


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Changing millions of lives with online learning at futurelearn.com. On here talking about building digital products, coding, education and more.

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