Think Less. Design Better.

Promoting better workflow in UI design through manageable decision-making and thought process.

The more possibilities available in the design process, the more thinking required to execute and finesse.

American psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in The Paradox Of Choice that eliminating choices can greatly reduce anxiety. He argued that we should have standards and a criteria, but not worry about the possibility there might be something better. It was in the context of consumers, but I believe it applies to design decisions too.

The maximizing strategy is actually to not be a perfectionist, but make the most favorable decisions available that collectively create the optimal experience.

1. Limiting Variables

If we consider all the potential variables to produce a high fidelity concept, and there can be many, it becomes clear that we need to limit and define them early on. Reducing the amount of choices available will make it easier to be decisive.

With experience, it becomes easier to predict how limiting certain groups of variables have a multiplying effect throughout a composition.

Reducing choices doesn’t correlate to reducing originality. Our assumption is that creating concepts around predefined rules is a limitation, but as designers we can establish our own rules, and be in complete control of formulating them.

Scale & Spacing

Every facet of UI design should revolve around a system that promotes rhythm and helps maintain consistency in scale and space as a project grows. One such system I love to use is modular scale, which can facilitate a scale from any given ratio to measure or set the size of an element or negative space in a composition.

Once we pick a ratio, modular scale can make it easier to define scale and spacing

Grids

Grid systems are great for restricting how content is organized within the horizontal plane and a no-brainer when it comes to UI. However, a grid is often picked without too much thought, to be a one-size-fits-all. What most designers don’t realize is that it’s better to create a grid system that is built around the content.

A grid system will reduce variables in layout

Typography

I would argue that typography is the most important aspect of UI design, as it can make up to 95% of the web and be the driving force of communication.

Color

It’s easy to get over-zealous with palettes. A small range of tones can go a long way to producing sufficient and consistent visuals. Usually all we need for a starting point is five swatches.

Tools such as Adobe Color CC make it easy to predefine a palette

Images

How we incorporate images into UI is largely determined by the context of the content. If we have a rough notion of what that is, we can create a starting point for our images with variables for ratio, size, shape, and treatment. We may find that we don’t need that many.

How many variations in ratio and size for images do we actually need?

2. Creating A Style Guide Earlier

As a UI project grows conceptually it becomes increasingly important to create and maintain a style guide, or pattern library. This will establish design principles to help the project scale, maintaining rhythm and consistency. If we’re defining variables beforehand, it’s a good way to document them. Future decision-making is going to be easier with a style guide than without one.

Creating a basic style guide right at the beginning will not only establish principles early on to reduce design decisions, but also help as an infrastructure to evolve and augment principals going forward.

Making one at the start doesn’t mean it has to be complete — far from it. Styles tend to evolve more in the early stages anyway, and the bigger a project gets the more clearer and tighter the boundaries become.

3. Modular-Based Priority and Adaption

In modular-based design systems, such as Brad Frost’s Atomic Design, a layout can be formulated out of specific key areas. Modules become reusable throughout various layouts. Interfaces are treated as systems and not pages, with pattern-based design and development a big part of the process.

Identify Key Areas

Our design should revolve around the important parts. The priority of each area is determined by its content or functionality within the interface, and is essentially the key to the puzzle.

By focusing on the important areas first, we are reducing design decisions thereafter as subsequent areas have to bend and adapt to established surroundings.

Focus On Key Areas

Once high priority areas have been identified, it’s about super-focusing on the critical parts and finessing them to completion. The idea is to ensure they’re intuitive and meet all requirements before adapting the less important areas.

4. Making It Work For Everyone

For thousands of years designers have strived to do one thing — communicate effectively. We’re continually reinventing and fine-tuning ways to better communicate visually and audibly to an audience.

With ever-increasing access to information from the widest possible audience, it’s become imperative to maximize accessibility to as many types of people as possible.

Accessibility Is A Blessing In Disguise

Catering to a wider audience sounds like more work, and it’s tempting to see accessibility as a barrier to innovation. However, complying with the latest standards can be a blessing in disguise, especially if they become second nature.

It’s Not Just About Disabilities

Accessibility is not just catering to disabilities as some would imply, but also to users with legacy devices and browsers that don’t support all the latest features and enhancements. Being conscious of these standards and observing them will naturally reduce design decisions.

5. Using Tried And Tested Patterns

The fact is, users find interfaces intuitive when they conform to the hundreds of common design patterns they have absorbed from years of practice and exposition. As soon as we start breaking away from typical molds and treading new ground, we may find it takes time for a new pattern to become completely intuitive to the masses.

There’s a time and a place for creating original UI patterns, but we shouldn’t shy away from common techniques — they’re successful for a reason.

The silver lining is for us to worry less about reinventing, and concentrate on aesthetics. It is still possible to create original work based on established patterns.

Final Note

Some of these approaches may individually not reduce our thinking and decision-making greatly, or improve our designs by a huge margin. Incorporating them together however, along with getting good feedback along the way, can make it significantly easier to design better UI.

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Design Lead @Vectorform

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