What is “normal” UX design

Spoiler — normal design is a design that no one notices in use and does not even think about the designers who created this miracle

Dialog: - Please be normal — Nope

This will be a long (and a half) read, so take food, water, a chamber pot and let’s get started.

There is a misconception that UX/UI is a new trend, which suddenly appeared in the list of the most popular vacancies in the wake of the development of the latest IT technologies… There is a great temptation, where to go:

Many hipsters are now wondering whether to apply to designers or programmers — or designers… — But programmers have smoothies and sneaks; — Yes, but designers are such creative folk… — However, developers are issued visas to relocate…— But designers ride on longboards…

However, this area is not new. Even though it has existed for a long time, it has not received enough attention. To this day, its interpretation carries with it a great deal of confusion among customers, company/product owners, project managers, and others. Haze is especially noticeable among frontend developers. The latter consider themselves not only UI but also UX designers as well as usability engineers, human-computer interaction specialists, usability evangelists who know everything about their users just because they develop a product’s frontend.

Man with Heaviest apple
Man with Heaviest apple
Heaviest Apple

In the 1990s, Don Norman finally popularised the term “user experience” while working at Apple. As well Xerox conducted formal research on computers’ and humans’ interaction. So many happy moments. Don’t forget that in 1994, Jakob Nielsen wrote his famous 10 general principles for interaction design, which everyone still uses today.

Did you know UX is not just limited to digital technology and IT? Of course, you did. Go back to work. We love you. You’re very special.

UX Designer’s work intends to research and design the most convenient, smooth experience of user interactions with anything you encounter every day in your daily life: with a website interface, with an application or program on a personal computer, with a gadget or physical space. This can be an aircraft cabin, a medical office, a train station, or even the ergonomics of your lovely Ming Dynasty Ritual Spoon Bowl.

In his book Paul Rand: a Designer’s Art, the same Paul Rand said that design is essentially about building visual relationships, making sense of a mass of disparate needs, ideas, words, and images. The designer’s job is to select and organise this material into a coherent whole and make the whole clear and useful. Yeah.

Henry Dreyfuss, American industrial designer, 1903–1972
Henry Dreyfuss, American industrial designer, 1903–1972

Do you know about Henry Dreyfuss’s project idea for people in 1955? In his Designing for Peoplebook, an American industrial designer suggested that design tasks have failed when the points of contact between the product and people become points of friction. On the other hand, if people’s lives become safer, more comfortable, and happier in touch with a product, then the designer has succeeded. These principles’ importance has become even more relevant to the quality of interaction between the product and the person.

Constant Factors in Vehicle Seating. Image from The Measure of Man and Woman.

UX and user’s interaction experience is a kind of polyhedron, which includes many disciplines simultaneously.

There are psychology and analysis, nail painting and eyelash curling, informational architecture, research methods, and usability testing. Everything to solve the problem and increase the degree of convenience, ease, and friendliness of interactions. Especially with the digital product screens or directly with physical products, spaces, or services (the sound of a water sip).

It includes as well research and finding the target user audience; selection and management of participants (respondents) testing; visual design; contextual design; content creation and strategy; graphic design; wireframing and prototyping; analytics and construction of business processes; design and programming; interactive design; drawing up customer journey maps and further, further to depth. If you get to the end of this sentence, you are my hero😍!

The Oxford Journal Interacting with Computers
The Oxford Journal Interacting with Computers
The Oxford Journal Interacting with Computers

The Oxford Journal Interacting with Computers editors wondered what role User Experience design played in business and conducted research. Its results designate that UX design’s goal is:

“…to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”

In other words, UX design is the process of making products (digital or physical) that are useful, simple, and enjoyable to use. It’s about improving the product experience so that customers find value in it.

The UX turns around the user as its primary hero. Everything else is just stories about him.

Numerous people often have to face situations and circumstances when they feel and understand the blunders and UX flaws.

Frequently designers do not consider and do not look at all possible options, variety, and diversity of users who will interact with the object (product/service/environment) within this UX. Many companies don’t bother to think about it at all.

But, as they say, what is the cause, is the consequence.

“Make it normal,” “We need a normal website, app or bathroom”, “We just ordered a normal design,” “I did what would be normal,” and many other design series could be streamed on Netflix.

Very often, customers and designers operate with the concepts of Normal design.

Of course, everyone means something of their own. Users in general sometimes cannot understand whether someone really designed the product or it was just found by Neanderthal in some cave and is drawings made by a mammoth while primitive people ate it.

As many are well aware, not all designs serve their users. Instead, they disappoint and confuse them. Their logic seems bizarre and alien.

Sometimes “normal” design causes plane crashes or traffic accidents. From time to time, this design directly or indirectly helps the fire to engulf people in the building through the “normal” design of houses or doors, elevators, corridors, or safety instructions (yes, UX is involved not only in your websites and applications).

Review of Root Causes of Accidents Due to Design
Review of Root Causes of Accidents Due to Design
Review of Root Causes of Accidents Due to Design

Talking about digital, “normal” systems often cause losses or shortcomings in acquisitions or even damage their owners or the economy.

Crying cat tries to chose between button to launch nuclear warheads and button to tweet
Crying cat tries to chose between button to launch nuclear warheads and button to tweet

Plan the wrong button to launch nuclear warheads, and the consequences will be obvious.

But it’s not always so evident with digital products.

  • Maybe things feel normal when we are in full control about something?
  • When we don’t have to consider how to use it, and things happen as demanded?
  • When are things simple?
  • When we count the context?
  • Or maybe minimalistic design is more normal than any other?
  • Do users’ knowledge, perception, and abilities matter as well?

Let’s see what can make your design normal and what normalcy properties you should consider while planning and developing a strategy.

Of course, all this is quite individual and should not be based only on pieces of advice (a̵l̵t̵h̵o̵u̵g̵h̵ ̵t̵h̵e̵y̵ ̵a̵r̵e̵ ̵f̵u̵n̵d̵a̵m̵e̵n̵t̵a̵l̵ ̵a̵n̵d̵ ̵c̵a̵n̵ ̵b̵e̵ ̵p̵e̵r̵f̵o̵r̵m̵e̵d̵ ̵i̵n̵ ̵e̵a̵c̵h̵ ̵d̵e̵s̵i̵g̵n̵ although they are mine). In your particular case, certain principles or approaches may work better or worse. Perhaps your users are so unprecedented that no rover will be able to find a route to them. Or your product is so stringent that it does not tolerate any games with users and flexibility in use: only as prescribed, and no other way. In any case, it is crucial to understand what makes the design normal.

Understandable ♥️

“Modern technology can be complex, but complexity by itself is neither good nor bad: it is a confusion that is bad.” Don Norman, Living with Complexity (2010)

Good design makes a product understandable, Dieter Rams
Good design makes a product understandable,
Dieter Rams

An understandable design is when a user does not need an explanation of how it works, perhaps because it works as the user expects it to work (but this is not sure).

“All web content and UI elements must be understandable to the user; thus, the user should fully know how to operate the UI and access information.” UX for the Web by Marli Ritter, Cara Winterbottom

The magic of normal design is that it makes complicated things marvels understandable. Poor design, on the other hand, makes our tools cumbersome and confusing. These designs abandon their core mission: serving people as an interpreter between the complex world and human interface.

Apple Remote
Apple Remote
Apple Remote

Today, design teams are more skilled at prioritising and attending to users.

So Kindle, for example. Users need three options while reading. They either go to the next page, the previous page, or access some reading options. And users intuitively recognise what they need to do.

Or the Apple Remote, which is implicitly free of buttons. And they are not required; users understand what to do and how.

Or gestures in iOS — they are so clear that often no one is looking for manuals, and people start using the phone from the moment they pick it up.

Gestures on iPad
Gestures on iPad
Gestures on iPad

But over time, their clarity may decline. Times change, people change. The basis of creation is an adaptation to the needs, requirements, modifications, and Cultural Context of a specific group of users.

Path and Another Path

People have always tried to simplify the experience of interaction (with someone or something) to make as little effort as possible in each case.

In a world that frequently becomes complex, simplicity is a feature inquired in design more than anything else.

Though is it just about executing things more uncomplicated? The simpler, the better? Regrettably not. There are many ideas about why we even love complexity.

In the end, whether something is plain or not is determined in the user’s mind. It’s not about the number of peculiarities. It’s about whether a person using a device has a good idea of how things work.

There is simplicity hiding in all complex aspects: in politics, electricity production, economics, psychology. Our world is full of interconnected elements that we attempt to wrap our heads around.

stop touching your face
stop touching your face

Controllability is one of the dialogue principles for user-friendly design. It described in the standard ISO 9241–110.

Users should always be in control of their interactions with the system. They should be able to start, pause, or cancel an action, according to their individual preferences. Control can reveal in various shapes and can contain many implementation methods. One of the main ones is the feeling of control.

Sometimes the sense of control is much more important than the control itself. Or always?

The human need for control can be traced back to our earliest roots. In psychologist Abraham Maslow’s identifies our most basic needs as the physiological ones: health, food, and sleep in his well-known hierarchy of needs. All of these require a significant amount of control over our environment to gather food and control over our own choices to avoid disease.

This sense of control is very closely associated with an “internal locus of control” or the belief that our actions have the power to impact and change a given situation. (Conversely, an “external locus of control” believes that we are at the mercy of external sources.) People with an internal locus of control are more likely to be confident, take better care of themselves, and have lower stress levels.

In general, always try to assure you’re empowering users by giving them the tools to find their internal locus of control but don’t ignore Ethics in UX.

The Context is an idea of using something to define how people recognise the complexity of a tool.

It is hard to tell how much complexity is enough, so this is where context comes into play. Context always helps to define whether there is a lot of complexity or too much minimalism.

Nick got too wild
Nick got too wild

Do not forget the main rule during thinking about the context — do not distract users from their context. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information that can distract them from the main goals or the context in which they decided to use your product. It is also important not to overload the user’s attention.

There is a concept of an attention span - the amount of time someone concentrates on a task without becoming distracted. A 2015 study conducted by Microsoft found that the average human attention span has declined from 12 seconds to 8 seconds (*but actually it’s difficult to find the exact study). This means that we now have a shorter attention span than goldfish (*fishes might be smarter according to Prof Felicity Huntingford). Designers may need to adjust to cope with this behaviour to get people the information they need as quickly as possible.

I generally agree with the statement that people have certain limits of attention, and there is an average span. But keep in mind that attention span can be as well or primarily Task-dependent.

Don’t use that tone with me meme.

The hallmark of a normal user interface is consistency. Interfaces must also be kept consistent throughout a design. In an attempt to make designs appear more creative and remarkable many designers willfully add discrepancies in style.

For example, various colour schemes can be used on different pages on a website.

Such design choices often cause embarrassment and frustration in users. Thus, it’s always essential to keep the design element familiar, buttressing your design’s most important aspects at every turn.

Remember to apply the Principle of Least Astonishment to your product design.

making a tatoo process

In classic product design, normal means selecting a well-known form and aesthetic. “Normal” applies to things as they’ve come to be. It’s about not going toward the inevitable flow of things as they come to be.

Designers Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa point out that some products are “better in being normal” than others in the book Super Normal — Sensations of the Ordinary.

team-demi — Packed with Excitement
team-demi — Packed with Excitement
team-demi — Packed with Excitement

Jasper Morrison defines the Super Normal Object as a sequence of a long tradition of evolutionary advancement in the shape of everyday things. These objects become supernormal through preferable use than through design. The objects that are less concerned with visual beauty and more connected with memorable regular life elements — nothing flash or eyecatching, yet somehow appealing.

Due to human memory limitations (pretty sure it exist), designers should guarantee users can automatically recognise how to use particular product features instead of making them evoke this information. Attempt to minimise the cognitive load (it definitely exists) by making information and interface functions visible and easily accessible.

Designers often hound appeal instead of functionality and accessibility.

Most of us try to make things look beautiful. Quite often, this leads to a situation where aesthetics become more important for designers than usability.

Of course, beauty is essential, and we unquestionably should seek to make our designs appealing, but only after we have usable products.

An essential job of digital products and services is — to perform a function.

Accessible interaction design allows users of all abilities to navigate, understand, and use digital products successfully. A well-designed product is accessible to users of all abilities, including low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, or motor impairments.

Example of the Apple Music App’s default state (left), and with Apple’s new Smart Inverted mode (middle), compared to the old
Example of the Apple Music App’s default state (left), and with Apple’s new Smart Inverted mode (middle), compared to the old
Example of the Apple Music App’s default state (left), and with Apple’s new Smart Inverted mode (middle), compared to the old method of colour inversion (right).

Accessibility indeed introduces a set of constraints to include as you reflect your design, but enhancing your product’s accessibility improves all users’ usability. You can find a lot of helpful knowledge on making interfaces more accessible in Apple Human Interface Guidelines, WCAG 2.0, and Material Design guidelines.

Over 56 million people (almost one in five) in The United States and more than 1 billion people worldwide have disabilities. In 2017, 814 lawsuits were filed with state courts and the US federal court over websites’ availability. These two facts should prove to us how important it is to create an accessible design. Besides, there is a strong economic basis for accessibility: research shows that available websites dispense better search results, reach a larger audience, are better targeted for SEO, and deliver faster load times.

Google is developing image interpretation technology using artificial intelligence that can describe an image with 94% accuracy. This open-source model is still in progress — we hope to see how it is used in different products soon.

UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN URBAN ENVIRONMENT
UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN URBAN ENVIRONMENT

A product with a normal UX is less centred on its visual aspects. It’s more about creating an object in balance with its performance and capacity in a user’s workflow. The advantage of such an experience lies in the relationship between objects and people.

Many words still one global meaning. Universal access is extra significant when it comes to accessibility. Along with availability, simplified access and ease of use is the key to an excellent user experience.

For example, businesses can redesign their e-commerce websites keeping this in mind, and regularly conduct UX audits to identify potential usability issues.

They should also implement UX features that make buying easier for the digital-savvy and newcomers to e-commerce and require accessibility features. These include elderly users and those who have special needs.

According to a study by Mintel, older adults are likely to drive e-commerce growth in the short- and medium-term. Meanwhile, the annual discretionary spending of Americans with disabilities amounts to more than $200 billion.

Users prefer personalised digital experiences.

In a study by Accenture, roughly 83% of respondents said they were ready to have trusted brands trace their data to exchange relevant recommendations, targeted suggestions, and other signs of a personalised shopping experience.

You can use AI to facilitate higher personalisation as it makes tailoring experiences and curating content for each individual easier and much faster. AI personalisation describes different customer data sets and extracts relevant insights. Everything can be done automatically without human interaction.

Also, by using information gathered from customer interaction, businesses can make the proper alterations to their websites, products, and services.

  • First, investigate and understand the present everyday world throughout the use-case of the product. Second, create a design for this world. And third, add something unique or eye-catching. Normal doesn’t need to be visually “monotonous” and doesn’t mean “not considering” your user interface.
  • Try to build something that can serve. There is enough material outside of our screens, that is a good role model. Clear characters could come from typography, product, editorial, and graphic design. “The more classic you can make something, the longer it will last.”– Paul Arden (“They say it’s his expression but everything is so confusing on the internet.”-Indira Gandhi).
  • Remember — User-centred design development is as crucial as metrics-driven design.
  • Keep in mind, that normal is not just about familiar functionality. It’s about how things work concerning our daily life, workflow, and user environment during contact with your product.
  • Establish the correct connection with the product. The emotional attitude to a product with such “useful beauty” and craftmanship can be stronger than the approach to something “fashionable”.
  • Create products that perform this task without spoiling the user’s usual workflow.
  • Make sure your product gives the user complete control over their experience.
  • Try to take into account everything explicitly required for your users. Only in this case, they will not pay attention to insignificant details in your product it may be counted as normal. It will not deflect the user from his thoughts by continually trying to guess how to use what the designer has created.

A normal design exists. Or not. It doesn’t matter. The main thing is there is an idea of normal design by following which you can achieve design normalcy. Or can we say clarity? Or correct simplicity? Or is it universality? Or intuition?

In general, you always need to achieve a sacred goal — users using your product should think only about themselves and their goals, regardless of your design.

P.S. A little secret — users don’t care about your services and products; they just use them. Yes, they use you for money! Or, maybe designers use users. Anyway, it does not matter, and everything is for money.

Thanks for reading the article! If you have done this, then the topic is essential, and you are a very purposeful person. I’m glad to you! ♥️

UX/UI designer | Munich based. Experience in Branding and Digital Marketing. Writing about design, research, business and marketing.

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