3 Characteristics that Make or Break User Experience

by Jamie Jo Vittetoe on October 16, 2012

User experience is like the Zooey Deschanel of the design world—a quirky mix of science and art that many are enamored with but few understand. So what characteristics contribute most to a solid user experience? That’s like asking “What makes Zooey so darn like-able?” Ask anyone and you will get a different answer.

In my humble opinion, the three characteristics that make or break a user experience (aside from performance, i.e. an app must function correctly, and function quickly) are simplicity, clarity, and consistency.

Simplicity

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
–Hans Hofmann

Simplicity is defined as the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do. In app design simple doesn’t mean sparse, it means nothing is more complicated than it needs to be.

Simplicity in interface design is obtained by:

  • Limiting features and content
  • Focusing on the core scenarios rather than accommodating edge cases
  • Minimizing alternative options and workflows
  • Making common features prominent and hiding advanced features
  • Using progressive disclosure to only show what is needed at the time
  • Limiting form fields to what is necessary and auto-filling any fields possible

Simplicity in visual design is obtained by:

  • Ensuring design does not interfere with content
  • Striving for clean design
  • Embracing white-space
  • Removing embellishments that don’t communicate visually
  • Ensuring every element has a purpose

Clarity

When the meaning is unclear there is no meaning.
–Marty Rubin

Clarity is defined as the quality of coherence and intelligibility. Clear content and design communicates meaning and purpose quickly, without confusion.

Clarity in interface design is obtained by:

  • Breaking information and tasks into digestible chunks
  • Avoiding ambiguity
  • Displaying dialogue to communicate what is happening
  • Using plain language and avoiding technical jargon in labels and content
  • Enabling easy access to help and tips
  • Showing the number of steps in a process and giving hints to what is next

Clarity in visual design is obtained by:

  • Differentiating dissimilar things, making similar things look similar
  • Creating visual hierarchy
  • Grouping related items
  • Designing with large font sizes and high contrast colors so content can be read by anyone in any environment
  • Using differentiating shapes as well as colors in status icons

Consistency

Trust is built with consistency.
–Lincoln Chafee

Consistency is defined as agreement or logical coherence among things or parts. Not only should an app be consistent within itself but it should be consistent with branding outside the app, following the look/feel and tone-of-voice of existing brand collateral.

Consistency in interface design is obtained by:

  • Utilizing conventional workflows, design patterns, and icons
  • Following consistent workflow for similar processes
  • Keeping an element’s function consistent
  • Placing similar elements in similar locations
  • Using the same tone-of-voice and wording throughout

Consistency in visual design is obtained by:

  • Using standard UI controls
  • Creating a cohesive style for all custom UI elements
  • Following existing brand standards
  • Keeping navigation and hierarchy consistent
  • Designing custom elements for a reason, never just for the sake of being different

Just as Zooey Deschanel, quirky post-college humor, and a catchy theme song are the trifecta for a successful Tuesday night sitcom, simplicity, clarity, and consistency are the trifecta for a positive user experience. Together they help make the app more intuitive, reduce the cognitive burden on users, decrease the time it takes to perform tasks, limit user errors and increase success, make users feel in control, and keep the app predictable. All which lead to happy users…and who doesn’t want happy users?

Interested in learning more about UI/UX principles and characteristics?
Principles of User Interface Design
8 Characteristics Of Successful User Interfaces
First Principles of Interaction Design
Effective Visual Communication for Graphical User Interfaces
The 7 Rules of Mobile Data User Experience
Guiding Principles for UX Designers
Principles of user interface design
5 Principles of User-​​Centered Interface Design