Is Your Design User-Friendly? 5 Questions to Ask

Usability Fail. Image via Flickr user Tyler J Clemens VIII.

When building websites, apps and software, developers test their work for usability, or how easy it is for the end user to figure out and interact with what they’ve built.

Interface design and usability get a lot more technical than this basic summary, but the main idea is to create an app or a site that’s easy for people to learn and use.

I think designers should consider usability more often in their own projects. I’ve come up with a quick list of usability criteria for graphic design projects by looking at the Lund usability maxims and other helpful information I found here.

5 questions to ask to determine if a design is user-friendly

1. Who is the user?
If you design a brochure for a company, first ask a marketing contact at that company who their target audience is. Most companies will have helpful demographic and psychographic information about their customers. This way the designer can know who they are trying to reach. On the flip side, if you are designing a party invitation for an individual, ask them what their average guest will be like. If the host can rattle off an age, gender and description of the guest, this can help the designer create a more appealing invitation for that audience.

2. What action do you want them to take?
Keep in mind the purpose of your design. If it’s a direct-mail marketing piece, such as a postcard or letter, then you are probably trying to generate a sales lead for a business, push someone to visit a website or sell something directly. If it’s a business card then you primarily want the recipient to hang on to the card and, secondly, want them to call the contact. If it’s a party invitation you want to get someone to RSVP. The best designers infuse every visual and text element in a design with a sense of purpose. You want to make it as easy and compelling as possible for users to take the desired action.

3. What is the most important information to call-out?
Before designing a marketing brochure, decide which text items you want to call out. These could be the product’s benefits or testimonials from other customers. Use pull-quotes and subheadings so readers can find this important text. If you are designing a business card, I’d say the most important information is the name of the business, the tagline, i.e. “what the business does,” and the contact information. When someone looks at the card, these three items should jump out right away.

4. Is the design memorable?
When designers look to websites, design annuals and magazines for inspiration, they risk falling into the trap of imitation and sameness. Sometimes a corporate client will prefer a “safe” design. But if a client wants to make an impression, the graphic design needs to be different and visually stimulating for users. I can’t say how to make a design memorable, otherwise graphic design would be as easy as flipping burgers. All I can advise is to look at your design with fresh eyes throughout the process and constantly challenge yourself to make the layout or type or flow different than your other projects.

5. Can the design be simplified?
Have you ever seen this happen at a bureaucratic PTA or neighborhood association meeting? Someone with a lot of time on their hands puts together a word document where things are underlined, italicized, bolded and followed by exclamation points. The person has put so much emphasis on the sentence that it’s meaning has become obstructed. Please pick up after your dogs!!!! Eschew Obfuscation. Remember to ask yourself every step of the way, “Can my design be simplified?” Every element on the page should serve a higher purpose or contribute to the design’s theme in some way.

What do you do to make your designs more user-friendly? Please leave any tips in the comments.


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