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7 Design lessons for a developer

Pradeep Sharma
Full stack
Updated on ・2 min read

I am a developer, I had been coding for last 6 years, building android apps and web apps. I had always faced problem with design thinking and did not even attempt to fix the design of my apps. But recently I started reading “The design of everyday things by Don Norman and worked on an app. I would like to list down my 7 extremely important lessons from last 6 months.

  1. Users make mistakes all the time even with the simplest things. It's your job to minimize those errors and make them feel good about using your product not blaming themselves.
  2. Make at least 3 user personas and keep them in front of your eyes all the time.
  3. Assume that user can store maximum 3 things in their short term memory. Design the flow such as it does not exhaust the user's brain power, no matter how trivial those things sound, just 3 things.
  4. Read about mental models.
  5. The navigation and actions should match the target user's mental models.
  6. Feedback is important for each action user performs, user should always get the affirmation of their actions and know the outcome of their actions instantly. Good feedback removes the cognitive load (e.g. What happened to the action that I performed?), bad or no feedback does the opposite.
  7. When in doubt, talk to the users.

If you have any suggestions, I appreciate sharing it with me through comments or tweet. Follow me on twitter if you want to see more things in your feed related to programming, tech products, team building, productivity and entrepreneurship.

Discussion (15)

caseywebb profile image
Casey Webb

I've got to disagree with one point here. Moreso than talk to your users, watch your users. We began doing UX testing sessions about a year ago, and the insight we've gained has been invaluable. That being said, what the users say while they're doing a UX session rarely correlates with what they do.

pradeep_io profile image
Pradeep Sharma Author

Watching users can be better than talking.
Is it practical? How do you do that and when?
Think about the most cases we need this at and for different stages of a project.

Nonetheless, the point was to involve users in the process to help you out make better decisions, whatever medium you choose to collect that info.

caseywebb profile image
Casey Webb • Edited

Disagree was a bit too strong of wording; rather, if you can watch your users, you should absolutely take the chance to because it's even better than talking to them.

We build enterprise software, so it's a easier for us to go about this.

When we first started doing UX sessions, we created a few scripts that go through basic functionality, but soon found those to be too far-reaching and time-consuming.

Now, whenever we are creating a new feature or testing a new layout, we invite several customers — particularly any who requested said feature or complained about the layout — to test drive it on an internal server, sometimes with a copy of their database if they have specific use-cases, during a screensharing session. Generally, we'll pick 3-5 customers, and do a 1 hour session each. Our development team as well as the sales team watch the sessions take notes, while our project manager guides the client through a script. We take all the feedback, triage it, implement any changes, and then invite them back to test drive again before rolling it out.

We're still learning ourselves, but found the advice in this blog to be really beneficial to the way we conduct our sessions.

vedrantrebovic profile image

Doing both is probably the best. You need to talk to user to know what user wants and what problem you’re solving. But to know how users use their computers and how do they manage problems you software is supposed to solve now, it is better to watch them. If you ask me how do I interact with my computer every day, I am not sure if I could describe good enough for it to be usable.
I remember good example of this. One of our opeartors was reporting problems with one of our kiosk apps. A lot of app crashes and corrupted local SQLite database files. It was obvious “something” is damaging files in fs. We dismissed usual suspects (virus, bad hdd...), but it didn’t help. We even rewrote how we handle corrupted db files - didn’t work. In the end tech guys went there, observed how local operator operates the machine. It wasn’t surprise when they reported operator was shutting down machine by unplugging power cable from the wall. Operators never mentioned that, because they took it for granted, and figured out it’s trivial and not important.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is really great advice, and we could stand to take some of this advice to heart on I also just went and bought Design of Everyday Things. I can't believe I haven't read that yet.

nblackburn profile image
Nathaniel Blackburn

Some great advice here, i would also add that encouraging your users to become a part of your applications ecosystem is important too.

Feedback is important in a few ways some of which are mentioned here but most importantly knowing what your users want is critical to your projects life cycle.

thorstenhirsch profile image
Thorsten Hirsch

I totally agree. I started frontend design with the mindset of a unix/linux shell user (report errors only), so I also ended my user requests with nothing when everything worked well. This lead to the following problems:

  • since errors are rare (haha) I haven't spent much time on a stable user feedback flow
  • when errors occurred, they also broke the feedback flow, so the user didn't see the error
  • now the user really couldn't know if no message meant OK or ERROR

That was completely the wrong approach for designing web user interfaces. So here's my advice: ALWAYS give feedback from the server to the client. Make it rock stable! You can still decide to throw away an "OK" on the client side.

sathvik87 profile image

Another interesting concept that adds to the above discussion is Gestalt Design Principles. It describes things like The Principle of Proximity, continuity, similarity and more. Essentially, providing guidelines for designing a better UI.

pradeep_io profile image
Pradeep Sharma Author

Great advice Sathvik. Thanks for sharing. :)

arvindpdmn profile image
Arvind Padmanabhan

Yes, Norman's book is worth reading. I wrote a review of the book a couple of years back:

jjjjcccjjf profile image

Hi Pradeep. What do you mean about Make at least 3 personas? Thanks

pradeep_io profile image
Pradeep Sharma Author • Edited

Have a clear picture of "who will be using this product". To have a clarity here, create persona of user(who are they, their habits, how technical these people are, what they like etc.). Basically something which you can visualize and connect instantly. This will help you make faster and better decisions while designing. Saying a user "age: 25-35" is not enough, it means you do not have any real user of the product. You need to research first, "who they are".
Persona Sample
Generally the product I build, I'm one of the users, so first persona is of myself, other two are some friends of mine who are potential user of the product.
In case you want to read more:

jjjjcccjjf profile image

Thank you so much this has been very helpful for me!

zasuh_ profile image
Žane Suhadolnik

Design seems as difficult as development, even more so when you don't know how to make things look good just work good.

miryamfv profile image

very well summarised