Many startups fail because they have a poor understanding of users' problems and behaviors. While many startups neglect UX design and research in the early stages, the process is instrumental to understanding user motivations, uncovering pain points that deter would-be users, and avoiding spending time and money on features that aren't important.
Let's take a look at five principles for UX design that startups can leverage to maximize their odds of success.
#1. Validate with Wireframes
UX design focuses on the user experience and workflows rather than pixel-perfect visual design. By starting with low-fidelity wireframes, you can clearly define how something works before spending a lot of time on how it looks. Once agreed upon, product managers can use wireframes to prepare functional specifications before the final design is complete.
Of course, UX design doesn't end when you deploy code. You can use wireframes to quickly iterate through and validate new features before investing the time to design a complete user interface.
That said, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind. For example, stakeholders may have difficulty seeing the "vision" behind a wireframe. And Figma, Sketch, and other tools have made it much easier to build higher fidelity designs with standard UI element libraries. Nevertheless, avoid spending too much time on design before knowing what works.
#2. Be Consistent
Most popular websites and applications use similar user interface elements and layouts. Therefore, when users visit your application, they have a pre-existing idea of how it should work. The key is creating user interfaces based on common and tested patterns. By looking at top-notch apps and incorporating research from industry leaders like NN Group, you can create seamless user experiences without making copies that lack originality and contribute to a stale brand.
Consistency is even more essential in mobile designs where users interact with native controls. For example, Apple's iOS Human Interface Guidelines and Google's Material Design Guidelines provide guidance for everything from gestures to animation. By adhering to these rules, you can reduce the amount of effort required for users to adapt to your application.
In addition to consistency with the outside world, UX designers should ensure that everything is consistent internally. The best way to do this is by creating a set of UI guidelines covering everything from design systems to brand voice. You should also ensure these experiences are consistent across desktop, mobile, and other devices.
#3. Understand Accessibility
Accessibility is often an afterthought for designers and developers—especially for fast-moving startups. However, accessibility affects a much more significant percentage of the population than you may realize. An application that makes it impossible for screen readers to do their job creates an abysmal user experience for those individuals.
Consider the following statistics:
More than seven million Americans rely on screen readers. (Source)
1-in-12 men and 1-in-200 women are colorblind. (Source)
About 75% of adults use some vision correction. (Source)
Accessibility is a suggestion in some places and the law in other areas. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities, including making web content accessible to blind users, deaf users, and those that must navigate by voice or screen readers.
#4. Focus on Usability
The best user experiences aren't always award-winning designs. Instead, they help a user accomplish a goal. For example, Google's homepage consists of little more than a logo and a text field, making it incredibly easy for users to find what they need. Meanwhile, search parameters give power users a way to maximize their productivity.
Google's simple interface helped make it the most popular search engine globally. Source: Google
Job stories help you think about usability without being boxed into a corner. Unlike user stories that start with the implementation details, job stories focus on users' motivations and intended outcomes. That way, UX designers can think outside of the box when building workflows and user interfaces to help them solve their problems.
Usability testing is also an excellent way to maintain and improve usability over time. Before a usability session, prepare three to five specific workflows and identify five candidates from your primary user segments or personas. During each session, ask probing questions as users complete tasks. For example, you might ask, "What is intuitive or counterintuitive?" or "What has caught your attention?" to understand their state of mind.
#5. Keep It Simple
Websites and applications tend to become more complex over time. User interfaces may require more buttons or configuration settings that steepen the learning curve with each new feature. While these new capabilities may excite current users, new users may find the user experience intimidating and complex.
UX designers should seek out the most straightforward options in the early stages of the process. Then, over time, they should regularly revisit past decisions and look for ways to cut down and improve workflows. There are almost always ways to simplify user workflows once they've gone through a few iterations of adding features.
Of course, there are some areas where simplicity isn't an option. For example, an error message that says, "your username or password is incorrect" may seem overly vague and unhelpful. But it makes life harder for attackers because they cannot easily verify if a particular username has an account (since it might be an incorrect password).
The Bottom Line
UX design is an essential part of developing any website or application. By following these principles, you can optimize the user experience and enhance business outcomes—but keep in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list! The best UX teams are always looking to understand users better and maximize their experiences.
If you're struggling with UX design, our dedicated UX team can help you understand users, wireframe effective workflows, and implement attractive and functional designs.