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Rules to Better Interfaces (General Usability Practices) - 29 Rules

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  1. Do you know the importance of testing your interface?

    You won’t know if your interface is any good until it’s actually tested! Test, test, test, nothing can possibly replace that first hand data.


  2. Do you realize that a good interface should not require instructions?

    The corner stone of good user interface design is that if your users need instructions, you haven't done a good job. Of course with particularly complex applications there will be exceptions to this rule, but all developers should aim to make your interface as self-evident as possible.

    • There are no surprises
    • There is no need to use help
    • No excuse for RTFM (read the freaking manual)

    Figure: A good interface does not need instructions!

    A good UI is:

    • Intuitive
    • Feels fast e.g. no white screen, threading code
    • Consistent
    • Minimal popups
    • No clutter - not busy
    • Good error handling
    • Easy to customize + apps (aka a platform)
    • Gamification e.g. badges

    Suggested reading:

    teamviewer interface
    Figure: Good example - Teamviewer's interface requires very little explanation

    Figure: Good example - See the fly? (an example of excellent usability) Dutch manufacturers realized that a fly painted on the urinal became a "target" for men using the facility. And the fly is positioned in precisely the right place for minimal spillage or splash back. Clever people those Dutch!

  3. Do you make users intuitively know how to use something?

    1. When we see a door, we immediately know that we can open it and go through it
    2. Links in blue and underlined has an affordance of clickability
    3. Buttons can be pressed
    4. Scrollbar moves the document in the window

    Bad Affordance2
    Figure: Bad example - The affordance of the checkbox makes this UI misleading

    Bad FalseAffordance
    Figure: Bad example - If this mop sink didn't look so much like a urinal and wasn't right next to the toilet, maybe the sign wouldn't be necessary

    Bad Affordance3
    Figure: Bad example – It might not have been a good idea to place a male policeman where the exhaust pipe is

    Bad Affordance
    Figure: Bad example - Old Microsoft Word - Because of the UI, people never knew they could use styles e.g. normal, H1, H2

    word tool bar
    Figure: Good example - New Microsoft Word - Because of the new ribbon UI, people intuitively know how to use styles

    Bad Mapping
    Figure: Bad example - Which is the dial that controls the top-right stove?

    Good Mapping
    Figure: Good example - In this layout, it's easy to see which dial controls which stove

  4. Do you always try to reduce complexity?

    The human brain:

    1. Never searches for OR compares all options
    2. Prefers smaller sets of options (4 or less)
    3. Picks the first option that looks good enough
    4. Prefers a shorter option to a longer one
    5. Makes a compromise between speed and accuracy

    It's important to keep these in mind when making design decisions or presenting data.

    Our visual short term memory has a capacity of 4 items. So options are easier for our brain to digest when presented in sets of 4.

    Figure: Good Example - Blocks of 4 or less menu items are easier for the brain to consume

    Figure: Good Example - A great example of removing complexity

  5. Dates – Do you provide the date and time of change as a tooltip?

    Displaying the date and time of change as a tooltip when users hover over the time of change can be an effective approach for interfaces with limited space or when providing both pieces of information together could lead to confusion. Tooltips allow users to access additional information about the context of the date and time of change without cluttering the main interface.

    bad example for no date on tooltip while hovering
    Figure: Bad example – Cannot find date or time in tooltip on hover

    good example date and time change on tooltip
    Figure: Good example – On hover, Facebook shows the date and time

    good example sugarlearning date time on tooltip
    Figure: Good example – Date change on hover over time of change for sugarlearning item

  6. Do you use icons/emojis to enforce the text meaning?

    People may not pay attention to some important words in your interface. Adding a simple and clear icon beside the words will make the difference.

    For emails and web content, using an simple emoji is an easy and friendly way to achieve the same result 🙂.

    Using icons

    validation bad
    Figure: Bad example - No icons to indicate the status

    validation good
    Figure: Good example - Green tick and red cross help the user to know what's going on

    Using emojis

    I join a lot of Sprint Reviews, and there is a consistent problem I see among Scrum teams. The PBIs have limited or missing information. Usually, this is due to unclear requirements...

    Figure: Bad example - No emojis to enforce the meaning

    I join a lot of Sprint Reviews, and there is a consistent problem I see among Scrum teams. The PBIs have limited or missing information 😥. Usually, this is due to unclear requirements...

    Figure: Good example - The emoji gives extra focus on what is important

    See this rule being used on different scenarios:

  7. Do you add a spot of color for emphasis?

    When there are key words that you want people to notice, you can add a spot of color on the important word for emphasis.

    You should make parts of the text different colors just like you’d highlight or boldface parts of a sentence. The duo colored text will help emphasize your message. Whenever possible use the brand colors when you do this.

    sswtv signage
    Figure: The TV signage has the important words in red

    quality software tagline
    Figure: See bottom tag line - Don't make the important word “quality software” in red... because you already have red

    quality software tagline grey
    Figure: See bottom tag line - Make the important word “quality software” in red... because you do not have red

    chewing fat bottom text
    Figure: Chewing the Fat bottom text. No red word because it is the title

  8. Do you understand the importance of language in your UI?

    The tone of your application speaks volumes about how users view it. Read this Google documentation on the voice of Android.

    Language tips and examples

    Tips❌ Bad examples✅ Good examples
    Keep text as short as possible. Avoid wordy, stilted text.Consult the documentation that came with your phone for further instructions.Read the instructions that came with your phone
    Describe only what the user needs to know and don't provide unnecessary information.Your phone needs to communicate with Google servers to sign in to your account. This may take up to five minutes.Your phone is contacting Google. This can take up to 5 minutes.
    Focus on the user's concern, not technical detailsManually control GPS to prevent other apps from using it.To save power, switch Location mode to Battery saving
    Put the most important thing first77 other people +1’d this, including Larry PageLarry Page and 76 others +1’d this
    Put the user's goal firstTouch Next to complete setup using a Wi-Fi connectionTo finish setup using Wi-Fi, touch Next
    Avoid being confusing or annoyingSorry! Activity MyAppActivity (in application MyApp) is not responding.MyApp isn’t responding. Do you want to close it?

    Words and terms examples

    ❌ Bad examples - Avoid✅ Good examples - Use
    cannot, could not, do not, did not will not, you willContractions: can’t, couldn’t, don’t, didn’t, won’t, you’ll, and so on
    okay, okOK
    please, sorry, thank youAttempts at politeness can annoy the user, especially in messages that say something has gone wrong. Exception: In Japanese, “please” is mandatory and imperative verbs should be localized accordingly (turn on -> please turn on).
    fail, failed, negative languageIn general, use positive phrasing (for example, “do” rather than “don’t,” except in cases such as “Don’t show again,” “Can’t connect,” and so on.)
    me, I, my, mineyou, your, yours
    Are you sure? Warning!Tell user the consequence instead, for example, "You’ll lose all photos and media"
  9. Numbers - Do you use separators to improve numbers' readability?

    Remember to use dividers when referring to large sums or phone numbers.

    • Total: $27216
    • Phone: 14XXXXXXXXX

    Figure: Bad example - These numbers are unwieldy and difficult to read

    ::: greybox

    • Total: $2,721.65
    • Phone: +1 XXX XXX XXXX
      ::: ::: good Figure: Good example - Symbols or some spaces make these large numbers easier to read


    For currency references, different countries use periods in place of commas and vice-versa.
    E.g. In the United States and Australia: $2,367.48 / In France and Brazil: $2.367,48.

  10. Do you consider optical alignment?

    Optical alignment
    Figure: In the first example, although the text is technically aligned, it does not 'look' it. In the second one, the "V" has been moved into the margin, but the optical alignment is now correct

    Not only relevant in typography, optical alignment can also be used in forms and web.

    bad opticalalignment
    Figure: Bad example - The fields are aligned to the radio buttons, but it doesn't "look" good enough

    good opticalalignment
    Figure: Good example - It seems neater, even though it is no longer technically aligned

  11. Column Data - Do you make matrix columns as simple as possible?

    bad matrixcol
    Figure: Bad example - Hard to read these columns

    good matrixcol
    Figure: Good example - The whole table has been re-written and is now easier to understand

  12. Column Data - Do you do alphanumeric down instead of across?

    The search direction of a list should be obvious. When it comes to a multicolumn list, you should always head down instead of across for legibility.

    Vertical lists are much easier to scan than horizontal lists, because all items are aligned to left, when you're looking for an item, you don't need to read the entire word, you can quickly scan the first letters and get directly to the item you look for.

    appledotcom verticall
    Figure: Good example - lists countries in columns vertically

  13. Column Data - Do you know when to use columns or text?

    It's OK to use text because it's more natural, but use columns if you need:

    • reordering
    • side by side comparison
    • totals

    Figure: While text looks friendlier, in terms of presenting data it's not the easiest to read

  14. Do you make the homepage as a portal?

    You should put all the useful and current information on the homepage and also make it easy to find your core functions there.

    E.g. Top billing customers for the month and a button under it for adding an invoice.E.g. See the number of bugs counted by the most common.

    Figure: The homepage of TWA is a portal

    word portal
    Figure: Microsoft also opens a portal 'homepage'

  15. Authentication - Do you make the logged in state clear?

    Remember to make the "logged in" state clear enough to help the user know the current state.

    Figure: Bad example on Web form - The user is logged in, but it isn't very clear

    Figure: Good example on Web form - It's clear that the user is logged in

    timepro loggin
    Figure: Good example - TimePro use avatar to state user logged in

    sugarlearning loggin
    Figure: Good example - SugarLearning use avatar to state user logged in

  16. Do you strike-through completed items?

    When you're giving an update on progress on a task list or a schedule, strike out the items that have been completed. Not only does it visually explain where you are, it also gives you a great sense of satisfaction...

    sugarlearning task
    Figure: Good example - SugarLearning's completed items are struck-through

    outlook todo
    Figure: Good example - Microsoft Outlook Todo's completed tasks are struck-through

  17. Do you provide options for sharing?

    If users want to share information or media, then make it easy for them!

    Some common avenues for sharing are:

    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • LinkedIn
    • Google Drive
    • Email
    • SMS / Messages
    • Copy to clipboard

    social networks
    Figure: Good example – Users can easily share media via 6 common avenues and more.

  18. Do you have a "search box" to make your data easy to find?

    Figure: Good example - a "search box" makes it easy to find data

    Figure: Good example - the search bar in Windows 8 is now always in the same position, no matter what program or where you are searching for. You can activate Charms in Windows 8 by mousing to the top right corner.


    Figure: Good Example - TFS Preview has an easy to find search box.

  19. Do you know how to use "gamification"?

    "Gamification" is a method of encouraging user participation. Usually, these are a set of incentives such as points or achievement badges that are linked to some other form of redeemable value.

    It originated with Frequent Flyer programs and has crossed over into the software world with the success of Foursquare.

    This concept is being utilized even inVisual Studio.

    microsoft rewards
    Figure: Good Example – Microsoft Rewards gives points when you search on and buy things from the Microsoft Store online and in Windows 10

    stack overflow reputation
    Figure: Good Example – Stack Overflow uses reputation points, awarded by how useful your answer to other user submitted questions were

    gamification timepro
    Figure: Good Example – TimePro uses gamification to encourage users to do their timesheets on time

    sugarlearning leaderboard
    Figure: Good Example – SugarLearning Leaderboard is another good example

    gamification dropbox
    Figure: Good Example – Dropbox rewards its users with extra storage space instead of imaginary points. This is more interesting

  20. Do you encourage experimentation?

    Encourage experimentation to increase comfort:

    • Undo
    • Remember your last state
    • Live preview

    word tabledesign
    Figure: Good example - Micorosoft Word uses Live Preview to show what styles look like

  21. Do you avoid “OK” buttons and use the specific action as labels instead?

    While "OK" buttons were the standard convention with operating systems of the past, web applications should use a more user-friendly approach to dialog boxes. Instead of "OK" buttons to confirm an action the users want, it’s more efficient and effective to give them button that is labeled with that specific action.

    Figure: Bad example - web application button labeled as "OK"

    Figure: Good example - button is labeled with the specific action

  22. Do you have a "last taken" option?

    The best apps predict what the user is trying to do from context and does it for them.


    Figure: Good Example – “Use Last Photo Taken” is a simple example from Slack.

    This is generally referred to as an “adaptive system.”

    Smashing magazine has a much more detailed article regarding adaptive systems from 2012 along with advanced examples.

  23. Do you have a "request access" button in pages that require permission?

    If your page requires permission to be accessed it should provide a button for the user to request it.

    no request permission
    Figure: Bad example - You just don't have access

    request permission
    Figure: Good example – Office 365 has a "Request Access" button

  24. Do you have a clean “no match found” screen?

    When a user looks at a search result, they expect to see a list of items to look into. If there are no results, don't give them noisy text because it can be taken as a search result. An icon also can be understood as a broken page. Your "no results" page should be clean.

    search result bad list
    Figure: Bad example - The list of "suggestions" is just noise and can confuse the user

    search result bad icon
    Figure: Bad example - Having an icon implies that an error happened which is not the case

    search result good web
    Figure: Good example - Plain and clean screen

    search result good iphone
    Figure: Good example - Plain and clean screen on mobile

    Note: In case the message you're showing is a "pass" or "fail, it is recommended to use an icon as per Do you use icons to enforce the text meaning?

  25. Do you highlight the search term?

    When implementing search on a website, do you know that it is best to highlight the search terms in the page body?

    Search is a common feature in websites, and one you will most likely have to implement at some stage. When search returns a list of items, it is useful to highlight the search terms where they appear in the results.

    2014 08 07 15 48 11 before compressor

    Figure: Search for items with these tags

    2014 08 07 15 47 15 after compressor

    Figure: Search results have their relevant tags highlighted

  26. Do you know the right way to embed a YouTube video?

    When you embed a YouTube video it will increase your page size from 500kbs to 1.5Mb or more, depending on how many videos are embedded on the page.

    video embed load time
    Figure: A side by side comparison – everyone wants less requests and a smaller page size

    video embed bad
    Figure: Bad example - Don’t add embed code directly from YouTube. For more details read "A Better Method for Embedding YouTube Videos on your Website"


    Figure: Bad example – The evil HTML code

    There is a clever, lightweight way to embed a YouTube video, which Google itself practices on their Google+ pages which reduce it to 15kbs.All you have to do is, whenever you need to embed a video to a page, add the below tag instead of the YouTube video embed code. (Remember to replace VIDEO_ID with actual ID of the YouTube video)

    <div class="youtube-player" data-id="VIDEO_ID"></div>

    Figure: Good example – The good HTML code

    Note: This script needs to be added at the end of the document:

      /* Light YouTube Embeds by @labnol */
      /* Web: */
      document.addEventListener("DOMContentLoaded", function () {
        var div,
          v = document.getElementsByClassName("youtube-player");
        for (n = 0; n < v.length; n++) {
          div = document.createElement("div");
          div.setAttribute("data-id", v[n];
          div.innerHTML = labnolThumb(v[n];
          div.onclick = labnolIframe;
      function labnolThumb(id) {
        var thumb = '<img src="">',
          play = '<div class="play"></div>';
        return thumb.replace("ID", id) + play;
      function labnolIframe() {
        var iframe = document.createElement("iframe");
        var embed = "";
        iframe.setAttribute("src", embed.replace("ID",;
        iframe.setAttribute("frameborder", "0");
        iframe.setAttribute("allowfullscreen", "1");
        this.parentNode.replaceChild(iframe, this);

    ..and this needs to be added in the CSS:

      .youtube-player {
        position: relative;
        padding-bottom: 56.23%;
        /* Use 75% for 4:3 videos */
        height: 0;
        overflow: hidden;
        max-width: 100%;
        background: #000;
        margin: 5px;
      .youtube-player iframe {
        position: absolute;
        top: 0;
        left: 0;
        width: 100%;
        height: 100%;
        z-index: 100;
        background: transparent;
      .youtube-player img {
        bottom: 0;
        display: block;
        left: 0;
        margin: auto;
        max-width: 100%;
        width: 100%;
        position: absolute;
        right: 0;
        top: 0;
        border: none;
        height: auto;
        cursor: pointer;
        -webkit-transition: 0.4s all;
        -moz-transition: 0.4s all;
        transition: 0.4s all;
      .youtube-player img:hover {
        -webkit-filter: brightness(75%);
      .youtube-player .play {
        height: 72px;
        width: 72px;
        left: 50%;
        top: 50%;
        margin-left: -36px;
        margin-top: -36px;
        position: absolute;
        background: url("//") no-repeat;
        cursor: pointer;
  27. Do you know to use Save, Save and Close on a webpage?

    When the user is creating or editing data on a webpage, there are 2 buttons and one link you need to provide.

    These three options are:

    • Save (button) - Saves the data and allows the user to keep editing
    • Save and Close (button) - Saves the data and returns to the previous screen
    • Cancel (link) - returns to the previous screen

    2014 11 27 11 45 25 compressor

    Figure: Bad example - only provided Savebutton and Cancellink

    2014 11 27 13 58 48 compressor

    Figure: Good example - CRM 2013 provides a Save button a nd a Save and Close button

    2014 11 27 11 47 40 compressor

    Figure: Better example - SugarLearning provides a Savebutton, a Save and Close button and a Cancellink

    Further Reading:

  28. Do you make your cancel button less obvious?

    To avoid users accidentally cancelling an operation when they thought they where clicking the save button you should always make your cancel button less obvious.

    bad cancel button example
    Bad example: Cancel button looks like a save button

    good example cancel button
    Good example: Cancel button is less obvious

    Which side should the cancel button be on?

    It depends which operating platform your program runs on:

    • Windows - On the right
    • Apple, iOS and Android - On the left
    • Web - Generally on the right

    If you're designing a Web-based application, the decision is harder, but you should probably go with the platform preferred by most of your users. Your server logs will show you the percentage of Windows vs. Mac users for your specific website or intranet. Of course, Windows generally has many more users, so if you can't be bothered to check the logs, then the guideline that will apply to most situations is OK first, Cancel last.

    What do you name your buttons?

    It's often better to name a button to explain what it does, than to use a generic label like "OK". An explicit label serves as "just-in-time help," giving users more confidence in selecting the correct action.

    Make the most commonly selected button the default and highlight it. Except if it's action is particularly dangerous; in those cases, you want users to explicitly select the button rather than accidentally activating it by hitting Enter.

    Further Reading:

  29. Do you clearly show what is inactive/disabled?

    Make it clear when something is inactive of disabled. Reducing the opacity is a great way to indicate that.

    inactive record
    Figure: Good example - Microsoft Teams clearly shows inactive users

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