Universal Principles Of User Experience Design

This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe

As designers working in an ever-changing field, it’s important that we develop an understanding of the timeless design principles that underpin everything we do. In the second article in my series for Adobe XD, I’ll explore the foundations that enable us to establish some universal principles of UX.

These principles, which should sit at the heart of everything we design and build, are critical and will stand the test of time:

  • Visual Grammar

  • Language and Typography

  • Narrative Design

Collectively, these principles form the firm foundations on which we design great experiences. We can, of course, layer an understanding of other principles: psychology, anthropology, and economics. On top of these, enhancing what we build, but these core principles underpin the experiences we create.

We’re increasingly asked to solve design problems that – as new technologies are imagined and invented – have never been solved before. The good news is that the principles of the past still work. By focusing on acquiring these first principles, you develop skills that stand the test of time and set you apart as a designer.

Regardless of the outcome — be it analog, like Lance Wyman’s iconic Mexico68 Olympic identity (left) or digital, like Apple’s ubiquitous Activity iOS branding (right) – the principles of design remain consistent and timeless.

Of course, to comprehensively cover universal principles of UX design – a vast and complex topic – would be a challenge in just a single article. But rest assured, I’ll provide some additional tips and techniques after each section, and at the close of the article I’ll provide some suggested reading. Consider this article a short primer to set you on the right path.

Visual Grammar

To design effectively, it’s critical to develop an understanding of the principles of visual grammar that underpin the world of visual communication. These principles, which have their roots in the history of graphic design, are still applicable today and form the building blocks of design, lying at the heart of the experiences we create.

But what exactly do I mean by visual grammar? Put simply, everything we create visually – whether it’s user interface (UI) elements or more complex arrangements of elements on screen – is comprised of a series of core elements: points, lines, and planes. By combining these elements, we can create icons, components, illustrations, diagrams, patterns… in short, everything.

As designers, we work – at the simplest level – with an essential ‘grammar’ of elements: points, lines, and planes. These elements, which were defined at the influential Bauhaus school at the beginning of the twentieth century, remain at the heart of what we do today, and yet, often aren’t taught rigorously.

A point marks a position in space. Two points, connected, form a line. A series of points, connected and filled, form a plane. These are the building blocks of visual design. Spending some time learning how they work – at a fundamental level – will improve your skills as a designer.