UX Principles

The Basic Idea

Many of us have a set of principles that guide how we behave and act in our daily lives — like trying to prioritize family over work, practice what we preach, or be present in the moment. Many of the world’s religions and traditions also share fundamental principles of human conduct, such as charity, justice, compassion, and mutual respect. All of these principles help us optimize how we live our lives and ideally be more content.  

In the same way that we use principles to get the most out of our lives, user experience (UX) designers use their own set of principles to ensure we have positive experiences with the products and services we use. 

UX principles are foundational guidelines and concepts that help designers create products and services that are intuitive, user-friendly, and satisfying. In other words, they are pieces of advice, accumulated over many years from the knowledge and experience of UX professionals and researchers, that designers can use to inform the design decisions made throughout the development process. While there’s no fixed number of UX principles, these are some of the most commonly recognized and used:1,2

  1.  User-Centered Design: Prioritize the needs, goals, and preferences of users throughout the design process. Understand the target audience and design with their perspectives in mind.
  2.  Usability: Ensure that the product is easy to use and navigate, with intuitive interfaces and clear functionality. Users should be able to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively.
  3.  Consistency: Maintain consistency in design elements such as layout, terminology, and interaction patterns. Consistency helps users predict the behavior of the interface and reduces cognitive load.
  4.  Accessibility: Design products that are accessible to users with diverse abilities and needs. Consider factors such as readability, keyboard navigation, and support for assistive technologies.
  5.  Visual Hierarchy: Including a clear visual hierarchy can help guide a user’s attention to the most important elements on a page or product. Use visual cues such as size, color, contrast, and typography to highlight key information and actions, facilitating ease of navigation and comprehension for users.
  6.  User Control: Give the user balanced control over how they interact with a product. Offer clear navigation paths, customizable settings, and options for undoing or redoing actions, allowing users to navigate and manipulate the interface according to their preferences and goals.
  7.  Context Awareness: Design products that adapt to the context of use, such as the user's location, device, or task. Anticipate user needs based on context and tailor the experience accordingly.

In addition to these common UX principles, certain fields or products have their own customized design principles that are tailored to the context. For example, Frank Spillers, a leading UX consultant, devised a design checklist for mobile UX design that considers the different limitations and requirements of mobile devices compared with computers.3 Guidelines such as minimizing content, simplifying navigation, and restricting user inputs can all help to ensure that designers working exclusively with mobile interfaces create user-friendly products optimized for those devices. 

Finally, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Nokia also develop their own design principles for specific products. Back in 2009, when Facebook was quickly spreading across the world, the company shared a list of the six principles—universal, human, clean, consistent, useful, fast, and transparent—it used to inform the design of its popular social media platform.4

Design is so simple. That’s why it’s so complicated

— Paul Rand, revolutionary graphic designer

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Key Terms

User experience (UX): Refers to the overall impression and satisfaction a person has when interacting with a product, service, or system, encompassing aspects such as usability, accessibility, and emotional response. 

UX designer: A person who focuses on designing and enhancing the overall user experience of digital products by considering factors such as usability, accessibility, and user satisfaction. 

User interface (UI): In the context of UX design, a user interface refers to the point of interaction between a user and a digital product, encompassing the visual and interactive elements that facilitate user engagement and navigation within a website, application, or system.

Design thinking: A human-centered approach to problem-solving and innovation that emphasizes empathy, creativity, and iterative prototyping. It originated in the field of design but has since been adopted by various industries and disciplines as a method for addressing complex challenges and developing innovative solutions.


To understand where UX principles come from we first need to look at the history of design thinking. In his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial, Nobel Prize laureate and political scientist Herbert Simon proposed the idea of design as a way of thinking. During the following decade, Simon continued to develop his ideas into what are now regarded as the principles of design thinking, or the pieces of advice designers use to create easy-to-use designs.5

Since the 1960s, UX principles have developed stemming from several different ideas and innovations. One of the most influential figures to shape UX principles was Donald Norman and his seminal book The Design of Everyday Things from 1988.6 In his book, Norman describes the importance of user-centered design and the psychology of interaction, paving the way for the creation of formalized UX design principles. The widespread use of the internet during the 1990s further underscored the need to develop effective web design principles to help create user-friendly and intuitive interfaces for this new online world. 

Another important moment in the history of formalized UX principles was the publication of the ISO 9241-210 standard in 2010, which provides requirements and recommendations for human-centered design principles and activities throughout the life cycle of computer-based interactive systems.7

Since 2000, UX principles have continued to evolve and adapt to the proliferation of new technologies, platforms, and digital products. Design thinking methodologies, popularized by design and innovation firms such IDEO, emphasized empathy for users and a human-centered approach to problem-solving, further influencing UX design practices. The growth of mobile and responsive design also prompted new considerations such as touch interaction, screen size variability, and context awareness in UX design principles.


Donald Norman: Cognitive psychologist and inventor of the term ‘user experience.’ In his seminal book The Design of Everyday Things, Norman introduced the idea of user-centered design and emphasized the importance of understanding users’ mental models and expectations. 

Herbert Simon: American political scientist whose work influenced the fields of computer science, economics, and cognitive psychology. In 1978, he received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his research into the decision-making process within economic organizations.  


Imagine that you ask someone to bake you a cake for a party. This person has neither cooked nor followed a recipe before in their entire life. You watch with fascination and confusion as your novice baker starts the process on step five of the recipe, fumbles around the kitchen trying to find ingredients as they go along, and throws everything in a bowl without using measuring cups. The end result is a bowl of gloop.

Now, if this person had followed some of the basic principles of baking—such as starting at the beginning of the recipe, preparing ingredients ahead of time, and measuring everything carefully—you probably would have ended up with a decent cake. 

The same principle applies to UX design; if you don’t establish and follow a set of principles from the start, your end product will either be unfit for purpose or completely non-existent. For instance, when trying to design a mobile app for primary-aged children without following the ‘user-centered design’ principle, you might end up with a product that uses language far too complex for your intended audience. 

The real importance of UX principles, however, lies in the fact that they are tried and tested. That is, they have developed over time from the experiences and findings of previous UX designers who, through trial and error, learned about what does and doesn’t work. To use a contemporary term, we can think of principles as ‘UX hacks’ that will offer you certain shortcuts and insider knowledge to design user-friendly products. 

Another important reason to apply UX principles is to bridge the gap between the designer and the user. Although it may be tempting to follow your gut on what you think is best for a product or service, UX design is about prioritizing the user’s experience. UX principles, therefore, help guide designers to create products that consider users’ needs first and foremost.


UX principles are relatively uncontroversial with very few debates about how to apply them to UX design. However, there are a couple of issues worth considering.  

First, UX principles are often derived from Western design practices and may not fully account for cultural and contextual differences. What works well in one culture or context may not be suitable in another. Designers, therefore, should be mindful of these differences and adapt principles accordingly to ensure inclusivity, accessibility, and effectiveness.

Second, following UX principles too closely may stifle innovation and creativity, as designers may feel constrained by established norms and conventions. Balancing adherence to principles with the freedom to explore new ideas is essential for pushing the boundaries of design and driving meaningful innovation. It’s important to remember that principles are just guidelines, not steadfast laws that must be adhered to. 

Walt Disney: the first UX designer?

In 1966, Walt Disney, the famous American animator, film producer, and entrepreneur, presented his vision for “an experimental prototype that is always in the state of becoming, a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people.”8 This vision of a perfect user experience became a reality five years later when Disney opened his first Walt Disney World resort in Florida. 

When Disney set about designing his theme parks, he was obsessed with creating magical, immersive, and near-perfect user experiences. To achieve this goal, he gave his team of engineers—creatively known as ‘Imagineers’— the following guiding principles: know your audience, wear your guests’ shoes, and communicate with color, shape, form, and texture for engagement. Sound familiar? These are all common principles in UX design. 

Disney also developed 12 principles of animation which he used throughout his creative career. Interestingly, these principles are now applied to User Interface (UI) animations to help reduce users’ cognitive load, make designs more intuitive, and overcome language and cultural barriers in interaction design.9

Disney’s principle of ‘anticipation,’ for example, helps prepare the viewer for what is about to happen in an animation or movie. When applied to digital interfaces, the anticipation principle can be used to help users understand what will happen if they perform a certain action. Hover animations, which show users that a button or image is interactive, are a good example of this principle. 

Similarly, Disney’s principle of ‘staging’ has a striking resemblance to the UX principle of hierarchy. In animation, staging describes motions that guide a viewer’s attention to an important part of the scene. In digital interfaces, motion can also be used to subtly direct users to focus on a particular area.

Nokia Pure

If you’re old enough to remember when mobile phones started to become common among the general population (in other words, anyone who wasn’t a businessperson), think back to the first device you owned. A Nokia? Even if it wasn’t your first mobile phone, you, or someone you know, has probably owned a Nokia device at some point in your life. By 2013, however, Nokia owned just 3% of the mobile phone market and was destined to be forgotten.10

Fast forward a decade and Nokia gained a new lease on life when it went through a rebrand in February 2023 and started to concentrate on new areas of tech. As part of this re-birth, the company announced its new “Nokia Pure” design system which was intended to be used across software UIs developed by Nokia, such as the Nokia Wi-Fi App. This new ‘minimalist’ UI was to be used on multiple devices such as mobiles, laptops, smart wearables, and digital assistants.11 The overall aim of Nokia Pure was to make its interfaces much simpler for users to use and navigate. 

Nokia’s Pure design system had five fundamental principles—pure, simple, human, bold, and open—which were intended to guide product design and reflect the essence of the brand’s values.12 The pure principle, for example, was about creating designs that are intuitive and easy to use, while the open principle was about working collectively to make sure that designs are accessible and usable by everyone. Likewise, the human principle ensured that designs are empathetic and considerate of users’ needs. As you may have noticed, these principles are almost identical to the common UX principles listed at the beginning of this article, albeit under more ‘minimalist’ titles. 

These principles can be clearly seen in some of the elements of the Nokia Pure system, such as typography, color, iconography, and motion. The new Nokia Pure typeface, for example, was easy to read and legible across devices of different sizes. In terms of accessibility, the user interface was designed to be customizable so that users could tailor it to their specific visual needs.13 

Unfortunately, Nokia Pure, like its mobile ancestors during the early 2010s, suddenly disappeared overnight. No one knows why or if the design system will ever be rolled out across Nokia’s ecosystem of products and services.

Related TDL Content

Using the power of behavioral science to elevate User Experience (UX) design

UX experience is vital for creating successful products and services. Central to successful UX experience is behavioral science. In this article, Matthaios Mantzios explores how the findings and insights of Daniel Kahneman and Don Norman can be integrated into the design process to enhance user awareness and elevate user experience. 

Designing for the world: How to achieve culturally attuned UX

Fundamental UX principles are believed to be universally applicable. However, cultural details and nuances can impact the effectiveness of a product’s user experience. In this article, Vivian Zheng looks at the importance of integrating linguistic contexts and cultural dimensions into UX designs to improve user satisfaction.


  1. Hazzard, L. J. (n.d.). The 6 key UX design principles to follow. Falmouth University. https://www.falmouth.ac.uk/news/6-key-ux-design-principles-follow
  2. Stevens, E. (2022, June 22). 7 fundamental UX design principles designers should know. UX Design Institute. https://www.uxdesigninstitute.com/blog/ux-design-principles/
  3. Interaction Design Foundation. (n.d.). Mobile User Experience (UX) Design. Interaction Design Foundation. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/mobile-ux-design
  4. Design at Meta. (2009, July 1). Facebook Design Principles. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/notes/693790757917796/?ref=mf
  5. Dam, R. F., & Siang, T. Y. (2023). The History of Design Thinking. Interaction Design Foundation. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/design-thinking-get-a-quick-overview-of-the-history#the_1960s:_attempts_were_made_to_make_design_scientific-0
  6. Norman, D. A. (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. 
  7. ISO. (2019). Ergonomics of human-system interaction. Part 210: Human-centered design for interactive systems. International Organization for Standardization. https://www.iso.org/standard/77520.html
  8. Vieira, T. (2020, January 26). A brief history of UX design and its evolution. The Next Web. https://thenextweb.com/news/a-brief-history-of-ux-design-and-its-evolution#:~:text=4000%20BC%3A%20Feng%20Shui%20and,to%20the%20flow%20of%20energy.
  9. Tremosa, L. (2023). UI Animation—How to Apply Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation to UI Design. Interaction Design Foundation. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/ui-animation-how-to-apply-disney-s-12-principles-of-animation-to-ui-design
  10. Ettinger, G. (2023, August 18). What happened to Nokia? The rise and fall of a tech giant. Slashgear. https://www.slashgear.com/1369622/what-happened-to-nokia-explained/
  11. Nayak, A. (2023, September 17). Whatever happened to Nokia’s Pure UI? UX Planet. https://uxplanet.org/whatever-happened-to-nokias-pure-ui-1576eeae480f
  12. Nguyen, H. (2023, May 26). Nokia design system – Nokia Pure. UX Collective. https://bootcamp.uxdesign.cc/nokia-design-system-nokia-pure-6b99ef241b7f
  13. Incharaprasad. (2023, May 2). Nokia is finally making news with its new UI language. Medium. https://medium.com/kubo/nokia-is-finally-making-news-with-its-new-ui-language-2e3e9aafbff

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Braithwaite

Dr. Lauren Braithwaite is a Social and Behaviour Change Design and Partnerships consultant working in the international development sector. Lauren has worked with education programmes in Afghanistan, Australia, Mexico, and Rwanda, and from 2017–2019 she was Artistic Director of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra. Lauren earned her PhD in Education and MSc in Musicology from the University of Oxford, and her BA in Music from the University of Cambridge. When she’s not putting pen to paper, Lauren enjoys running marathons and spending time with her two dogs.

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