Golden Rules of User Interface Design

Regardless of the domain, user interface, or intended device (computer, tablet or phone) for a particular website or application and there are certain universal “Golden Rules” of user interface design. These golden rules have been discussed in numerous publications over the years.

Theo Mandel describes the golden rules of user interface design in great detail in Chapter 5 of his book, “The Elements of User Interface Design.”

Mandel’s Golden Rules
The golden rules are divided into three groups:

  1. Place Users in Control
  2. Reduce Users’ Memory Load
  3. Make the Interface Consistent

Each of these groups contains a number of specific rules. The rules (and a keyword for each rule) for each group are:

Place Users in Control

  1. Use modes judiciously (modeless)
  2. Allow users to use either the keyboard or mouse (flexible)
  3. Allow users to change focus (interruptible)
  4. Display descriptive messages and text(Helpful)
  5. Provide immediate and reversible actions, and feedback (forgiving)
  6. Provide meaningful paths and exits (navigable)
  7. Accommodate users with different skill levels (accessible)
  8. Make the user interface transparent (facilitative)
  9. Allow users to customize the interface (preferences)
  10. Allow users to directly manipulate interface objects (interactive)

Reduce Users’ Memory Load

  1. Relieve short-term memory (remember)
  2. Rely on recognition, not recall (recognition)
  3. Provide visual cues (inform)
  4. Provide defaults, undo, and redo (forgiving)
  5. Provide interface shortcuts (frequency)
  6. Promote an object-action syntax (intuitive)
  7. Use real-world metaphors (transfer)
  8. User progressive disclosure (context)
  9. Promote visual clarity (organize)

Make the Interface Consistent

  1. Sustain the context of users’ tasks (continuity)
  2. Maintain consistency within and across products (experience)
  3. Keep interaction results the same (expectations)
  4. Provide aesthetic appeal and integrity (attitude)
  5. Encourage exploration (predictable)