I have a quite hard task right now: I need to explain agencies and graphic designers, how to design a usable website concept and visual design.

The goal is to give designers a workbook/tips&tricks/FAQ/guideline for make their design drafts quite usable before it will be tested with users somewhen - a sort of quality check. In order to avoid multiple redesign iterations. It is not intended for usability specialists like UX-, IA- or IX-designers, but graphic or general designers.

There are guidelines for good usability like Nielsens heuristics or ISO standard 9241-12 and 9241-110, but its still relies on experience with usability. Or in "usability-words", it lacks of self descriptiveness. It is not clear for a designer what these guidelines mean. Actually, they are like the Gestalt principles. Even if you, as a non-designer, know the Gestalt principles, you won't know how to achieve good graphics.

There are checklists floating in the net for checking a website for good usability, but they are applied after the design, not while designing. I'd like to have a guide to keep in mind while designing, like having design principles in mind while painting.

Or in plain words:

I need to explain "how to achieve good usability" for designers.

  • Do you know a good reference or article tackling this task?

  • What do designers need to know about usability?

  • How can one explain the concepts behind usability easily?

I hope this question is not offtopic. I'm not asking it at UX.SE, because for this guys everything will be so cristal clear. It is hard for an expert to explain things for non-experts easily and understandable. You are the target group, that's why I ask here.

  • If they can't design usable web sites, they're not great designers to begin with. Not sure you can fix that with a checklist. It has to come with experience.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 2:03
  • @DA01 Every agency or designer is claiming to do usability, but the quality does differ. We had projects here, which looked great and shiny on a first glance, but wearing a usability goggle it was awful unusable.
    – FrankL
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 10:00

3 Answers 3


I'm on here and on UX.SE... so not exactly your target group. I've also had 20 years writing technical documentation for all audiences (from highly technical to "my grandmother") under my belt.

My suggestion to you is to have the designers in question look at the materials you've already brought up (Neilsen's heuristics and the ISO standard) and have the designers ask you about things they don't understand. You will be surprised at how quickly they will pick up UX concepts. It behooves the agencies and designers to learn the UX industry jargon if they are to serve their client base well.

The best way to have designers learn usability is to have them shadow the UX expert when they are conducting tests with users. In other words, turn a "designer" into a "visual designer" (in the context of UX practice).

These are the several books I have used to broaden the depth of understanding of UX principles:

  • Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen P Anderson

  • Desigining Together: The collaboration and conflict management handbook for creative professionals by Dan M Brown

  • 100 Things: Every Designer Needs to Know About People Susan Weinschenk, PhD
  • The Icon Handbook Jon Hicks
  • Sketching the User Experience Greenberg, Carpendale, Buxton, et al.
  • Designing with the Mind in Mind: A Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules by Jeff Johnson

I also found attending courses at NN's Usability Week to be extremely helpful.

  • Thanks for your fast answer. I would like to assist and shadowing them personally, but in fact there would be too many. I'm working in a large company, which makes things not easier. Second point is a very good one. I'm going to ask some designers directly. But, still looking for best practices...
    – FrankL
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 14:13
  • I just added the UX books out of my library. The first and last ones on the list are probably going to be the most helpful in getting people up to speed the fastest.
    – Voxwoman
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 14:16

This is just an idea, so it is not completely articulated.

Designers are used to working based on specs and under a tight set of restrictions. A good example is design work for the print industry. Artwork that is meant to be printed is created based on a set of well tried industry standards and project restrictions. The designer knows these restrictions beforehand and while they are creating the artwork. They know, for example, how many inks they can use before the budget breaks, how small the copy can be before the press would mess it up and render it illegible, how thin knockout lines can be before they get blotted, etc. A design that fails to meet these restrictions is considered unacceptable.

A good exercise would be to define the "web user" for (or together with) the designers. A web user is usually thought as a super human that can do anything a human can do, but that is inaccurate. A web user has a very small attention span, for example. It does not read sequentially, but it skims through the page. It has a minimum eye resolution. It has learned to ignore certain areas of the page or certain elements depending on how they look, etc.

The idea would be to think of the user as a machine that will consume the website (the same way the press will consume the artwork to produce a print) - sort of a robot with a set of skills and limitations - then to design websites having that user-machine in mind. The design would not be meant for humans but for the user-machine, with its tight set of skills and limitations.

Again, this is just a draft...

  • 1
    You know what? I really like this idea of "technial" human restrictions, because it is so generic. It actually will work. Like minimum button size for touch interfaces or color restrictions because of colorblindness, attention span etc. Great idea.
    – FrankL
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 9:57

We always need to focus on the fact that the purpose of a website is to convey an idea to the user. That idea may be motivation to do something, desire to buy your product, or something completely different, but there's always something you want the user to go away with. If you don't know what that idea is, you need to know. When designing, we need to continually remind ourselves of this purpose.

In order to convey the idea well, we need to design our sites in such a way that reduces the amount of hindrance to users understanding our the idea we're trying to convey. We want to try and make the users forget that they're reading a screen and instead focus on the idea that we're trying to convey.

With this goal in mind, we can explain specific usability issues in respect to the end goal. At the same time, we will never be able to teach the correct usability choice in every specific situation, but we can get them thinking in a usability mindset as they are designing. That means that as designers, we need to think critically about every aspect of the site and make sure that it's achieving the goal that we want, which will make it usable in the process.

Besides really pushing this goal, we need to also teach some practical examples so they get the gist of what we're saying. Personally, I think going through examples of what not to do as well as how to fix it, explaining the reasoning and principles behind those decisions is one of, if not the best way, to do so. Showing good examples of how to achieve small goals is also incredibly helpful. Examples should be pulled from the specific project(s) that your team is working on as well as clear examples from places online. User Flow Patterns has a lot of good examples, but there are many sites are similar.

As for external resources, it would be helpful to have them read a book or set of articles dealing with usability to reinforce the concepts you're preaching as well teach some things that you may have left out. There are many good resources recommended on GraphicDesign already, go look for them!

Resources to be used after something has been design, like the checklist you bring up, should be applied at different stages of the design, starting on the basic sketch or idea, again once it's mostly designed, and again when it's near finished. This should be done by the designer them self as they're designing. This may require that parts be redone before the design is finalized - which is a good thing! Iteration of smaller parts of a design is far better than having to redo the design at the end. Applying the principles at multiple stages will also reinforce the rules in the mind of the designer to where it comes out more naturally the next time.

  • Seeing usability under the umbrella of users goals is a good way. I hoped no one would mention practical examples, because it means a lot of work :( Anyway, it is one of the issues of usability: You can say if it is bad, but hardly say how to do better. Thanks Zach
    – FrankL
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 15:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.