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Sometimes when you design things, you become blind to the fact that your graphical design does not actually work all that well. It can happen that you fail to account for some corner case, or you can fail to account for missing contextual information etc.

How do you ensure you are in fact designing it right and that the design works as intended? When doing some user testing, how do you ensure you do not taint the test with your context that then does not always exist? Or we might be asking the wrong audience. What other options do we have?

Some examples:

Two examples. The first is turquoise text reading "Selection Item", followed by blue text reading "Selection Item 2", with the caption "Which one is selected"?. The second examples depicts a symbol similar to the "Men's bathroom" symbol but simplified, with the caption "What does this symbol mean?"

Image 1: Sometimes you just don't get the design as presented.

Both of the designs above probably were perfectly valid in the environment where they were designed, just not when they were applied. The selection highlight probably worked quite well when the designed menu had more than 2 items, but not when there are fewer. Likewise, the symbol is perfectly understandable if you happen to see its counterpart, but alone it does not work as well. Unfortunately, in practice, this comes up every day since the icons are not all next to each other.

How can you validate the design to prevent this confusion?

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    Interesting question. Please, do not vote to close it. We need more of this questions to keep the wheel turning.
    – Rafael
    Sep 6, 2017 at 12:59
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    I don't see the ambiguity of the symbol. Itobviously means “we have drinking fountains with hovering tennis balls over them”. Sep 6, 2017 at 21:56
  • Silly @JanusBahsJacquet that symbol clearly refers the ball and cup game
    – Scott
    Sep 6, 2017 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

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Testing with real users. As simple as that, there's no other VALID way.

You can test with fellow designers, but it would be completely biased and quite probably you'll get opposite results to what "real life" would bring, so avoid that, unless this is a "design for designers" (such as a competition, or skills display). I'm not a graphic or web designer per se, I'm an UX Developer, and I'd say 90%+ of Behance or Dribble stuff won't work in real life, no matter how beautiful it looks.

The thing is you need to do a trade-off between visuals and UX. Basic UX rules tells your examples are not a good fit (as you have found out already). However, you also say that it works in context (does it?), and UX is all about context, so you might be right, it works in context.

About your specific samples: if by highlight you mean a hover state, then the interaction will transmit an affordance, so you won't have trouble with that. However, if this is a static state (such as an active page), you'll probably need to add something else to transmit where the user is at, and why that link has a different color. In UX, the recommendation is to underline links and be a happy camper, but well, here's where the above mentioned trade-off comes to play.

With regards to icon, there are very few universal icons (that is, icons which everybody understand): print, search, home and few basic icons like that. Everything else is subjective. If I take a look to your icon, I honestly have no idea what it means, and I really tried hard to figure it out, with no avail. Something related to a person, because of the "head", but really no idea. In UX, you add labels to all icons, it's a basic principle. If in your context your icon has labels, then great. Otherwise, you'll be in trouble.

In short

There are many many rules to follow if you want to validate a design with users. But even if you follow them, you'll always need to test, that's the only real validation.

Additional Reading:

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  • One can not generally hover things in dvd home screens :) But how do you select the test subjects.
    – joojaa
    Sep 7, 2017 at 4:28
  • Well, you didn't mention the DVD part (context!), although there's a hover-ish effect in most device screens (when you move your cursor through options). Each device has its own design particularities, and this even applies to brands. Apple has its guidelines, same for Microsoft, HP and so on. As for users, there are many methods (some mentioned in the above articles). For starters, try a uni campus, or go to a caffe and pay a coffee to users in exchange of their opinion. 3-5 opinions should be enough for basic findings
    – Devin
    Sep 7, 2017 at 14:43
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You validate through user testing. Watch the intended users use the program and survey them afterward.

Set up tests to check if they can tell the active state of the links above, or identify the symbol. See if your design works by reviewing the results.

You need to rely on other people, strangers, who are not neccessarily savvy at design or user interface or computer use at all.

You need to design for everybody.

A hard lesson for this designer is that the ultimate design is not what you came up with, the ultimate design is the one that best serves the need or solves the problem of the user, according to the user.

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