How can UX designers prevent user errors? UX Question #29

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Diana from Brooklyn, New York, asks: how can UX designers prevent user errors?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Diana. This is UX Question number 29 and I am Ben Judy.

How can UX designers prevent user errors? Well, the mindset of course should be that you want to avoid making design errors. Users don’t make errors! They’re just confused by poor design.

(Actually that’s not true. Users can make errors. But our job as UX practitioners is to anticipate the most common problems users might encounter, and design intuitive and elegant experiences.)

But I get the point of the question. How do you prevent user errors?

Usability testing, of course. Observe where real people struggle, and iterate on your design until your design passes the usability tests with flying colors. But that gets expensive. You can’t test everything. Nor should you.

There are many, good usability principles and design patterns that can help. Here are just a few.

Design helpful constraints. Think of these as guardrails through the user’s path in your product. Example: a phone number field in a web form that only accepts numbers, not letters or other characters.

In designing search experiences, offer suggestions. Like Google auto-complete. That’s not just a time saver, it helps reduce typos.

Smart defaults. Good calendar apps do this a lot. Intelligently pre-selecting the start or end time of an appointment based on the most commonly selected times. Helps the user to not accidentally set AM versus PM and so forth.

Support undo. When a user does make a mistake, allow them to notice it and give them away to undo the mistake before it becomes costly.

The most important one might be to simply follow conventions. Give users familiar UI design patterns. UX design is a lot about leveraging what users expect, it’s not always about being innovative and creating some entirely new way to do something. People make more mistakes when they’re confronted with something new.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Consult some good lists of usability principles, common patterns that make designs easy for people to use, and you’ll be well on your way to preventing user errors. Or, better said, making bad designs that are hard to use.

Hey, these tips and principles are easy to say and easy to explain. The hard work is in applying them to your project work. Especially with pressure from product managers or engineers or whoever, to do things in a way that’s easier on them, but that makes things harder on users.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What is usability testing?

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