Design guidelines

See also: design patterns, style guides

Discussion articles

  • Durability of usability guidelines
    "About 90% of usability guidelines from 1986 are still valid, though several guidelines are less important because they relate to design elements that are rarely used today."
    (Jakob Nielsen)

  • Evolution trumps usability guidelines
    Jared Spool argues that research shows that following design guidelines does not always produce the best results.

  • Examining web design conventions across site types
    This study examined the viability of a Category-Based Usability Theory, which indicates that usability of websites should be accounted for on the basis of the category the website is in. While web design experts have provided general design guidelines, it is believed that with different site types, design guidelines may differ.

  • Making guidelines part of the team
    Guidelines. We seem to have a love-hate relationship with them. At the same time we construct them, we worry they'll come back to haunt us. How did guidelines get such a bad reputation?

  • On the meta usability of user interface standards
    Clearly end users benefit from well-designed interface standards. However, organisations benefit as well. Organisations benefit from reduced production costs and more effective use of resources.

  • Research-based observations
    Every year since 1983, Bob Bailey has reviewed and summarised much of the usability-related research literature that was published during the previous year. He has listed many of these insights in this article. What makes these "dos and don'ts " unique is that they all have recent research to support them.

  • UI guidelines vs. usability testing
    This paper defines UI guidelines and describes the problems inherent in only following guidelines, as well as the danger in being too focused on consistency in your design. It also discusses how usability testing should be used to find out if your product meets the needs of your users and allows them to do their jobs effectively.

  • Web design practices
    This site examines design practices on the web. The data presented are intended to inform design decisions, not dictate them. Common practice does not necessarily equate with best practice--and the relationship between consistency and usability on the web is remains a lightly researched area. A goal of this site is to encourage and highlight related empirical research.


  • 14 principles of polite apps (PDF)
    Software should respond to your obvious needs, not just your commands. Use these 14 principles to create accommodating software.

  • "About us": presenting information about an organisation on its website
    Study participants searched websites for background information ranging from company history to management biographies and contact details. Their success rate was 70%, leaving much room for usability improvements in the "About us" designs.

  • AgeTree design guide
    AGEtree offers designers two entries to a database of design guidelines: user-related and product-related. The user entry provides scientific information on human changes resulting from the normal ageing process and translates the changes into guidelines. The product entry focuses on the designer with products split into different product components. Every component results in a checklist of design guidelines.

  • Apple human interface guidelines
    These guidelines are designed to assist you in developing products that provide Mac OS X users with a consistent visual and behavioral experience across applications and the operating system.

  • Apple software design guidelines for OSX
    Mac OS X combines a solid foundation with a compelling interface to provide a unique user experience. However, that user experience extends beyond the operating system itself to the applications that it hosts. Users want compelling applications that provide the features they want without hampering their productivity. These guidelines are intended to help guide you through the obstacles that confront Mac OS X developers. They cover different aspects of the design process and offers tips on how you can use Mac OS X features effectively in your design.

  • A review of user-interface design guidelines for public information kiosk systems
    This paper reviews general guidelines on user interface design for self service and public information kiosk systems, based on the author's research and existing literature. The guidelines are divided into: defining user requirements, location and encouraging use, physical access, introduction and instruction, language selection, privacy, help, input, output, structure and navigation, and customisation. The paper also emphasises the need to design for stakeholders other than the end users, and offers some guidelines on user-based evaluation of kiosk systems.

  • Change the colour of visited links
    People get lost and move in circles when websites use the same link colour for visited and new destinations. To reduce navigational confusion, select different colours for the two types of links.

  • Common principles: a usable interface design primer
    When users perform a transaction or action, their cognition is often split between learning and operating the system or user interface (UI). A well-designed UI allows users to focus the majority of their cognitive energy on learning, and offers no operational complications. This most general principle of usability is often called the "transparent interface". This article explores some basic UI design principles.

  • Creating a usable electronic newsletter in house
    Many organisations are opting to convert existing print publications into electronic newsletters (e-newsletters)--and for good reason. E-newsletters can be developed for a fraction of the cost of their print counterparts and delivered to a global audience instantly. By following a few guidelines, you can launch a usable and successful e-newsletter.

  • Date entry usability
    Research relating to travel web sites has produced a series of 25 design guidelines for date entry on web sites.

  • Design guidelines for interactive voice response systems
    "Given the increasing importance of IVR systems and the role they stand to play as a primary communications channel for businesses to interact with their customers, it is of critical importance to business success that these systems be as easy-to-use as possible."

  • GNOME human interface guidelines
    This document tells you how to create applications that look right, behave properly, and fit into the GNOME user interface as a whole. It is written for interface designers, graphic artists and software developers who will be creating software for the GNOME environment. Both specific advice on making effective use of interface elements, and the philosophy and general design principles behind the GNOME interface are covered.

  • Guidelines for accessible and usable web sites: observing users who work with screen readers
    "To truly meet the needs of all users, it is not enough to have guidelines that are based on technology. It is also necessary to understand the users and how they work with their tools. For example, just realizing that vision-impaired users do not listen to the entire page is critical for designing usable pages for them. In this paper, we have developed guidelines for bringing accessibility and usability together based on observing, listening to, and talking with blind users as they work with Web sites and their screen readers."
    (Mary Theofanos, Ginny Redish)

  • Guidelines for visualising links
    Textual links should be coloured and underlined to achieve the best perceived affordance of clickability, though there are a few exceptions to these guidelines.

  • Home page real estate allocation
    On average, sample sites evenly distributed valuable screen space between content, navigation, fluff, blank areas, and system overhead. Areas of user interest should occupy more than the current 39%.

  • Investor relations website design
    Individual investors are intimidated by overly complex IR sites and need simple summaries of financial data. Both individual and professional investors want the company's own story and investment vision.

  • KDE human interface guidelines
    KDE is serious about consistency and high standards of usability throughout its suite of applications. The Human Interface Guidelines are part of an important set of documents which describe how KDE applications behave and look.

  • Linking vs searching: guidelines for use
    This articule summarises a quick survey of the available literature on linking and searching. The findings are organised into a series of observations and guidelines that may be helpful to designers dealing with similar issues.

  • Palm OS user interface guidelines
    How to design applications for Palm handhelds so that they conform to Palm, Inc's user interface guidelines.

  • PR on websites: increasing usability
    Compared with a similar 2001 study, a new study of journalists as they looked for information on corporate websites' PR areas showed significant usability improvements: a 5% higher success rate and 15% increased guidelines compliance.

  • Research-based web design and usability guidelines
    There's a lot of hype about the use of usability guidelines--some experts espouse their value, while others content that the web is too young for valid guidelines to have emerged yet. Here, the folks at provide a set of usability guidelines based on research.

  • Section 508 Standards
    Section 508 requires that when US federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

  • SiteView: your guide to usable web design
    A searchable online database of design guidelines, information about design strategies, user-centred design tools and methods for usability testing.

  • Stanford guidelines for web credibility
    The folks from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab have compiled 10 guidelines for building the credibility of a web site. These guidelines are based on three years of research that included over 4,500 participants.

  • The principles of universal design
    "The authors, a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, collaborated to establish the following Principles of Universal Design to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications. These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments."
    (Center for Universal Design)

  • Top ten guidelines for home page usability
    A company's homepage is its face to the world and the starting point for most user visits. Improving your homepage multiplies the entire website's business value, so following key guidelines for homepage usability is well worth the investment.

  • Usability guidelines for GPS in-car navigation systems (PDF)
    "Serco Usability consultants researched in-car GPS navigation devices and conducted expert reviews on a leading manufacturer’s product. The results were used to compile this set of guidelines to be used in conjunction with standard UI and usability guidelines throughout development of GPS
    products, in particular those designed to be used in-car."
    (Serco Usability)

  • User-centered URL design
    Despite the universality of URLs, we often forget that they're not just a handy way to address network resources. They're also valuable communication tools. They help orient users in your architecture, and can suggest whether other options are available.

  • User-centred design principles from Microsoft
    The information in this section describes the design principles on which Windows is based. You will find these principles valuable when designing software for Windows.

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
    International standards for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

  • Web design guidelines
    IBM Ease of Use Group's guidelines for creating easy-to-use web interfaces. Achieving ease of use is essential for any site competing for business on the web. The competition is only a couple of clicks away, and if users become dissatisfied, they can simply go elsewhere. However, by following these guidelines and using a user-centered design process, businesses can retain current customers and attract new ones.

  • XMLHttpRequest ("Ajax") usability guidelines
    "XMLHttpRequest is becoming more and more popular, and many people are currently exploring what we could do with it. Unfortunately this also causes people to reinvent old and forgotten usability problems."
    (Thomas Baekdal)