How can Shneiderman’s 8 Golden Rules Contribute to Usability?

8 Golden rules for Usability
8 Golden rules for Usability

en Shneiderman is an American computer scientist who, just like Don Norman has contributed a lot of energy and time to the field of UI/UX Design. His main research interests are the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, User Interface Design, and Information Visualization. Schneiderman introduced the 8 golden rules of interface design which are used by successful companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

1. Strive for consistency

Consistency in the design and its visual elements is one of the most important factors that we must always keep in mind. You must use the same design patterns and sequence of actions in similar situations to maintain this consistency. Same design patterns include the same use of color, typography, terminology, menu hierarchy, and even call-to-action has to be consistent within the design.

According to Jakob’s Law, users spend most of their time on other sites which means that they prefer consistency among all sites they come across. Because of this, you must design your site the same way all other sites are designed too. This means that navigation bars, breadcrumbs, forms, and even the layout of a web page must stick to the same foundation.

If you fail to maintain consistency, it will increase the users’ cognitive load because they are forced to learn something new every time. It's always best to have constant consistency along with a design because it will allow the user to complete their tasks and achieve their end goal easily

Source: Laws of UX: Jakob’s Law by Jon Yablonski, 8 Golden Rules for Better Interface Design by Anna Santos

Using consistent and simple icons
Using consistent and simple icons

2. Enable frequent users to use shortcuts

When you think about users, there are mainly 2 types: Experienced users and Inexperienced users. Therefore, your design must cater to the needs of both these types of users. One such way to do so is the use of shortcuts. Experienced users can interact throughout the design and save time by using shortcuts whereas inexperienced users will not struggle too. Shortcuts can satisfy the requirements of both experienced and inexperienced users simultaneously.

Another way to assist both types of users is through customization of the features and settings. Users can make their own decisions on how they can use the product when customization is available to them. Users at first can be provided with default actions to follow but if they feel like it's too hard to follow, customization will allow the users to change these actions to something that they are more comfortable with.

If you feel like the actions you provide are too hard for any user, you can provide simple instructions or visual cues to assist the user.

For example, for first-time users Notion provides step-by-step guides to follow. For all users, it shows the different types of templates and options that are available whenever you create a new page or task.

Sources: The Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design by Ben Shneiderman, 8 Golden Rules of Interaction Design by Yellowchalk Design Solutions

Informative instructions for inexperienced users (Image screenshots from Notion)

3. Offer informative feedback

When it comes to a product, the user must always be informed with the use of feedback. For every action that the user does there should be feedback with confirmation of their actions and this feedback must be informative as possible so the user will not have any misunderstandings. All feedback that you provide must be meaningful, clear, and most importantly, relevant to the context. When the user knows what is going on, they can plan out what their next steps must be.

As mentioned by Euphemia in her article, a bad example of feedback would be an error message that shows an error code instead of a message which is human readable and meaningful. These types of bad feedback would discourage and confuse the user as to what is going on and ultimately abandon the product.

Source: Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules Will Help You Design Better Interfaces by Euphemia Wong

Provide informative feedback

4. Design dialogue to yield closure

This rule is about having a sequence of actions from the start, middle, and the end that provides feedback and options to the user to keep them informed about the situation. As mentioned by Euphemia, Don’t keep your users guessing therefore, you should always notify your users of what's going on.

The perfect example to understand this rule is through an e-commerce website. With every action, the user takes, they will be given feedback on each action they do. Finally, after the process is completed, the user will be notified with a message such as ‘Thank you for purchasing this item’ or something similar.

A final message of closure provides the user with a sense of accomplishment. This rule states that the sequence of these actions must be consistent throughout and well organized with a clear beginning, middle and end. When the process is finally completed, the user must feel closure so you must make sure to notify the user when the end is.

Source: Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules Will Help You Design Better Interfaces by Euphemia Wong

Design dialogue to provide closure
Design dialogue to provide closure
Design dialogue to provide closure

5. Offer simple error handling

No user likes to see a big red exclamation mark when they make a mistake. When you design a product, it must always be error-free as much as possible to keep the user comfortable when interacting with the product. But if the user comes across an error that is unavoidable, they must be told in a straightforward but simple way and the user must be assisted with step-by-step instructions to overcome with error. The best way to handle user errors is to include a clear error message with instructions to solve that error.

Most common errors that any user's faces are incorrect or missing credentials in forms. If you mention with a big popup saying that they made a mistake, the user would not feel good about it. If the user misses any field to fill up in the form, you can just flag that blank field to notify the user. If any credential is wrong, a simple message about it and the solution can be provided exactly in the place of the wrong credential.

Source: Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules Will Help You Design Better Interfaces by Euphemia Wong

Offer simple error handling
Offer simple error handling

6. Permit easy reversal of actions

As mentioned in the article provided by Ben Shneiderman, this feature relieves anxiety, since users know that errors can be undone, and encourages exploration of unfamiliar options. As we always tend to make mistakes, there must be a way to reverse the action. Users will always feel safe and comfortable when there is a way to reverse any action they have done.

It promotes a sense of independence and trust when people can easily back out of a process or reverse action. Users would use exits to stay in charge of the system to prevent being trapped and irritated.

For example, Google Drive supports the ‘Undo’ action. For any changes you do such as, Deleting a file or Changing a file name, it will show a simple message in the left bottom corner with the ‘Undo’ button in case you want to change it back.

Sources: The Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design by Ben Shneiderman

Allow reversal of actions
Allow reversal of actions
Allow reversal of actions

7. Support internal locus of control

As designers, we know that the user must be the main priority. So, when we are designing a product, we must design it in a way that the user would feel like they are in control of the system. The user should be the main initiator of any and all actions than the responders. When it mainly comes to experienced users, they have a sense of desire to oversee the entire product therefore any surprises or changes that are not prompted by the user will be a disadvantage to them.

To successfully follow this rule, get rid of any information that seems irrelevant and provides a smooth interface for your users which they can easily interact with. Any extra bit of information that the interface has will be a disturbance to the user experience. In addition to this, for any bit of action, get the user to be the initiator of it.

For example in Instagram, the user’s consent is needed for any bit of action that is done within the application.

Source: 8 Golden Rules of Interaction Design by Yellowchalk Design Solutions

User initiation for every action (Image screenshots from Instagram)

8. Reduce short term memory load

George Miller has stated that an average person can only keep 7 items (+/- 2) items in their working memory. This UX Law is known as the ‘Miller’s Law’. Due to this, the well-known fact that ‘recognition is better than recall’ is best to be followed. Recognizing something is easier than trying to remember it therefore you can minimize the users’ cognitive load by creating an interface that is consistent among all websites.

For example, we all know that the scissor icon symbolizes the cut function and the garbage bin icon symbolizes the delete function.

Therefore using common icons throughout a design to symbolize a specific function will be efficient because it promotes recognition rather than recall.

Source: Laws of UX: Miller’s Law by Jon Yablonski, George A. Miller by Marie Doorey, Memory Recognition and Recall in User Interfaces by Nielson Norman Group

Display simple but common icons
Display simple but common icons
Display simple but common icons

Conclusion

This set of rules can be used as a checklist when designing a product because it has a huge effect on the usability of a product. Interaction Design Foundation has provided a worksheet that you can follow to make sure you create the best product for your users. As we know, users must be our main priority when we design therefore these 8 golden rules by Ben Shneiderman must not be missed!

A UX designer & UI developer who also has a passion for music. Enjoy capturing moments with a click. spend leisure time by creating videos.

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