During a recent UI design project codenamed Mars, I had the opportunity to learn (or in many cases reestablish) some important lessons. Some of them are no-brainers, regardless, certain muscles can weaken when they’re not contextually important all the time.
The project was quite complex and the final design consisted of a few hundred screens. When a design gets to this kind of scale, even small changes in workflow can means hours or days of time saved or wasted.
Following this advice will most often mean a ton of time saved that can be spent on more important and fun things like conceptual development, visual polishing, and prototype testing.
1. Establish a color palette early. Stick to it.
2. Establish a grid early. Stick to it.
3. Establish spacing scheme early. Stick to it.
4. Establish font set/style/size early. Stick to them.
5. There’s almost always room for more whitespace. When in doubt, have more. It’s easier to take away then to get it back.
6. Visual design principles should inform the interaction design layout from the beginning. This is much more efficient and results in a more appealing and consistent design than when visual design is brought in after interaction design is already in full swing or finished.
7. Start building a style guide from the beginning and add to it as the project progresses rather than putting it together at the end of the project.
8. Use Adobe Illustrator for UI design. Unfortunately Fireworks is dead/dying, however Illustrator is an incredibly powerful tool for UI design for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go in to here, but the biggest one is art boards and iterative power. Trust me, look in to it if you’re not already using it.
9. Prototype early and test your hypothesis and assumptions before too much time and energy is required to change things if they’re incorrect. Always test in the context of the user experience, the proper setting (home, work, train, etc), and the proper device(s) (tablet, phone, desktop, tv, etc).
10. Collaborate and critique regularly. By regularly, I mean daily at the minimum, and if you can afford it, even more. Design for a day or a 3-5 hours, huddle for 15-30 minutes, repeat. This may sound like a lot to some, but the only way it’s excessive is if all design decisions have been made and you’re in pure production mode knocking out repetitive screens for a final push. Otherwise, this is absolutely the most effective way to take advantage of the collective brain power within a team for the benefit of the entire team.