I'm establishing a new UX unit in our organization, and whenever I try to introduce something, I get asked about "standards". You know, questions like "So do you have any standards that you based this on?".

I've been in this field for a few years, and I don't remember seeing any "standard" that everyone is supposed to follow. I've seen design patterns, which could be seen as kind of a standard, but even those might differ from library to library.

So, are there any standards that we all are supposed to follow? If not, what references should I use to base my work (in front of them at least).

  • 2
    The key standards are the one you and your UX team use. Ideally they're based on industry knowledge, experience and, ultimately, user testing and field data.
    – DA01
    Jan 24, 2011 at 23:01
  • I've also had these ongoing requests for 'standards' - I think it comes up if you're dealing with part of a business which is very 'standards' driven.
    – PhillipW
    May 20, 2012 at 18:48
  • These people have some information on'ISO' type standards: system-concepts.com/usability/usability-standards.html
    – PhillipW
    May 20, 2012 at 18:55
  • You know, every time you're asked that question you could say, "let me get back to you." Then you could write a blog post, sum up the problem and your solution, referencing your past work and the work or research of others. Then present them with your new article the following day. As a side benefit, you'd become a prolific blogger in no time. May 22, 2012 at 20:43
  • I am hoping that there are some new answers to this question... if not then I think a bounty might be due for this.
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 31, 2014 at 0:25

5 Answers 5


They are asking one question, but they mean another. What they mean is: I don't trust you. Can you show me that someone else said this? Someone who published a book or study or something?

Engineers have ancient tomes that describe programming patterns and standards. They would like design to be the same. They want to see you have read books. Get a stack of the right books and put them on your desk. Psychology, human factors, design, etc. Any book to make them trust you have been educated by big brains. The $300 expense will be well worth it.

You might even want to read them. ;)

  • 2
    I don't trust you. Can you show me that someone else said this? Someone who published a book or study or something? - That's a fair question for engineers. Engineering isn't by recipe either, but you are right that it's easier to walk forward from where you stand.
    – peterchen
    Jan 24, 2011 at 22:26

I have found the information at http://usability.gov (fully contained in this PDF document) to be very helpful as it is based on empirical research and was reviewed by numerous respectable members of the CS and UX communities. It is comprehensive and about as close to "standard" as I've seen in any documentation on the subject.


This mini-paper lists some related ISO standards.

Most usability measures can be tracked back to reducing Cognitive Load for the user. IMO reading up about that is more valuable than reading above standards, as it allows to evaluate new ideas.

There are some processes (rather, guidelines) how to develop the UX, e.g. User-centric design.

IMHO software UX is affected by a general problem in software development: there is a significant gap between research and practice. As developers we trust the opinions of some bloggers more than the outcome of a study.

  • 1
    I agree, though feel that it's OK to trust experienced people as well. Sadly, the rest of the world speaks 'data' so for a UX team to truly influence the corporation, data is needed.
    – DA01
    Jan 24, 2011 at 23:02

Most organizations of any size will need a style-guide or set of standards to reference. This need becomes more dire in direct proportion to the number of people working on an interface/product/publication. More hands = more different ways of doing things.

As the new head of UX, you are in a unique position to define the style and standards for your company. Do your research, and present a set of best practices codified in a style-guide in a series of workshops. Workshops should include anyone who has a hand in building your product -- developers, designers, engineers, copy editors and even marketing people. Get consensus; listen to what your constituents have to say. Then post your revised style-guide for all to see. It will be law -- or at least it will be referred to as the interface is built and you will have a more consistent product to show for it.

Here are some places to start: https://www.gov.uk/designprinciples




Good luck


When you design or change something, you’re doing it for a reason. They want to know what that reasoning is. It's not necessarily that they don't trust you. As a programmer I might ask why something is being done because I want to know how it impacts the rest of my project. People might generally trust your advice, but there will always be cases where you need to explain your opinion no matter how far along you are.

There are many different standards which you may be relying on when you make a design decision. You aren't going to follow standards all the time, but if you break away from the norm you should have a reason for it. Common standards and examples:

  1. Platform specific UX standards:

  2. Design standards:

    • Color theory
    • Focal Points
    • Visual Grouping
  3. Company Specific UX Design Standards

    • Usually laid out to give things a consistent feel
    • Color palettes, specific fonts
  4. User Research

    • Based on studying how users react to things.
    • Psychology
    • User eye tracking
    • How people generally expect things to work, because that's how it worked everywhere else.
    • Example sites: www.nngroup.com , www.usability.gov
    • User tests

Specific Example: - Is it acceptable practice to use checkboxes as radio buttons? The resounding answer with 27 upvotes was "No". Because it breaks the standard of how that control is usually used. And it makes sense, after all if something suddenly works differently than most users expect, it will probably throw them off. You wouldn't want to flush the toilet and have the lights turn off.

Conversation Examples:

(Explaining visual design principal)

  • Q: Why are we moving this button to the left?

    A: Items that are grouped together are usually seen as one item. We wanted to more strongly associate button1 with button2.

(Explaining how something is usually used; user expectations)

  • Q: Why are these circles? I thought I said I wanted checkboxes.

    A: It’s standard to use radio buttons when you are only allowing the user to select one option. It conveys the fact that they can only select one without having to tell them that. This saves time, makes the sign up process faster and thusly raises customer retention rate.

    Q: Oh? What standard is that based on?

    A: You can read about it here if you'd like to know more. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/checkboxes-vs-radio-buttons/

(Color theory, flow)

  • Q: Why did you change this to light blue?

    A: To contrast against this dark blue, which makes the flow of the website more linear. This strains the user's eyes less and allows them to read more content.

(Broadening the questioner's scope of project)

  • Q: Whoa! You can’t make the lights turn off when you flush the toilet!

    A: I know that isn’t something that is normally done, but even though the light over the toilet turns off, the lights over the mirror turn on first so you’re not sitting in the dark.

  • 1
    Good answer. I'm always surprised at how uncommon it is for designers to be able to explain their designs with reference to objective reasoning, and how common it is for people to explain ideas without examples. Oct 26, 2023 at 7:58

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