I'm writing my Masters thesis about one method for designing user interfaces (GUIDe+GDD from Sari Laakso) and I would like to know what other systematic methods there are for UI design/interaction design, so that I can do some comparisons between them.

I'm aware of Virtual Windows from Soren Lauesen and Goal-Directed Design from Alan Cooper, although I don't know much about either. I have the preconception that there are not many such methodologies which have a well-defined process for growing the UI design, but I'm hoping to become aware of more design methods.

Please tell about the design methodologies that you use/know (including the ones I've already mentioned). I'm interested in methods which take as input the goals and needs of the users, and which then step-by-step define that what the user interface should be like in order to fulfill the user needs - i.e. what data and features are needed and how they are used. (So no visual design or implementation guidelines and such.)

5 Answers 5


The first tool I use that works really well is simple pencil and paper prototyping. Draw a UI, and then put it in front different people and pretend it's the actual interface. Have some try to figure out the what and how with no guidance, and with others start by asking them to complete specific tasks. Ask them what they think particular affordances might do before they click on them and speak about what they're thinking as they click around. You can even respond and quickly doodle fixes and ask them if that improves things. This is the cheapest and fastest way to getting a working UI I find.

The second tool I use for quickly understanding how to block out an interface is largely derived from the book Designing from Both Sides of the Screen. It's a spreadsheet to generate a frequency by commonality grid. Create a spreadsheet with these columns:

"Task name" "How often" "How many people"

Identify all the tasks the user must perform to use the application and put them in the first column, then fill in how often users perform it, e.g., "daily", "occasionally", "seldom", using frequency terms that make sense for your app, then fill how out how many people would perform the task, e.g., "everyone", "most", "few". Then create two axes for a graph: frequency and commonality and plot the results. You'll quickly identify those tasks that are done frequently and by everyone as items that will need to easily accessed globally within the app, and those that are done "seldom" by "few" hidden several clicks away. Furthermore you'll find some items "clump" and get some insight into how tasks can be logically organized.

In my experience there is a third dimension, "Business priority", that can often be at odds with frequency and commonality analysis, so I often add that column and consider this as well. An example of how business priority might trump these other concerns is putting the task of upgrading to a premium subscription much higher in the UI even though it might be done by relatively few people only once. So I advise thinking of this analysis in 3 dimensions. I have found providing this sort of breakdown to a graphic designer to be very well received and a great input to wireframing.

After that, it's measure, measure, measure. Setup analytics with goal tracking, and track your key metrics and regularly schedule sit downs with customers to do usability testing and review as features are added (or removed).

  • The spreadsheet idea is really interesting; I can see that being an effective way to pin down priorities. Thanks for the book reference. Jan 5, 2012 at 19:28

Wow - good question Esko. I would say that finding actual systematic methods to reference per se is going to be a long shot. But what you can find more definitive reference for are "best practices".

The term "user interface" can cover a broad category of items from web design, to web apps, to mobile web, to a whole host of non-web related interfaces (the OS, interactive point of purchase displays, the interface in your TV, and even interfaces on basic mechanical devices like a microwave, car or washing machine). So assuming you're going after web and computer related interfaces, here's just a few trails to explore...

Explore CSS Grid based frameworks like http://www.blueprintcss.org/ and http://960.gs/.

Explore CMS based interfaces like what is built into http://www.joomla.org/ or http://drupal.org/

Explore some of the basic best practices of modern web design (nice article from smashing magazine)

Explore some of the current trends and best practices for mobile interface design from...
-Smashing Magazine
-A Slideshow by Selma Zafar
-Some guidelines from the W3C

Here's another great site I've read lots of good UI related artices on which you may find helpful: http://www.uxbooth.com/

  • Those links that you gave appear to mostly contain instructions about graphic design and implementation details. They are not telling that how to find out what the users need and how to design a solution to fulfill those needs, so they are not what I'm looking for. Aug 13, 2010 at 10:00
  • Yes, but if you dig in and read the articles (especially at UX Booth) you'll find a lot of that info as the WHY articulated. Aug 16, 2010 at 13:52
  • Also you should change your question title then to something like "How do I find out what the users need" because your question is "what systematic methods are there" and that is what I gave you. Aug 16, 2010 at 13:54

Contextual Design sounds like exactly what you're talking about.


In response to your comment/question: what the users need and how to design a solution to fulfill those needs. This is subjective to each project depending on its goals. But on a generic level,

user needs - give the user what he has come for immediately so that he keeps coming back, also giving the user a pleasing experience on your product.

considering the above, the solution starts to build up in terms color/ typo / page structure / information which will lead the user is prioritized with the help of color.

Method -- identifying product goal identifying type of users - students/teenagers/adults/senior citizens/salaried/unemployed the above will depict the color and language of the product. identifying other players in the same area around you...etc..

Hope this helps you for starters..


The two cornerstones are "Less Is More" and "Never, Never, Never Make The User Think"

The more you emulate these two things the more successful your interface will be.

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