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Apply print design principles to your user interface

The design principles established through the history of Print Design are also true for Interaction. In our exploration of the differences, we’ve forgotten how much they are the same. They are both about clarity in communication and simplicity through systems. I believe we can learn from Print Design and apply to Interactive experiences:

1. Hierarchy and Structure with Grids
“Well designed grid systems can make your designs not only more beautiful and legible, but more usable.”- Mark Boulton
Much of Interaction Design is about reducing complexity. A grid system organizes information in a logical, consistent, and meaningful framework, which both designers and developers can work within. A grid provides anchors for the eyes, improving readability. Strong use of geometry in a layout creates a visual hierarchy that allows users to easily scan and discover information.

2. Confident use of Negative space
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A common goal of UI design has been to densely pack as much information as is possible on a given screen. However, giving content some space to breathe provides critical focal points. It allows the positive space to communicate clearly and create impact. A balanced page makes the promoted information more easily digestible.

3. Reduction of Elements
“Less is More” – Robert Browning
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” – Albert Einstein
UI elements clutter the content it contains. The role of the designer is to edit, to find balance. Reducing an interface to only the most essential elements puts focus on the primary tasks of the UI. What may be lost in information density is gained in simplicity. The resulting UI will feel light, smart, easy, fast and responsive.

4. Objectivity through Imagery

Though much of Swiss graphic design is remembered for its powerful use of typography, photography was also an important part of the style. Photos were seen as a more accurate means to convey information compared to illustrations. Similarly in a UI, it’s the content that people want, not the chrome. Using imagery instead of iconography or illustration reduces the need to translate metaphors, and promotes direct interaction with content.

5. Emphasis on Typography

Emphasizing typography is not about reducing an interface to only text. Good type is about appreciating the ability of type to create impact, hierarchy, direction, and rhythm through size and weight. Diogo Terror described the power of a typographic approach to UI well in Lessons from Swiss Style Graphic Design:
“Font-size is a tool for readability, impact and rhythm. Different font-sizes not only generate visual impact, but also provide readers with a hint about the hierarchy of the presented data. Huge words are the entry points, the top-level elements in the content’s information architecture and page’s hierarchy. This is a very efficient way of guiding the reader’s eyes through the page, thus working as an interface to the content.”

6. Proportion and Pacing

In Print, the proportion of elements creates a pace for a story to unfold over time. It leads the direction of the eyes over content, and gives character to the information.

7. Universal Iconography

The International Style pursued standardization and simplification of iconography so that icons were universally understood. The use of icons today has become so rampant and gratuitous that we’ve lost a lot of common understanding. They are used too often as decorative elements and are losing a lot of communication value.


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