Design & UX

Design Quotes As Principles (Part 3)


Adriaan Fenwick

Adriaan Fenwick

I speak human. Helping man and machine get better acquainted through methods and principles of design. Designer @ Atlassian and aspiring mountain goat. Views & opinions on here are my own.


New era for design tools 15th July, 2015

Design Quotes As Principles (Part 2) 08th June, 2015

Design Principles

Design Quotes As Principles (Part 3)

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The key “ingredients” to a well designed product are the people who will be using that product. If you don’t design the product for (or around their needs) you will get it wrong. Spending time to understand your users is a crucial step in the design process.

Last time, in part 2, I shared design principles on keeping things simple in your design and emphasised that it is not the easiest task to achieve. In this final part of my “Design Quotes As Principles” series, I’m going to focus on one quote that puts people in the centre of your designs.

People ignore design that ignores people.

I see online products around me all the time that ignore people, usually putting the technology’s needs first. This becomes very apparent when dealing with security features on login forms; signup forms; CAPTCHA’s (spam protection features) when using a contact form; commenting on blog posts; as well as error messages and even software version numbers.

People ignore design that ignores people.
– Frank Chimero

I’ve always argued that security restrictions should be made less complicated when asking users to choose passwords; or that those annoying CAPTCHA’s can be made a little more friendlier…ok a lot more friendlier.

Now, of course these are just a few examples of where design has ignored people, but it is a pet peeve of mine and I really needed to get it out of my system…so let’s continue.

When you do have to solve these types of design problems, think about these heuristics from Jakob Nielsen to guide you:

Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Examples where design has ignored people:

Logins that require too much work

Both of the Logins screens below require people to have their account/profile number. This means they can only access the system if they have the information on hand – or worse – they write it down somewhere. On top of that – there is no way to register or recover your password in these two examples, nor is there a description of how to go about it.

Login option only

There is no way (or indication of how) to register or recover your password

(Stupid) Password requirements

Next up we have unnecessary password strength requirements. I say this due to various discussions on the interwebs that support this. Also think about this – these passwords are so difficult to type and remember that people end up writing them down on sticky notes and putting it next to their screen…there goes the security!

The article, Is Your Password Policy Stupid?, goes into more detail on this:

And by the way, changing the password every so often does absolutely nothing to make you more secure. Changing the password only helps if it was already hacked. It doesn’t change the math required to hack it in the first place, and offers little to a company like ours besides increasing the number of help desk calls we receive. That’s why, to me, that requirement in a password policy seems useless and unnecessary.

Passwords complexities

Password requirements like this isn’t really necessary and will cause other problems

I love xkcd’s cartoon on password strengths that describe why these “strong” passwords are a bad idea. (Make sure to check out the cartoon for a giggle)

Through 20 years of effort, we’ve successfully trained everyone to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember, but easy for computers to guess.

Security questions

On the other hand, there has been some valiant efforts made to look at alternatives to making security a bit more human…but it’s just not quite there yet. In the example below on the left is one that caught me out a few times. I’ve had an account with this company for years and every time I have to answer my security questions I get it wrong, because the questions assume too much (like only having one favourite band in high school; or that I can actually remember my favourite children’s book.)

To be fair, the questions have improved over the years and it is trying to make security better. So the concept works as long as the questions being asked will be easy to remember a few years from now.

Security questions

Can you really remember the answers to these questions? (especially if you answered them 3-4 years ago)


My big gripe with CAPTCHA’s is that they solve a business problem by putting the effort onto the user. The business problem I’m referring to is to eliminate spam as well as automated scripts that try to submit these types of forms.

There has been great strides made a few years back when Smashing Magazine published two articles on the subject:

Innovative Techniques To Simplify Sign-Ups and Log-Ins
If you get a lot of spam, then putting a CAPTCHA on your form may be necessary. What’s not necessary is making the CAPTCHA an obstacle that turns users away.

In Search Of The Perfect CAPTCHA
In fact, CAPTCHAs are used a lot. The reCAPTCHA project estimates that over 200 million reCAPTCHAs are completed daily, and it takes an average of 10 seconds to complete one.

Spam is not the user’s problem; it is the problem of the business that is providing the website. It is arrogant and lazy to try and push the problem onto a website’s visitors.
— Tim Kadlec, Death To CAPTCHAs


CAPTCHA’s will help the business, but it forces the problem onto users


If there’s anything I’d like you to take away from this article it is to care more about the people you are creating products for. Go spend time with your users (or potential users). Make personas, talk to customers…put the user in the middle of your design process… #UCD-FTW!!


Before I go, here are a few additional quotes to keep you inspired in designing better things…

If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work.
– Susan Dray

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
– Albert Einstein

And of course no design quote article can be complete without something from my favourite brand (yes I am a fanboy, so what).

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
– Steve Jobs

Stay hungry, stay foolish.
– Steve Jobs

Further reading:

Design Quotes As Principles – Part 1
Design Quotes As Principles – Part 2
Design Quotes As Principles – Part 3

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design
Frank Chimero on losing control of creative works
Is Your Password Policy Stupid?
Password Strengths comic by xkcd
Smashing Magazine: Innovative Techniques To Simplify Sign-Ups and Log-Ins
Smashing Magazine: In Search Of The Perfect CAPTCHA
Tim Kadlec’s Death To CAPTCHAs


Cover photo by Gabriel Santiago

Adriaan Fenwick

Adriaan Fenwick

I speak human. Helping man and machine get better acquainted through methods and principles of design. Designer @ Atlassian and aspiring mountain goat. Views & opinions on here are my own.