6 UX Rules Tech Startups Need To Master

Anyone who’s familiar with best practices in design fields knows how important it is to commit time and resources to UX development. How people feel when they use your UI has a significant effect on the actions they take and the opinions they form, which of course affects conversions, profits, and overall business success.

But tech startups tend to spring up almost from nowhere, fueled by programmers who may not have a great understanding of the importance of front-end polish. That’s how you end up with UX designs that confuse, infuriate, and ultimately raise more questions than they answer.

While there are countless UX rules you could reasonably identify, I’m going to pick out the 6 I think are the most important for tech startups to recognize as early as possible in the development process (or even preceding it). Let’s get started.

Rule 1: Drop the Vanity Designs

Your back-end tech ideas may be wholly revolutionary, but it doesn’t mean that any design you come up with is automatically fit for purpose. The only opinions that really matter when it comes to UX are those of the users, and they don’t usually leave much room for vanity design.

I consider this the very first rule for a startup to accept because it’s a tough thing to confront. We all like to think we know best, even on topics slightly removed from our fields of expertise— after all, UX is still basically part of software development, isn’t it? Surely users just need to get used to the new design paradigm you’re offering them?

But don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Unless you have an incredibly compelling justification, adhere to existing UX standards, and give your users something recognizable instead of something revolutionary (familiarity beats novelty). Being creative is fun and might make you feel accomplished, but if it doesn’t impress users, it can’t be part of the UX design process.

Rule 2: User Psychology is King

Marketers like to say that content is king, but that isn’t really true. User psychology is king. Content is just one way of affecting it, and UX is another. In fact, top UX designers are masters of psychology, carefully studying how and why users take particular actions.

Startups can easily get stuck in a rut when it comes to psychology, imagining one type of end user and getting trapped by their perspective. People are more complex than that. Users will vary in countless ways. You can’t account for them all, but you can do a good deal of research and come up with general personas that cover most of your target audience (try using a guide on how to create personas).

If persona 1 has a lot of disposable income, but persona 2 doesn’t, and they’re both important to your design, then you need to find a way to accommodate them both instead of just focusing on one of them. Otherwise, you end up with a ‘perfect’ UX that manages to neglect a large chunk of your visitors.

Rule 3: Keep It Simple

The best user experiences are streamlined, trimmed down for speed and efficiency. You might think this simply calls for compressing images, using clear language, and avoiding unnecessary data entry, but there’s almost always more to be done. Even if you think you’ve stripped your design to its bare bones, chances are you can remove more.

When prototyping a UX, you should cast an eye over every single element — every image, CTA, paragraph, button, or piece of styling — and ask “Is this really necessary?”. If you get rid of it, does the end user lose anything of significance? Will they find it harder to achieve their goal, or like the site any less? If an element doesn’t justify its presence, scrap it. Smooth out the friction.

A simple design is easier to demonstrate, understand, run, and maintain. And you can always add something back in if it becomes clear that there’s a demand for it.

Rule 4: Maintain Consistency

Some layouts can be extremely confusing, with variable design elements and unclear contextual clues— and confusion leads to anger and irritation that pushes users away. That’s why making your UX design consistent across every aspect of the project is essential.

This ties back to rule 1 in that playing with basic structures for no good reason is ill-advised. Think about basic visual elements like icons. We don’t really pay that much attention to them when they’re used correctly, but they glaringly stand out when they’re used poorly.

You can get a solid idea of what you can and can’t play within a layout by taking one look at the themes for a standard website creator like Shopify. Change the colors? No problem. Change the font? Also fine. Alter the icons or the basic navigation? Not the best idea. Get it slightly wrong and users will have no idea what’s happening. You don’t want to make your users think.

Rule 5: Never Stop Iterating

You don’t create a final UX design in one fell swoop. It takes time to go through all the stages — coming up with ideas, prototyping them, testing the prototypes — but even then you’re not done. You’ll certainly have missed things, and you’ll need to keep repeating the process if you want to make your work as good as it can be.

If anyone ever asks the question “Didn’t we already figure out the UX stuff?”, they haven’t been paying attention to this. The most valuable information and feedback often don’t become available until late in the day, and good enough isn’t really good enough in the long run.

So don’t put any energy towards ‘getting things perfect’ early on in the design process, because it’s a waste of time and energy. Just try out your ideas, stick with the ones that work, aim to consistently make things better, and you’ll eventually get where you need to be.

Rule 6: Use Real Copy

At some point in UX design history, someone decided that creating layouts and populating them with fake text (usually Lorem Ipsum) was a good idea. It really isn’t, and the sooner you get out of the habit of using empty copy, the better off you’ll be.

At the very least, this is because text is a core component of UX. It steers people away from certain areas and towards others, and has a knock-on effect on how the rest of the interface is perceived. If you leave it until the last minute, you’ll not only miss that effect— you’ll also miss numerous opportunities to subject your real copy to real testing.

And make no mistake: iterating upon copy is just as important as iterating upon any other UX element. As early as you possibly can, add some meaningful copy to your UX designs, and start getting valuable feedback from users on everything from the clarity of your category names to the tone of voice. It’ll make a huge difference to the quality of your final product.

UX can seem like a distant concern for a tech startup focusing on functionality and scaling, but where there’s software of any kind, there’s a demand for great UX that cannot be overlooked.

Get these 6 rules drilled into your mind as early as possible, and you’ll have an easier time producing designs that communicate value and keep customers happy.

About the Author


Kayleigh Alexandra - Content Marketer & Startup Specialist. I write about startup culture and entrepreneurship at MicroStartups.org, where all website profits go to charities that help people reach their full potential. You can find out more on Twitter @getmicrostarted.