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10 Useful Techniques To Improve Your User Interface Designs

Web design consists, for the most part, of interface design1. There are many techniques involved in crafting beautiful and functional interfaces. Here’s my collection of 10 that I think you’ll find useful in your work. They’re not related to any particular theme, but are rather a collection of techniques2 I use in my own projects. Without further ado, let’s get started. [Content Care Oct/31/2016]

Links (or anchors) are inline elements by default, which means that their clickable area spans only the height and width of the text. This clickable area, or the space where you can click to go to that link’s destination, can be increased for greater usability. We can do this by adding padding and, in some cases, also converting the link into a block element. Here’s an example of inline and padded links, with their clickable areas highlighted to show the difference:

Improve Your User Interface Designs

Obviously, the larger the clickable area is, the easier it is to click on the link because there is less of a chance of missing it. Converting links into block elements makes the text area span the whole width of the container, unless the width is specified otherwise. This makes it ideal for links located in sidebars. We can do it with the following code:

a {
	display: block;
	padding: 6px;

Make sure to also add a healthy dose of padding to the links, because converting a link into a block only affects its behavior and width; adding padding ensures that the link is high enough and has some room to breathe.

2. Typesetting buttons Link

Attention to every detail is what separates a great product from a mediocre one. Interface elements such as buttons and tabs are clicked on many times a day by your users, so it pays to typeset them properly; and by typesetting I mean positioning the label. Here’s a couple of examples of the kind of misplaced labels I sometimes notice:

Badly typeset button labels

At first glance they look okay, but notice that the text is placed too high because the lowercase letters have been used as a guide to align the text vertically in the center, like so:

Badly typeset button labels

However, if we use uppercase letters as well as lowercase letters with ascenders (“t,” “d,” “f,” “h,” “k” and “l”), the balance shifts upwards, making the label appear too high on the button. In such cases, we should set the type using the uppercase height as a guide — or set it a little bit higher if most of the letters are lowercase. Here’s what I mean:

Badly typeset button labels

This gives the whole button a more balanced look and feel. Little touches like this go a long way towards making your interface more polished and satisfying to use.

3. Using contrast to manage focus Link

Similarly, you can also manage the focus of your visitors’ attention with contrast between elements. Here’s an example of a post headline and some meta information underneath regarding who posted the article and its date:

A typical blog post headline

All the text is set in black. Let’s decrease the contrast between the meta information (the date and author’s name) and the background by putting the text in a light shade of gray:

Headline with adjusted contrast

The highest contrast element here is the headline, so it literally pops out at us. The other elements fade into the background. Here, I’ve chosen the author as the second-most important element, and the date as the least. The font also differs in size and style, but the contrast level can be very powerful. Let’s reverse the order of importance to date, author and headline:

Another headline with adjusted contrast

You can see how effective it is in shifting focus: the date now pops out at you, while the headline fades away. This technique comes in very handy for information-heavy websites, such as blogs, forums and social networks, in which you want to make a lot of information easily scannable while still showing a lot of additional things, like dates. Fading the extras allows visitors to easily focus their attention on the most important pieces of text.

4. Using color to manage attention Link

Color3 can also be used to effectively focus your visitors’ attention on important or actionable elements. For example, during the US presidential election, pretty much all of the candidates’ websites had the donation button colored red. Red is a very bright and powerful color so it attracts attention, and it stands out even more when the rest of the website is blue or another colder color.

Warmer tones like red, yellow and orange are naturally bright and so tend to attract the eye. They also “expand” when set against colder colors like blue and green. This means that an orange button on a blue background looks like it’s flowing outwards and taking the front seat. Conversely, a blue button on an orange background contracts inward, wishing to stay in the background. Here’s a picture to illustrate:

Comparing warm and cold colors

Here’s a couple of examples of websites that use color effectively to direct users’ attention to the important elements:

Improve Your User Interface Designs
Function features a “We’re Hiring” link on its jobs page. To ensure the link is not missed, the designers set it against a red background that pops out from the dark background header, effectively grabbing attention.

Causecast website
Causecast use color effectively. Four bright pink elements pop out at you: the logo, the feedback link, the donate link and the website description message.

Want the “About” blurb on your website to grab the visitor’s focus? Make the background yellow. Want to make the “Join” button stand out? Color it orange. Make sure not to highlight too many elements, though; if you do, they may get lost in each other’s company.

5. White space indicates relationships Link

One of the most crucial elements in an interface is the white space between elements. If you’re not familiar with the term white space, it means just that: space between one interface element and another, be it a button, a navigation bar, article text, a headline and so on. By manipulating white space, we can indicate relationships between certain elements or groups of elements.

So, for example, by putting the headline near the article text we indicate that it is related to that text. The text is then placed farther away from other elements to separate it and make it more readable. Here’s an example in which white space could be improved:

Whitespace usage here can be improved

The text looks all right and is certainly readable, but because the spaces above and below each heading are equal, they don’t separate each piece of text clearly. We can improve this by increasing the white space between each section and also by slightly tightening the line height of the paragraphs:

Improved whitespace

This results in more clearly defined blocks; we can easily tell which headings go with which pieces of text and can see the separate sections clearly. Good designers often squint or glance at their work from a distance, which lets them see the blocks of elements separated by white space as they merge together. If you cannot see these groups clearly then you may need to tweak your white space.

6. Letter spacing Link

Web design is pretty limiting for typographers. But while there are only a few safe Web fonts and not a great many things you can do to style them, it’s worth remembering that we do still have some level of control. “Tracking” is a term used in the field of typography to describe the adjustment of spacing between letters in words. We’ve got the ability to do this with CSS using the letter-spacing property4.

If used with restraint and taste, this property can be effective in improving the look of your headlines. I wouldn’t recommend using letter spacing on the body text because the default spacing generally provides the best readability for smaller font sizes.

Here’s an example of letter spacing in use:

Letter spacin examples

And here’s the CSS code used for the above examples:

h1 {
	font-family: Helvetica;
	font-size: 27px;

h2 {
	font-family: Helvetica;
	font-size: 27px;
	letter-spacing: -1px;

h3 {
	font-family: Georgia;
	font-size: 24px;
	letter-spacing: 3px;
	font-variant: small-caps;
	font-weight: normal;

The effect can be useful when you want to craft a more aesthetically pleasing or more original heading. Here, I’ve used only a couple pixels for letter spacing, but already it makes a big difference to the style of the font.

7. Auto-focus on input Link

Many Web applications and websites feature forms. These may be search forms or input forms inviting you to submit something. If this form is the core feature of your application or website, you may want to consider automatically focusing the user’s cursor on the input field when the website loads. This will speed things up because users can start typing right away without having to click on it. A good example of this is Google and Wikipedia’s websites.

Wikipedia auto focus
Upon arriving at Wikipedia.org5, the search box is already highlighted, ready to accept text.

To automatically focus on input fields, you’ll need a little bit of JavaScript. There are various solutions, and the one you should use depends on the functionality you want to achieve. The simplest way to do it would be to add the following to your body tag:

<body onLoad="document.forms.form_name.form_field.focus()">

Your form code should look something like:

<form method="get" name="form_name" action="#">
	<input type="text" name="form_field" size="20" />
	<input type="submit" value="Go" />

Now, every time the page loads, the text field called “form_field” will be automatically selected, ready for input.

The only problem with this is that if your users want to return to the previous page using the Backspace key, they will be out of luck because they’ll just be deleting characters in the input field. Thankfully, Harmen Janssen has another simple JavaScript solution you can find here6. Harmen’s script allows the Backspace key to go to the previous page when there are no characters left in the input field to delete.

8. Custom input focus Link

While the default look of form elements suffices for most functions, sometimes we want something a little prettier or a little more standardized across various browsers and systems. We can style input fields by simply targeting it with an “id,” “class” or plain old “input,” like so:

input {
	border: 2px solid #888;
	padding: 4px;
	font-size: 1em;
	background-color: #F8F8F8;

Default and styled input fields

What’s more interesting is also being able to style the input field when it’s in focus; that is, the state it’s in when it has been clicked. To do this, we need to attach a “:focus” after the “input” property:

input:focus {
	border-color: #000;
	background-color: #FFFE9D;

Input field in focus

If you’re using custom backgrounds to style your input field, they may clash with some browsers and operating systems’ default focus styles. For example, here’s a screenshot of a custom-styled form clashing with the default blue OS X glow effect:

OS X input glow

In such cases, you could also use the “input:focus” property to remove the default styling. The default blue glow in the screenshot above can be removed by disabling the “outline” property:

input:focus {
	outline: none;

The blue glow effect will now be gone:

OS X input glow removed

Obviously you would only want to remove the outline if you’re replacing it with your own styling, so that you don’t negatively affect the accessibility and usability of your forms.

9. Hover controls Link

Some Web applications have extra utility controls, such as edit and delete buttons, that don’t necessarily have to be shown beside every item at all times. They can be hidden to simplify the interface and focus visitors’ attention on the main controls and content. For example, these hover controls are used in Twitter when you hover over messages:

Twitter's hover controls

These hover controls can be achieved with some simple CSS code, without any JavaScript. Simply style the <div> with the controls when its parent <div> is in a hover state. Here’s the code to hide and show the controls (using a <div> with the class “controls” inside a <div> with the class “message”):

.message .controls { display: none; }
.message:hover .controls { display: block; }

When you hover over the “message” <div>, the “controls” <div> inside it will appear, along with all of its content, giving you the same functionality as shown in the Twitter screenshot above.

There may be an issue with accessibility because screen readers may not be able to read the hidden <div>. There are plenty of other ways to hide the inner <div>, such as offsetting it with a negative margin that takes it off the page (e.g. “left-margin: -9999px”), coloring its text the same color as the background or simply placing another <div> on top of it.

This technique should of course be used with restraint because you don’t want to hide your important controls; but if used correctly, it can be useful for cleaning up your interface by removing those extra utility links that you don’t want to show up at all times.

Note that this doesn’t work in IE6, so you’ll need to override the hiding property in your IE6-specific style sheet or, if you don’t have one, simply use the following IE6-specific code inside the <head> section of your code:

<!--[if lt IE 7]>
  <style type="text/css" media="screen">
    .message .controls { display: block; }

10. Verbs in labels Link

You can make options dialogs much more usable by thinking through the labels you use on buttons and links. If an error or message pops up and the options are “Yes,” “No” and “Cancel,” you have to read the whole message to be able to answer. Seems normal, right?

But we can actually speed things up by using verbs in the labels. So, if instead of “Yes,” “No” and “Cancel,” we have “Save,” “Don’t Save” and “Cancel” buttons, you wouldn’t even need to read the message to understand what the options are and which action to perform. All the information is contained in the button labels.

WordPad and OS X save dialogs

Using verbs in labels on buttons and links makes the options dialogs more usable because the labels contain all of the information the user needs to be able to make a decision.

To Conclude Link

Hopefully, you’ve found a few new techniques that will be useful in your work. As always, using them effectively comes down to restraint and thoughtful implementation. For example, controls that appear on hover may clean up your interface, but they will also increase the learning curve because people may not notice these controls at first. But showing all controls at all times may not be the best strategy either because users would need to scan more things to find what they’re looking for.

Striking the right balance between what you show and what you hide7 is a delicate art and is completely in your hands as the designer. Don’t use a technique just because it exists: use it if it makes sense in your context. (al)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7

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Dmitry Fadeyev is the creator of Usaura, a micro usability testing service, and the founder of UsabilityPost, a blog about good design and user experience. Additionally, you can read his thoughts on design, art and practical philosophy over at his personal blog.

  1. 1

    Very useful article! thanks.

  2. 2

    Nice, thanks!

  3. 3

    really helpful! Thanks

  4. 4

    Now this is what I call a useful article! Thank you! I was beginning to get fed up with all those “Just list / Don’t evaluate” posts here on Smashingmagazine…

  5. 5

    Simple guidelines but nice and effective

  6. 6

    this is realy a useful article, thanks for sharing

  7. 7

    Very good article ! It’s much better than the usual posts that appear here lately.

  8. 8

    Great article. You take a lot of this stuff as a given when designing – but reading it in black and white is great; and reassuring! I’ll be pointing my team at this in the morning. Thanks Smashers.

  9. 9

    I’d have used relative (ems or %) sizes rather than pixels for the letter-spacing example but thats nit-picking for a very informative and useful piece. Nice article Dmitry.

  10. 10

    December 15, 2008 3:08 pm

    Best article I’ve read here in a while Dmitry! I’ve subscribed to your blog. Thanks!

    P.S. This post (and your blog) should be required reading for every Microsoft employee.

  11. 11

    Wrong – does not have auto-focus on their home page search box., however, does.

  12. 13

    Jakob Løkke Madsen

    December 15, 2008 3:15 pm

    Nice one. Thanks!

  13. 14


  14. 15

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    December 15, 2008 3:24 pm

    @mikemike (#11): just checked it: does have auto-focus on their home page search box.

  15. 16

    Great article. Thanks.

  16. 17

    It really is simple things like the spacing of labels and other elements on the page that can make the biggest difference in a site’s over all feel to the viewer. Spacing that is thought out and deliberate is one of the things that won’t jump out at the average viewer, but the impact on their perception on the site is huge. It’s one of those things that is easy to overlook because “no one will notice”, but it’s such a huge part of the overall polish of a design…

    Nice article, lightweight but good food for thought, especially the letter spacing and verbs in labels.

  17. 18

    Thanks for the positive comments everyone — I’m really glad you find this useful.

    mikemike: They do have auto focus, but only on the front page. Same thing with Google. It’s actually a good point because on something like Google you wouldn’t want the box highlighted on the other pages because you’ll often use the backspace key to go back (although even that won’t be an issue if you use the script I linked to)

    Damien: Ems would of course work fine too, good point.

  18. 19

    This is one the best roundup of UI tips I have seen. If everyone would follow these, the web would be a better place.

  19. 20

    Awesome post, I hope some of my co-workers read this :P

  20. 21

    I like the concept of hover controls, but in my experience :hover isn’t very widely supported (doesn’t seem to work in IE 6/7 FF 2/3, but does work in Opera / Safari).

    Am I doing something wrong, or is javascript a better option here…?

  21. 22

    Very Good post…..reallu useful

  22. 23

    Lenymo: Strange. You shouldn’t really have a problem using :hover on modern browsers, it’s really only IE6 that doesn’t support it (it only supports it for anchors)

  23. 24

    Ok, I’ll do some more investigating.

    Great article by the way!

  24. 25

    Great Post, very usefull tips on it.

  25. 26

    What’s with the dropping of off-topic links to sites in some of these replies. I know all the links are nofollowed, but doesn’t it still classify as spam?

  26. 27

    Sorry, but tip number 7 is VERY annoying, especially if you have a page which requires scrolling. If I want to scroll down using the keyboard – either up/down, home/end, page up/page down then it does not work as the input field has focus, meaning I must click off the box to get control back of the page!

    Just DO NOT do it!!! I’m not even someone with any accessibility problems, I just use these keyboard shortcuts on both desktop and laptop, to save time, and then this input box ruins it!

  27. 28

    Excellent article. A lot of really useful examples. Couldn’t agree more about verbs in labels. Thanks for that.

  28. 29

    This is a great article! Thanks for sharing these guidelines with us, I’ll be sure to take note in my future designs.

    I’d have to agree with Michael, though: I understand the purpose of auto-focus but it seriously degrades usability for keyboard power users like him and myself.

    That said, I’m not actually condemning the use of auto-focus; for the curious, here it is in jQuery:


    Also, custom input focus doesn’t work on IE6 (7?) either. But I do know that it isn’t as bad as its lack of support for :hover on anything but anchors.

  29. 30

    Nice article ;)

    BTW So, if instead of “…

  30. 31

    Annya A. Uslonseva

    December 15, 2008 7:23 pm

    Hi, I have been a subscriber for a few month now. But I have never wanted to place a comment. But after this one I do. I am a graphic designer, not a coder at all :) But I am redesigning my website now, i.e. working with a coder. So I draw and he codes. I asked him last week about letter spacing and was told that it does not exist in web. But after reading your article I was able to apply letter spacing to my headlines and I love it! Thank you so much for great info! The info presented in a way ever a print
    designer like me can get it :) If you want to see the results visit my website.

  31. 32

    Some great UI tips there. very useful for project im working on now, thanks smashing!

  32. 33

    Awesome tips…just wanted to note that input:focus will not work in IE browsers.

  33. 34

    Another problem with auto-focus is that the next field you tab to will not always be the next field it would tab to if the user clicked into the field themself. I think this problem only effects IE, and it might only occur inside of frames, but I remember running into it.

  34. 35

    Excellent Article!

  35. 36

    hand picked nice

  36. 37

    First! Ah, dammit.

    Seriously – great article. Words to live by – if only clients were as aware of these reasons behind our choices, that they aren’t just arbitrary.

  37. 38

    Jeremie Kletzkine

    December 15, 2008 10:03 pm

    Lovely… amazing post as usual.

    Still – 10 techniques, that’s just an appetizer! We want more! :)

  38. 39

    Maggie Wolfe Riley

    December 15, 2008 10:21 pm

    Almost all great tips, but I really hate autofocus used in form fields. I am a keyboard user and it breaks functionality for me. It is so easy to tab into a form field, I really don’t get how autofocus is a big advantage, and it is a serious annoyance to me because I have to click outside the form field to go back if I didn’t mean to go to that page. Yes, I realize there is a javascript “solution” to the problem you created, but it only works if you use the backspace/delete button to go back, and not keyboard commands.

    Also, please don’t make the focus automatically jump to the next field! It takes me twice as long to fill out these “helpful” forms because I end up tabbing to the field following the one I try to tab to. It’s automatic to hit tab after completing a form field, and difficult to “unlearn” for a single form that uses this technique.

    Other than that, though, great article!

  39. 40

    Fredrik Karlsson

    December 15, 2008 10:24 pm

    Nice post!

    I’d however like to point out that the use of document.form... in javascript is deprecated, and that you should be using document.getElementById() instead (or the jQuery-method mentioned by BoltClock above!).

  40. 41

    christopher Jack

    December 15, 2008 10:35 pm

    Useful article!

  41. 42

    Great article. But I wish Smashing Magazine used 5th technique from this article when providing description (or source) to the photos, images, etc. For example in this post. The description is placed right in the middle between photos and it is not clear which photo it is related to.
    It is just my personal observation. Any way, Smashing Magazine is a great blog.

  42. 43

    Excellent!! specially the 10th note.. Thank you

  43. 44

    great article

  44. 45

    the best that i ever read !!!

  45. 46

    Thanks mate :)

  46. 47

    beautiful tips.

  47. 48

    very smart writeup. thanks!

  48. 49

    Awesome piece…. as usual :)

  49. 50

    luuuuuv it!
    Specaly the last one is an important thing!

  50. 51

    Nice article…Thanks SM!

  51. 52

    very effective, concise, neat and to the point article. Thanks

  52. 53

    This highlights a lot of the things that most people cant always put a finger on, but makes the difference between a good design, and a great design. Alot of these are fundamentals taught and engrained in design school and institutions, which sadly seem to somehow often get lost on the web. (actually often lost in print as well :) Take note budding designers, its these little things that can make or break a design so spend the time to do it right! – Good article smashing. Keep it up.

  53. 54

    2,3,4,5,6, and 8 are graphic design, not interface design.

  54. 55

    After some rather so-so articles here this article really helped boost my attention on this site again. :3

    Post moar!

  55. 56

    Very informative article, some nice pointers in there. Possibly one of the best information wise for a long time.

  56. 57

    Mohammad Alshaikh

    December 16, 2008 12:40 am

    very useful techniques..
    but tip number 9 talks about Hover controls.. smashing magazine put Twitter as example..
    but the controls don’t appear in IE6 despite there is a workaround…

  57. 58

    Really good article. Thanks for writing css example, too: I think that showing real examples is very useful.

  58. 59

    Very informative article. Some great points and nuances that are all too often glossed over. It’s the little things that make a great website stand out from the rest, and these 10 pointers have reminded me of the little things to consider – many of which I intrinsically know, but seem to forget when working on a site.

    Thanks again!


  59. 60

    Great article
    Very usefull

  60. 61

    Cool, i didn’t really know “outilne”.

  61. 62

    I have to agree on the autofocus complaints. If you look closely at Google and Wikipedia, you can see this should only be used on very specific pages.

    ONLY use autofocus inputs on page that don’t require scrolling. There are a number of usage problems with autofocus in scrolling pages:

    – A keyboard user won’t be able to scroll the page when the input element is focused. The autocomplete list will show up instead when the Down cursor key is pressed, and nothing at all happens on pressing Page Down.

    – You won’t be able to use Backspace to return to a previous page.

    – When you *return back* to a page with an autofocused input, the page section with the input element will be shown, not the section of the page that you were last reading.

    The only situation where you could use input focussing on a long (scrolling) page, is when the whole page is just a very long fill-out form.

    There are probably also lots of problems for blind people when autofocussing input elements, throwing their reading cursor to somewhere in the middle of the page. Though this is just a guess, I haven’t tested this.

  62. 63

    Tip number 9, can be made IE6- comaptible. IE6- supports hover only on a elements and you have to combine it with visibility css property, in order to make it work properly. E.G.:

    a.message .controls { visibility:none; }
    a.message:hover .controls { visibility:visible; }

  63. 64

    You are aware that form name=”…” is depreciated and fails the w3c validatior, right? You should be using id instead. Also, onload is depreciated, and also extremely ugly. What if your Web 2.0 guy wants to attach other functionality to a form field, such as client side validation or autocomplete? (S)he is probably using a framework to manage the attachment of events on load, such as jQuery’s $(document).ready (). Using the old onload inline JavaScript technique can break some of these frameworks or cause events that have already been attached using some other technique to fail to fire. It’s also breaking the seperation of concerns. Your html should define your content and structure, your .css files the presentation, and the .js files the behaviour. Putting inline JavaScript in a HTML tag is putting behaviour in the structure/content layer.

  64. 65

    Interesting read – I’m a big fan of polished, detailed design and I believe it does have functional benefit as well as cosmetic.

    My only query is with point 2; surely this principle only applies when there are no descenders in the text? If so, do we end up with inconsistent placement of text across a range of buttons (some with descenders, some without)?

  65. 66

    I’m gonna use a lot of these techniques! Great article.

  66. 67

    Great article!

  67. 68

    Good article. The use of verbs for labels is definitely a tip that should be more widely adopted.

  68. 69

    Noooooooooo! Don’t focus on load!!! If you must, put it in script immediately below the input.

    onload is delayed much by other page elements and may fire long after I’ve started using keyboard for something else.

  69. 70

    good article! thanks!

  70. 71

    DIV hover using CSS doesn’t work in browsers like IE7…therefore hover controls like the last one are rendered useless. I’d say javascript is still a better choice for that option.

  71. 72

    There’s a lot of common sense UI design basics here; but it’s seldom written about so it’s great to read an article like this. How about following this up with another 10 next month Dmitry?

  72. 73

    for james, reply #53, who complains that most examples are graphic design, not interface design, I personally look at interfaces with my eyes and altering just graphic features can improve the interface or make it worse. On the two courses on interface design I took for my computing degree, there was some emphasis on the graphic nature of interfaces. The white space point mentioned, for example, comes from the gestalt laws of visual organisation, and is part of most interface designs. But points 2 and 6 are, I must admit, a bit more graphic than interface related.

    As an example of graphic design gone wrong, I often visit a site with a blue background, white body text and the links within the body text are a shade of grey, not underlined and had, for three years, no colour change on hover. The appearance has been improved now, but that was a good example of graphic design giving a poor interface. I’m sure we’ve all visited sites that are very much a work of graphic art and subtle shades of colour, and then wondered where on earth the links are.

  73. 74

    Verbs in labels is bullshit. If you see the MS dialog, there’s much less text in that, which has a more concentrated and clear information than the OSX version. I’m actually always confused when seeing non-standard labels on buttons. Speaking about both english and localized cases. Have you tried it in a test, with a control group, which dialog people understand easier?

    So instead that bullshit the real theory is that use as much standardized and short messages and labels as you can.

  74. 75

    I some good points, however I am not sure about your orange and blue box idea. I just think its a bad choice of colours ! CSS line spacing is something that could be used alot more.

  75. 76

    Great article.
    No. 10 was quite interesting, something i’v never thought about before.

  76. 77

    OSM, i Luv it

  77. 78

    Nice article. Thank you for this post. Especially technique 2. Typesetting buttons is something I have not came across before. Also I found all the comments for 7. Auto-focus on input valuable and I am a bit confused on whether to use it or not. I will do some further research about it, but thanks for mention it.

  78. 79

    Very useful… thanx Smashing, Dmitry.

  79. 80

    Tip 7: best to keep the behaviour separate from the markup, so adding that JavaScript to the element isn’t a very clean or practical solution. It could be more versatile if you used some jQuery (or whichever JS you prefer) to attach the onload event when the DOM is ready.

    Tip 8: I prefer to do this with some JavaScript for browsers that don’t support the :hover selector.

  80. 81

    Wow, excellent as always. This might be the best and most useful post I’ve seen in a couple months.

  81. 82

    Good stuff, thanks for your work.

  82. 83

    Russell Bishop

    December 16, 2008 3:52 am

    You mentioned using outline:none, but that’s really bad for screen readers!

  83. 84

    a great example for user friendly autofocus is found at an translation service. Whenever you type word the focus is set to the input field giving you the most convinience in searching a translation. I like this very much!

  84. 85

    great and helpfull
    thank you

  85. 86

    All good points! One thing I’d add to the ‘yes/no/cancel’ point, is to have negative actions like ‘don’t save’ to the left (going back), and affirmative actions like ‘save’ to the right (moving forwards).

  86. 87

    Some nice points to keep in mind. Thanks!

  87. 88

    Oh wow! Excellent tutorial. Thanks for sharing

  88. 89

    Mark Praschan: You’ve got me there. I’m guilty as charged :) Nothing more to say.

  89. 90

    Re: 7. Auto-focus on input, please do use some caution when implementing. Users may start interacting with your form fields prior to the page being loaded. If you set the focus after the user has already interacted with the form, it can cause user frustration. In the case of a password field, it can also cause “shoulder surfing” security issues by causing characters of the user’s password, say, appearing in the username field.

    Also, using multiple fields to format a number or sequence and jumping to the next field looks great, but it doesn’t work well if the users needs to correct their input and it prevents cut-n-paste. Personally, if I’m entering a 25-character serial number, for example, I’d prefer to cut-n-paste it rather than cut-n-paste 5 x 5-character blocks.

  90. 91

    some real useful basic tips

  91. 92

    nice work…
    but for tip #9 its not good to use hover for elements, cuz its not supported by IE6…
    so its better to use javascript with it! ~~ jQuery example

    function showActions(id){
    function hideActions(id){

    onmouseout="hideActions(SOME_ID);" onmouseover="showActions(SOME_ID);"


  92. 93

    Great tips, Thanks.

  93. 94

    Don’t change standard focus outlines, please!

    Especially if you automatically focus the field – users will have no clue what’s happening.

  94. 95

    Very Good, Thanks!

  95. 96

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Regarding auto-focus: as I’ve mentioned in my conclusion, it all comes down to context. Using this on your site just because it has a search box will attract all the problems you mentioned. Using it on a site where that search box is the primary function (i.e. a search engine, a dictionary site, a directory, etc.) may work provided the front page is pretty much just the search box.

    Also, people have made a great point about auto-focus on pages with multiple input fields (e.g. a login page), so if the page hasn’t fully loaded and you started filling out your password already, it might jump back to the username field and you’re left typing out half your password in clear sight. So I wouldn’t recommend using this on login pages :)

  96. 97

    Tara Kelly, Passpack

    December 16, 2008 5:36 am

    Using contrast to manage focus, combined with whitespace, really helps things stay organized.

    Another great tip: consistent color on all links.

  97. 98

    Other people have pointed out some of the problems with auto focus, but another one is how confusing it can be to screen reading software. There is no excuse for anyone involved in UI design not to have an evaluation copy of Jaws to at least occasionally experience how bad their designs are for the vision-impaired. (If your excuse is that you don’t have a Windows testing environment, then you have bigger issues.)

  98. 99

    That’s so sweet and simple tips. Excellent Thank you!

  99. 100

    Great Post. I think that good UI design is all about the subtleties, so list posts like this can help people to double-check their work. This list also illustrates how closely related Graphic Design and UI Design really are.

    I’m a big fan of the Usability Post, so it’s great to see you guys sharing the love :)

  100. 101

    Yeah thanks a lot it was very useful.

  101. 102

    very useful ..

  102. 103

    Digital Overcast

    December 16, 2008 7:47 am

    Great ID post with excellent examples.

  103. 104

    Good List, but nothing new.

  104. 105

    You know, instead of saying that these are 10 generic tips, you should indicate that these tips all have to do with Font appearance and have nothing to do with UI designs at all – only with readability. And we all know that readability only deals with text and that’s less than half of what the internet is all about.

    In other words, your points may be correct but you’re full of shit…this isn’t about UI.

  105. 106

    Good tips for beginners.

  106. 107

    In 4. Using color to manage attention, my eyes were drawn to the large, black and white ‘W’. I didn’t see the red button until I read that it was there.

  107. 108

    Harald Schipper

    December 16, 2008 10:05 am

    Thanks! Very useful stuff as always.

  108. 109

    Very useful indeed.. Some of these techniques were there for a long time now even though we didn’t TALK about them. Anyway it’s good to refer. Thanks for sharing!

  109. 110

    Are there ever any bad articles here? I can put the auto-focus to work right away.

  110. 111

    This was a good read, but it is not the sort of article I have come to expect from Smashing Magazine. I like the way this site usually provides updated aggregates of visually compelling links highlighting new trends in design and presentation. It keeps me coming back. I read other sites for articles like this one, and they usually get the job done. There’s value in doing one thing well. Still, a good read.

  111. 112

    Great Article! Exceptionally well written for a how-to.

  112. 113

    Very nice job! Concise and very useful

  113. 114

    Great information and I will keep these ideas in mind while designing. I have read about and used some of these things in the past, but it is always good to have a refresher course to bring them back to the top of my mind.

  114. 115


    Using verbs in labels is definitely a best practice, and is exactly the level of detail that puts OSX dialogs far ahead of the Windows variants. Interestingly you cry for “standardized” labels, which are far and few in the Windows environment and frequently used as examples for bad UI.

    Perhaps there is “less text” in the Windows version, but you have to read it all to be able to answer the dialog. In the OSX version, it is clear what the button choices do without reading the entire dialog. And yes, we have tested this in our lab, using control groups and test procedures and productivity is up in the OSX style dialogs. People spend less time reading (and more importantly, less time pondering) and more time clicking the correct dialog button.

  115. 116

    “The highest contrast element here is the headline, so it literally pops out at us.”

    No, the headline does not LITERALLY pop out at you. That would mean it actually protrudes from the screen and moves toward you. If something happens literally, it is actually happening exactly as described as is not at all being described in a figurative way. I’m literally typing this message… I am not literally scolding you for the blatant misuse of a word. I am figuratively doing so.

  116. 117

    Excellent. Many of these I think of automatically but reading this article has inspired me to refresh and review some designs.

  117. 118

    Nice writeup, but I must oppose tip #2 “Typesetting buttons”. You do sometimes need to tweak the balance, but to me the blue button is perfectly aligned. The “All items”-dropdown doesn’t align the x-height vertically because the height of the dropdown is not balanced. On the second “Button Label”, the text seems to be slipping off the button.

  118. 119

    Nice ‘The devil is in the details’ kind of article.. We need more of these.

  119. 120

    Some really great tips there.

  120. 121

    Wow Just Great, I neglected some…. but I appreciate it more and more!

  121. 122

    nice,very useful

  122. 123

    I love the last sample that shows the difference between the Mac and Windows dialogs. I’m glad someone has finally caught on to that… there’s hundreds (if not thousands overall, really) little differences between the two operating systems that really adds up to a more productive experience overall where you aren’t constantly “doing combat” with your computer. This is why I use Macs and why Macs are simply a computer that I can be far more productive with. So many don’t “get it” and continue to struggle and fight with their business tools.

    But, anyway… Mac’s suck! Don’t use them! Especially if you are my business competition. Hahahaha…

  123. 124

    Beautiful,Thank you!

  124. 125

    Very useful.

  125. 126


  126. 127

    Good article. Hits the nail on the head precisely.

  127. 128

    Nice article, some very good and useful tips. Loved the ‘Verbs in Labels’ one coz I always do ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Cancel’… ha…. Thanks!

  128. 129

    Great Stuff !!, Thanks

  129. 130

    @Stu Strib

    Test convinces me.

    However I cannot imagine how it works. The reasoning is simply not plausible for me. For me, “Yes” and “No” are far more stronger keywords than “Save” and “Don’t save”. The former ones form a deciding question, which is semantically more straightforward and needs less interpretation. Actually seeing the options I immediately know what to decide, no need to read the text, but I still can easily spot the keyword in question (“Save”) as the first word of the short message.

    On the other side, “Save” and “Don’t save” are answers for an open-ended question (What would you do?). That’s another story, that the actual dialog text is still a deciding question (Do you want to save…), so the dialog text and the button texts duplicates information. By pushing one button you don’t answer the question, but you take an action, regarding to the question. Redundant information and the long dialog text and long button text disturbs me, and needs more interpretation effort. I think, this situation with the action verbs as options always needs more attention.

    Again, at least for me. Maybe it’s just a matter of habit. I would be curious about the details of your tests, for example, which system users were accustomed to prior to the test.

  130. 131

    For tip #9: The solution as shown will cause the element to grow when hovered, and shrink when left, which can cause flickering or otherwise be distracting. To prevent this, instead of display: none; or display: block;, use visibility: hidden; and visibility: visible;. visibility: hidden; hides the element but still allows it to take up space, so elements will not change in size.

  131. 132

    Thanks! Nice article!

  132. 133

    Gaurav Srivastava

    December 16, 2008 9:22 pm

    Nice article , I am loking for it since long.

  133. 134

    Bobbi Jo Woods

    December 16, 2008 9:46 pm

    Terrific post, Dmitry!

    I especially liked the focus on the font spacing and centering horizontally.

    I had no idea that labels were ugly for that reason! Always focused on the contrast of the text vs. the background, and vertically centering them, instead.

    PS – all this stuff I’ve seen recently about Macs just makes me want one more!

  134. 135

    Nice & infomative tips.
    Hope same to so

  135. 136

    Nice article, some very good and useful tips.
    I like very much .

  136. 137

    Good One..

  137. 138

    Good one and definitely it will help me a lot to design a page.

  138. 139

    Good Article….

  139. 140
  140. 141
  141. 142

    Nice article, however… tip 7 (auto-focus); code stated won’t work in Firefox for example, you would have to use something like:


    but, I wouldn’t use this tecnique as stated before, onload is depricated. Attaching an event listener would be the prefered method…

  142. 143

    Really nice article, I am gonna use these techniques in my next project

  143. 144

    Superior quality information, i believe, as is coming from your own experience.
    Thank you very much for sharing.

  144. 145


  145. 146

    I’ve been designing sites for 7 years now and while I’ve picked up on most of those tips over the years this is a nice little reminder and a very useful list for people new to this game. Good work!

  146. 147

    Good article, good comments. I really enjoy the discussion after your posts, where more solutions are shared.

  147. 148

    Nice article with some nifty tips, but like others have noted.. #7 Auto-focus on input.. Just don’t do it, and here’s why:
    1: If there is any latency what so ever from the second the form field is visible, to the focus event triggers, there is a chance the user has already interacted with something else on the page/in the browser, i.e. clicking the adress field to write another web adress.

    2: 99% of users will never ever notice or use the feature, because they are accustomed to clicking/tabbing to the form fields they want to use.

    3: Because of point 2, the feature is likely to annoy more users than it will benefit, even on pages like wikipedia or google. (I know it annoys me.)

    So please, think of the kittens, don’t auto focus on inputs…

  148. 149

    Very nice tips, as usual !

  149. 150

    Very useful, thanks :)

  150. 151

    A LOT of people need to start following these suggestions, not just for web apps/pages but also for normal desktop software.

  151. 152

    I think this will prove to be one of my favorites here, great article!

  152. 153

    Great information. I’m glad it wasnt the usual crap I’ve read elsewhere, its nice to see some great NEW tips.

  153. 154

    Excellent tips, thank you

  154. 155

    I love that the word “restraint” has been used in the article at least three times.

    Great article!

  155. 156

    Very nice article as always. Love the advice!!

  156. 157

    Great article.

  157. 158

    wow, thats all very usefull for me to design for web…,this great!

  158. 159

    to #152:

    What about reoccurring visitors? I think I’d learn over time that the box is highlighted and auto focused for me. I’d start expecting it on load and it becomes a convenient thing for such users.

    I understand your concern about the load time – but if they’re on to bigger things before it loads, they’ve already clicked a link and are on their way. If they are changing the address in this instance, they must have happened on the page by accident and had planned on immediately leaving, so who cares? If anything they’re forced into looking at the page a little longer.

    I would instead suggest using this feature on the main search page only. I suppose it would be annoying if it auto fucused on each internal load.

  159. 160

    Abdulsalam Alasaadi

    December 18, 2008 2:56 am

    great article. more like this please.
    thank you

  160. 161

    Very good article. It’s useful guideline for everyone.


  161. 162

    This is a great article, but I disagree with the point about aligning text on buttons using the cap height. I believe the text should be aligned using the lower case elements, and the overall visual effect should be that there is slightly more space at the bottom than at the top. Same goes for situations like framing a picture, to achieve a visual balance there should be slightly more space below the image.

  162. 163

    It’s useful, Thanks!

  163. 164

    Very useful, Thanks a lot

  164. 165

    George Leithead

    December 19, 2008 7:25 am

    I HATE auto-focus Web sites, as detailed in #7. There is nothing worse or more annoying than when click on a hyperlink, go to another application and start typing, only to have your focus forced back to the Web site!

    Get rid of #7 and Auto-focus

  165. 166

    Best article on web design I’ve seen in a while.

    Normally I hate “10 XX to do YY”-articles but this is really useful.

  166. 167

    Malcolm Almeida

    December 20, 2008 8:22 am

    This is truly inspirational. Thank you very much :)

  167. 168

    nice techniques, thanx for the information!

  168. 169

    this is a great article, thanks!

  169. 170

    Christ on a bike

    December 22, 2008 6:03 am

    You forgot “Don’t leave bucket loads of space after your final content so that users don’t keep scrolling down thinking there is more to come.”

  170. 171

    Aleksandar Grbic

    December 22, 2008 1:14 pm

    Very nice and useful ! Gonna print this ! Thanks

  171. 172

    Great article…Thanks..//

  172. 173

    it’s critical resources!

  173. 174

    Very informative article. I will definately apply some of these in my projects

  174. 175

    nice tips – thanks for sharing!

    Merry Christmas!

  175. 176

    Thanks for this article and merry christmas!

  176. 177

    Very useful article, indeed. Keep it up, Dmitry!

  177. 178

    heyy….many things I wanted to know about…thank you

  178. 179
  179. 180

    If you tend to use #7, the autofocus tip, it may be a good idea to do the autofocus in the load of the text field itself. If you do it in body, sometimes focus will tend to shift later than necessary, like after other things have loaded and the user has already begun to interact with the page. If you do it in the text field load, the user has had no chance to interact yet, and so won’t get their focus stolen when your script runs.

  180. 181

    klkl, Jason, and Eric have pointed out a major problem with auto-focus, which is otherwise a great time-saver. One bad example has been annoying me greatly lately:

    Go to eBay. Search for something. Get a long page of results. Scroll down a few screens’ worth, scanning for exactly the right item. Soon, you get yanked back up to the search bar at the top, one of the LEAST likely places you wanted to go! (At least, once you’ve got your search terms right.) Bleagh!

    If you can’t put the focus somewhere practically guaranteed to be the place where the user wants to go immediately, DON’T SET FOCUS!

    Other than that, great article. I’ve long been a stickler about whitespace proportions, even offline.

    Argh. Just discovered a booboo on YOUR page! Tabbing from the comment entry box SHOULD take me to the Submit Comment button. But nooooo, it apparently goes to the top of the page. So I have to take my hand off the keyboard, over to the mouse, move it around, and click. Feh. Avoiding that, is a well-known UI principle from, well, shortly after the invention of the mouse.

  181. 182

    Kevin Dahlhausen

    December 31, 2008 6:12 am

    Great article, thanks very much for posting. I’m adding these to my site’s ‘todo’ list.

  182. 183

    Good collection of tips, I love it Dmitry.

    Thanks for sharing these.

  183. 184

    muy útil artículo

  184. 185

    Abel Sucks

  185. 186

    I found that :hover works better cross-browser if a change/update is made to the parenting css-selector. In the example above: make some change in “.message:hover” and “.message:hover .controls” will also trigger. Like this:

    .message:hover { /* change something discrete here */ }
    .message:hover .controls { display: block; } // now this will trigger

  186. 187

    The contrast concept is a great tip, but be careful — many laptop displays will display contrast differently depending on the angle of the screen (the tilt of the lid). If the color is too close to the background color, it may be difficult to read (or even invisible) if the viewer is looking at it from certain angles.

  187. 188

    As a usability professional myself, I love the post and I completely agree with all of the items mentioned. Thanks for sharing this.

  188. 189

    Saravanakumar P

    January 29, 2009 2:50 am

    Really it help me alot. Thanks! for good article

  189. 190

    Good post, Thanks for Nice article.

  190. 191

    This is a great article, but I disagree with the point about aligning text on buttons using the cap height. I believe the text should be aligned using the lower case elements, and the overall visual effect should be that there is slightly more space at the bottom than at the top. Same goes for situations like framing a picture, to achieve a visual balance there should be slightly more space below the image.

  191. 192

    Thanks for providing tips about color management while designing User Interface. Nice article.

  192. 193

    T.H.A.N.K.S bro Good Job. Keep going..Best wishes…

  193. 194


    March 4, 2009 6:59 am

    In such cases, you could also use the “input:focus” property to remove the default styling. The default blue glow in the screenshot above can be removed by disabling the “outline” property:
    view plaincopy to clipboardprint?
    input:focus {

    better is:
    input.focus {
    outline: 0;


  194. 195


    March 8, 2009 1:47 am

    This is well put and useful. If only all design interfaces, codes or the concepts that most fail to explain were this easy. I like seeing the different scripts and languages too.

    I would like to see more… like a top 100 list or a pet peeve list. I vote for a CODE WIKIPEDIA.

    and for those who have nothing contructive to say,
    ~remain silent to let them think your brilliant then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    J Fulton

  195. 196

    Good article

  196. 197

    informative article. thank you dmitry.

  197. 198

    Letter Spacing on web sites is the one thing I think is neglected most. I think people just don’t realize that they do have a degree of control over it.

    Great post!

  198. 199

    Arif Bin Forhad

    May 5, 2009 9:06 pm

    Great article

  199. 200

    7. Auto-focus on input

    –This can also be frustrating for users as well. The input box doesn’t come into focus until the page loads. While the page is loading, the input box becomes visible and the user will immediately begin typing in something into the box. While they are typing, the focus command is called which causes the text to be highlighted in the box and as soon as they type the next letter, it deletes everything they have typed so far. Or, if there are two input boxes (one for username and one for password) and it will move the focus away from the first input box while they are typing in the second. This is quite frustrating.

    Something to consider.

  200. 201

    very nice and helpful.

  201. 202

    This is really very helpful article for designer and developer.

  202. 203

    Eduardo Faria

    January 1, 2010 10:05 am

    Very good this article. This is really gonna help me now forward. Congratz!

  203. 204

    That Guy John

    January 19, 2010 1:16 pm

    Very helpful and true.

    FYI: I found this article while searching for “improving user interfces”. (first page, number one spot.)

  204. 205

    Found this article while doing a search, got a couple great tips for our site. Thanks!

  205. 206

    Haresh Karkar

    May 21, 2010 3:05 am

    Good article! While reading, it seems common sense but while designing, we mostly miss out on mentioned points. Good you took efforts in writing about these small but important points.

  206. 207

    Laurie Cope

    June 18, 2010 1:24 am

    So many people and magazines seem to rate websites based on fantastic graphic designs, but overlook the useability of them, and half the time you spend ages trying to figure out how to navigate. UX is such an important part that must not be overlooked.

  207. 208


    June 30, 2010 4:32 am

    Nice article…
    Thanks a lot for giving such an article…

  208. 209

    Thanks for your great information

  209. 210

    I am impressed. Very useful article.

    Thanks a lot.

  210. 211

    Muhammad El-Nabawy

    July 19, 2010 9:56 am

    Thanks a lot. A great article that I’ve enjoyed reading it.

  211. 212

    Good Article… Use Ful…Thanks

  212. 213

    Yes, thanks !

  213. 214

    Jarod Billingslea

    November 29, 2010 5:01 am

    Ya know, all this time now, and people are still messing up the header spacing! wtf irl!

  214. 215

    Very good article..really it helped me. Thanks
    Business Process Outsourcing

  215. 216

    Dharmendra parmar

    April 22, 2011 11:35 am

    Thanks for your great information!

  216. 217

    Anthony Parson

    May 26, 2011 12:10 pm

    I was needing something like this. I am thankful because i found this site. The information was really helpful to me.

  217. 218

    I’m afraid that number’s ex-directory young bbs post %-(

  218. 219

    UX is such an important part that must not be overlooked.

  219. 220

    Karen Kubiak

    March 6, 2012 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the great round-up of tips, Dmitry! I can put a couple of these into use on projects I’m working on right now.

  220. 221

    Great post. Thank you! :)

  221. 222

    In response to #4, the idea that certain colors recede or advance into space when placed on a different background color is actually subjective based on the viewer, according to Josef Albers and his extensive research on the interactions of colors. For me, the orange rectangle recedes into the blue background, while the blue rectangle protrudes.

    Other than that small point, this was a great article.


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