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Library Subject Guides

Coding: a Practical Guide

Designing for users

Designing for users

How do you make it from idea to having a program ready for users? And how do you design with those users in mind?

On this page we're looking at universal design principles, how to generate ideas and develop these into a design and ultimately a product, and why you need to keep your users in mind and get feedback from diverse audiences.

Universal design for coding

When you're writing code to create anything, you need to think about the users of your program. More importantly, you need to be aware that "users" are not all the same, and design with different needs in mind.

From the very start of your design process, you need to be thinking about what the goal of your project is, who it is aimed at, and how they will be using it. You need to get feedback from other people and make sure you take into account other people's experiences.

These slides are from our Universal design session, aimed at getting people to think about designing technological solutions from websites to apps to online forms with users in mind.

User interfaces

The user interface (UI) is how the user interacts with a program/app/website.

What you're interacting with as you use this practical guide is a user interface - you don't get the code underneath, but the (hopefully) user-friendly bit on top.

Whilst part of the user interface is about how it looks (and the appearance of something is very important for universal design, especially in terms of accessibility), the user interface also affects how the user can do things, such as press buttons, fill out forms, and other functionality.

Responsive design is when your user interface is designed to adjust based on a user's device and screen size. This is when you get mobile versions of websites that can change based on your screen (have you tried using this page on a different sized screen?).

Responsive design is important these days as people may have access to different devices and there are a variety of ways people might get to your program or website. For example, filling out online forms is often much harder on mobile devices because they haven't been designed to easily adapt to the small screen size.

Want to learn more about designing user interfaces?

As well as the resources on this page, there's a wealth of books and resources out there on how to design user interfaces and what you need to consider. We've not tried all of these courses, so think critically when you're using them.

You might want to try a free online course like the Open University's Designing the user interface course or UAL Creating Computing Institute's course on Introduction to UX and Accessible Design.

More broadly, you might want to look into user experience (UX) research and design techniques, which aren't necessarily focused on user interfaces but are an important stage in designing and testing digital things. You could find out more about how the library at the University of York has used UX techniques or try free online resources like courses relating to 'user experience' on FutureLearn.

Reflect on your own design

There are lots of resources out there to help you think about your own design practices and reflect on whether you're designing with inclusivity in mind. Here are some suggestions for resources to check out.

There are lots of different lists of tips and steps for designing more accessible experiences. Use these critically to see which steps are relevant to your work and don't assume that by following the tips on any list, your creation is definitely accessible for everyone.

This 8 steps to designing accessible experiences that feel good for everyone has some practical suggestions for designing websites and user interfaces. These Inclusive Design Principles look more broadly at the concepts behind inclusive design, including offering choice, providing comparable experiences, and prioritising content.

Google has a collection of resources for building digital features and products with digital wellbeing in mind, including UX (user experience) principles and possible workshop activities for those involved in designing and creating things.


Which stage of the process are you at?

Tools for projects and design

There's many tools out there to help you design and keep track of projects and processes. Here are a few suggestions that are free or available through the University:

  • Google Sheets - spreadsheets are great for managing projects and tasks, and even storyboarding ideas. Using Google Sheets means you can link to other files on Google Drive, too.
  • Trello - project management tools can help keep track of your processes, and the free version of Trello can be useful (though we don't recommend putting any confidental data or attachments into it).
  • Canva - a free design tool that makes it easy to make graphics for mockups and prototypes.
  • Twine - an interactive narrative tool that can be used to plot out websites and games, especially to work out different routes the user might take between pages/screens.

Creative prompts and activities

Maybe you need to get in the creative mood, or just try something a bit different. Creative activities and prompts are a common way to try out things, play around, and be creative without the need to start from scratch.

Take Three Nouns - generates three nouns for you to do whatever you want with

Idea Lottery - A grid of words for you to try and connect together (see what narratives come out of it)

Random Digital Creativity Generator - More focused on looking for inspiration and exploring particular tools, this gives you random examples of creative work and tools you could use to play around with

Cut up text - take a printed text (preferably a photocopy or print out!), cut it up, and rearrange. You can do it digitally using a free image editing tool like Pixlr and it can be a great way to rethink texts you know well.

Quickfire ideas - fold a piece of paper into eight, then give yourself a minute per section to doodle an idea