Better UI design through first principles

3rd April 2022

After over two years of lockdown, I ventured out to my first conference face-to-face, and it was a tonic for the soul.

Held at PlusX in Brighton, UXCampBrighton yet again knocked it out of the park, with a solid lineup of great talks, and lovely folk. Most people masked up also, so it felt really safe.

My talk was called UI Design Tips for Success but broadly it was a very visual talk that broke down approaching a bad design and improving it step by step using before/after examples. I only had 20 minutes, so had reduced things down to a high-level essence.

I looked at the cases where someone starting out in design’s taste has levelled up before their actual UI design skills have, and some practices and principles on UI design one can take to remedy that.

I’m probably going to give the talk again soon, so won’t spill all the beans, as it worked best listened to/seen, but a very high-level summary of the points were:

What is design?

Understanding what design is is key. I looked at the term ‘aesthetics’ (the philosophy of beauty and taste) and broke that down into two types of aesthetics:

Classical aesthetics

Think classic Braun design - clarity and usability. The essential function or nuts and bolts of a design.

Expressive aesthetics

Think artistic touches - a beautiful gradient or watercolour background behind a landing page - something not essential to a design, but that elevates it into something more beautiful.

For me, good User Interface Design has to focus on the former first, but also touch on the latter. Beauty cannot come at the expense of clarity.

Evaluating and responding to client provided design efforts

Principles of UI Design

Using that as a framing metaphor, I then ran through several principles of design:


Calls to action



Font size and reading distance




Bonus tips

In conclusion

UI design, especially starting from scratch or from a less-than-ideal existing design can seem overwhelming, especially for new designers. Break things down step by step and you’ll be amazed how even just small changes add up to a more polished effective and usable design.


Because the talk worked through step-by-step visual changes before and after, it’s too long for a blog post really, but I might well record the talk and put it up here at some point.

Photo by Leo Barnes - thanks!