Designing Rules: The Engine of User Experience

To fully leverage a content management system (cms) requires clear instructions on how the cms should automatically process content. It is essential for designers to decide on and communicate these processes or rules.

Dan Brown puts design rules in the context of other deliverables, defines and explains the 3 types of design rules, and offers tips on how to ensure that you have good, standardized rules.

This presentation was given by Dan Brown on March 20, 2009 at the IA Summit in Memphis, TN.

Types of information architecture & web deliverables

  1. Templates [most tangible]
  2. Navigation and Classification
  3. Content Types
  4. Rules [most abstract]

Attempting to define design rules

  • How the screen changes in different situations
  • Criteria for selecting content
  • What pulls the experience together for the user
  • Govern how users experience/evaluate/decide
  • Related to, but not the same as a
    • pattern: generalized approach to a common problem, although this can imply rules
    • component: layout of specific area of screen in a specific system, although this can support many rules

3 types of design rules

  1. Business Rules: doing the right (ethical/appropriate) thing for the organization and the user
  2. Navigation Rules: dynamic, especially in a content management system
  3. Content Rules: guidelines for the machine on how to process content automatically

Content rule considerations

  1. Action: usually, either show or hide
  2. Scope: which content types are included
  3. Filter: may differ depending on content type; examples: the latest content, or content with specific tags
  4. Quantity: how many to show
  5. Format: which fields to show
  6. Default: the content that appears if none is available using the above considerations

Navigation rule considerations

  1. Facets: price, color, etc.
  2. Range: the maximum and minimum limits for values
  3. Options: how to select from the range of values
  4. Effect: how does selecting an option effect the display
  5. See All: a more/all link

How to document rules (in addition to interfaces)

  1. Wireframe annotation options
    • Prose - can be challenging to express complicated rules in this form
    • Pseudo-code - might be confusing to the layperson
    • Table - content type; quantity; criteria
  2. Wireframe content: Instead of using Lorem Ipsum, put actual example content and labels (such as "Latest Articles").
  3. Flow charts

Characteristics of good rules

  • user-centered
  • unambiguous
  • feasible (show good IA)
  • specified responsibility (the computer or specific humans)
  • comprehensive (allow for all scenarios)
  • graceful in degrading (has a default)



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This is awesome! You should be teaching a class!!

Adelle Frank


You are too kind, thanks, Kat!