ELI5: Four fundamental pillars of UX design

In your hunt for the formula for software success and wonderful web pages, you’ll undoubtedly come across the term ‘UX design’.

Short for ‘user experience design’, this term has slipped into buzzword status. Despite, that is, the importance of the practice it describes. Indeed, pinning down the core foundation of UX design is like finding a needle in a haystack.

To bring some clarity, we’ve quickly outlined the key elements that make up a great user experience. Here are the four pillars of UX design.

The pillar of usability

The first of the four pillars of UX design is usability. Usability is, in its simplest terms, how easy your software or service is to use.

Good usability means embracing elements of intuitive design. In other words, it needs to be easy to learn how to use your software. Then it needs to be efficient to use your software.

As such, testing your usability can boil down to two key questions.

  1. Would a first-time user of your software be able to achieve their goal by using your program?
  2. Are there any unnecessary steps to achieving the desired outcome of using your software?

The less effort it takes to use your software, the better its usability.

The pillar of accessibility

Leading on from usability comes the second of the pillars of UX design: accessibility. Though similar, accessibility goes deeper than mainstream usability. It focuses on helping people with disabilities have an equivalent digital experience to everyone else.

So, an accessible UX design is one that makes your software usable by people with a wide range of ability levels. As much as 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Accessible designs cater to these users. It answers issues such as partial or full blindness, reduced motor functions, hearing impairment, and so on. 

For example, for those with reduced eyesight, your software could be screen-reader friendly. Or, it could boast a design with high-contrasting colours. If your software uses sounds, consider vibrations or text-based alerts for those with hearing loss.

The pillar of findability

You should also design your software (or website) with findability in mind. Findability simply means that your content and functionality must be easy for the user to find.

People aren’t logging into your software to play hunt the feature, nor are they landing on your webpage for a content scavenger hunt. Consequently, findability is one of the most fundamental pillars of UX design.

For webpages, this would mean an organised navigation menu and site search function, for instance. In software, findability means not burying functionality with a plethora of extra features. 

The pillar of credibility

Finally, credibility is the last of the pillars of UX design. Credibility means making sure that your users can (and do) trust you to provide software that will solve their problem for a long time.

In other words, credibility isn’t just about gaining user trust but keeping it. You need to show not only that your product will do what you promise, but that it’s a long-term solution.

There are two core aspects to this. The first is showing your human side and being open about your business. For example, don’t hide your reviews. Address your mistakes and share your successes. Offer a free trial, responsive customer service and clear privacy policies. Demonstrating honesty and transparency is foundational to winning trust.

Second is showing that your product will last. This means regular updates, a clear roadmap and a track record of as little downtime as possible. Prove that your product will be reliable for the user, and you create a more credible user experience.

The pillars of UX design

Success relies on more than A/B testing and pretty design alone. For a great product, you need a great user experience.

Of course, there’s lots more to great UX design than four areas alone. But with these four pillars of UX design covered, a great experience is achievable regardless of user ability.

Useful links

3 essential usability quotes, and what we can learn from them

Key considerations for making age-friendly software

Sustainable UX design: saving the environment with smarter websites