UI is Communication

How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication


  • Everett McKay, is principal of UX Design Edge, a user experience design training and consulting firm specializing in helping non-designers, based in St. Albans, Vermont.

User interface design is a challenging, multi-disciplinary activity that requires understanding a wide range of concepts and techniques that are often subjective and even conflicting. Imagine how much it would help if there were a single perspective that you could use to simplify these complex issues down to a small set of objective principles.

In UI is Communication, Everett McKay explains how to design intuitive user interfaces by focusing on effective human communication. A user interface is ultimately a conversation between users and technology. Well-designed user interfaces use the language of UI to communicate to users efficiently and naturally. They also recognize that there is an emotional human being at the other end of the interaction, so good user interfaces strive to make an emotional connection.

Applying what you learn from UI is Communication will remove much of the mystic, subjectiveness, and complexity from user interface design, and help you make better design decisions with confidence. It’s the perfect introduction to user interface design.
View full description


Primary: non-designer software professionals, especially software developers, managers, and business analysts.

Secondary: Designers interested in usability, as well as college students taking courses on UX design. 


Book information

  • Published: June 2013
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-396980-4


"Here [McKay] offers a guide to designing user interfaces by drawing on principles and common-sense insight about communication. There are no prerequisites, he says, no assumptions about the reader's field or level of experience."--Reference & Research Book News, October 2013
"The best teammate a designer can have is a communication specialist to look over your shoulder. Having Everett's book is the next best thing to having him on your team."--Bert Keely, Architect of Windows Pen and Touch
"McKay practices what he preaches - UI is Communication is relevant, readable, entertaining, and chock full of useful examples."--Carolyn Snyder, Snyder Consulting

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Communication Design Principles

  1. Imagine this typical UI design situation
  2. Core principles of UI is Communication
  3. Effective communication
  4. Intuitive UI
  5. Necessary (and unnecessary) consistency
  6. Strategically unintuitive UI
  7. Levels of intuitiveness
  8. Inductive UI
  9. Strategically deductive UI
  10. Asking intuitive questions
  11. A model for users
  12. Summary
  13. Exercises

Chapter 2: Interaction Design

  1. Interactions
  2. Controls (words)
  3. Commands (verbs)
  4. Labels and instructions
  5. Feedback
  6. Grouping (sentences)
  7. Task steps (paragraphs, monologues, and dialogues)
  8. Task navigation
  9. Surfaces (documents)
  10. Errors, warnings, confirmations, and notifications (interruptions)
  11. Dynamic elements
  12. Summary
  13. Exercises

Chapter 3: Visual Design

  1. The importance of effective visual design
  2. Working with graphic designers
  3. Layout
  4. Designing for scanning
  5. Typography and text
  6. Color
  7. Affordances
  8. Icons and glyphs
  9. Animations and transitions
  10. Demanding attention
  11. Summary
  12. Exercises

Chapter 4: Communicating to People

  1. The importance of making an emotional connection
  2. Having a personality
  3. Personality attributes
  4. Having a good tone
  5. Motivating users by providing obvious value
  6. Minimizing effort
  7. Having forgiveness
  8. Building trustworthiness
  9. Being smart without looking stupid
  10. Not being annoying
  11. Using courageous design
  12. Why be dull? Make it fun!
  13. Summary
  14. Exercises

Chapter 5: A Communication-driven Design Process

  1. A communication-driven design process
  2. Don’t design like a programmer
  3. What exactly is design?
  4. A basic design process
  5. The classic process mistakes
  6. The planning phase
  7. The design phase
  8. The refinement phase
  9. Giving and receiving feedback
  10. What about Agile development?
  11. Summary
  12. Exercises

Chapter 6: UI Design Case Studies

  1. An overview of common alternative design approaches
  2. Design challenge 1: An airline travel desktop site
  3. Design challenge 2: An airline travel mobile app
  4. Summary
  5. Exercises