Don’t draw the UI, draw the priority

Someone gave me some great feedback in the moments when I’m struggling with a design: “Don’t draw the UI, draw the priority instead.”

What they meant by this is that I should go away and write a humble list of priorities for every project: most important info at the top -> least important info at the bottom. So instead of trying to figure out the order of the information in a component—like a card or a table or what have you, we should use this content audit to help define the visual priority of each bit.

Here’s an example if we were to redesign a subscription page:

  • Price (most important thing)
  • Title of Plan
  • Description of Plan
  • Comparison of Current vs. Selected Plan
  • Reviews/testimonials (least important thing)

It’s just a written list, nothing fancy. But this is the work of design just as much as making gradients and picking fonts or drawing things.

Arguing about the priority of this list is a great place to start because folks will tend to disagree with what’s the most important thing. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that the most important thing should be at the top of the page, but perhaps it should be bold or red or typographically more prominent. That’s a whole separate argument and when you show people that debate will always get muddled—this list of priorities is a way to focus the attention on the problem, not the styles.

In other words, the priorities should guide the pixels and not the other way around.