Our user interface design fundamentals
It’s no big surprise that a truly great user interface is one that’s specifically engineered to stay out of the way and by this we mean one that isn’t distracting to the user. If your user interface or UI simply allows a user to complete their goals without distraction then you can be sure you’ve got a good design.
Why is this so good? Simply put, a great UI that allows people to get straight on with what they want to do subsequently leads to a reduction in training and support costs along with happier and much more satisfied users. Creating a great user interface however isn’t the easiest of tasks but it can be made a little easier by sticking to these fundamentals:
Get to know your user
We couldn’t mean it more literally when we say, obsess over your customers. Yes you should of course pay attention to your competition but first and foremost we advise starting with your customers. Your users goals are essentially your goals so you need to pay attention and learn them. Once you’ve done this you then need to learn your users skills and experience and find out exactly what they need. Spend time researching what interfaces they like.
We would even suggest sitting down with them and watch them whilst they use them to really see how they grasp it. It’s always important to keep up with the competition but don’t get carried away with it by mimicking trendy designs, features and add ons that your users will just find difficult to use. By focusing on your user first you’ll be able to create an interface that works for them specifically and helps them achieve their goals.
Keep your eye on patterns
Users spend most of their time on other such interfaces such as Facebook and MySpace. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel; yes you want to be unique and better than your competition but these existing interfaces may already solve the same problems that users are experiencing within the one you’re creating. By using very familiar patterns such as these you’ll not only help them to reach their goals easily but you’ll no doubt make them feel right at home too.
Consistency is key
Your users really do need consistency. They need to feel comfortable knowing that once they learn to do something they’ll be able to do it again and again without a problem. Language, layout and even design are just a few areas where consistency is super important. Give your users consistency and they’ll have a much better understanding of how things work which will help to increase their efficiency.
Visual hierarchies should be used
By using visual hierarchies, you can design your interface in such a way that it allows users to easily focus on the most important elements. Size, colour and placement all work together to create a very clear path in terms of understanding your interface. A clear hierarchy will help to reduce the appearance of complexity even when the actions are themselves very complex.
You should ensure that your interface speaks to your user at all times when their actions are both wrong and right. Keep them informed of actions, errors or even exceptions that may occur. This can be quite easily done using visual clues or even simple pop up messages, which indicate to the user where their actions have led.
It doesn’t matter how clear or easy you have made your design because users will always make mistakes therefore it’s important to ensure your user interface allows for and tolerates a certain amount of user error. By this we mean designing ways for your users to undo their actions. It may also be worth using messaging as a way of teaching the user how they made the error. By making it a teachable situation, you’ll show them what action was wrong ensuring they know exactly how to prevent the error from happening again.
Empower your users
This is a great way of keeping your users interested. Once your users become experienced and familiar, it’s a good idea to reward them. Breaking down the complexities into much more easier tasks through familiarity can cause the steps to become cumbersome. By offering more obscure ways such as keyboard shortcuts you’ll make things a little more interesting and allow your design to get out of the way.
Speak the language of your users
All interfaces will require some level of copywriting but we advise keeping things conversational, not sensational. Provide them with clear and concise labels for actions and keep your messages short, sweet and simple. Your users really will appreciate it, as they won’t necessarily hear you – they’ll instead hear themselves.
Simplicity all the way
The very best interface designs are completely invisible. They don’t contain ‘bling’ or any unnecessary elements. The necessary elements are succinct and make sense to the design. Whenever you’re questioning whether or not you should or need to add a new element to your design, just ask yourself whether the user really needs it. Does the user want it? Are you adding these things because you like or want them? Never let your ego steal the show when it comes to user interface.
Always move forward
Moving forward is very much a key principle when it comes to user interface design. It’s often said during the development of interfaces that you need to fail fast and try again. When creating a user interface you will undoubtedly make mistakes but as long as you continue to move forward you’ll be fine.