Web Design - User Interface

User Interface

Within the digital world user interface, or UI as it’s otherwise known, encompasses absolutely everything designed into a media device that a human being may interact with. This can include the screen, the keyboard, the mouse and even the appearance of the desktop. It also includes illuminated characters, help messages and how an application or website invites interaction and responses. In the early days, there was little interface except for a few buttons and the operating console. Interface was largely based around punched card input and report output. A few years down the line however and users were given the opportunity to interact with computers online. Here the user interface was virtually blank except for a command line, a keyboard and a set of commands that would exchange responses with the computer.

This command line based interface led to one where menus dominated. Lists of choices written in plain text were offered however it wasn’t long until graphical interface began to make an appearance. Graphical user interface or GUI as it’s also known was first adopted and enhanced by Apple Computer however it wasn’t until Microsoft got their hands on it that it was effectively standardised within their Windows operating system. What some people aren’t aware of is the fact that user interface design can also include “user experience” too which can encompass the aesthetic appearance of the media device, the response time and even the content that’s presented to the user.

Why is user interface so important?

User interface is important during the process of web design in order to design functional websites that can generate interest and online traffic amongst users on the Internet. You might not realise but user interface plays a hugely important role when it comes to bringing a lot of traffic to your website. It’s therefore crucially important that this is given the amount of time and involvement needed during the design process of the website itself. In the current climate, there has been a huge growth in e-commerce with billions of pounds worth of sales going through each year. The Internet has become such an integral part of business now that thousands of businesses are actually entirely dependent on the Internet when it comes to their success. If you want success in any online business then your website needs to be user friendly as this means it will provide the enhanced user experience that your online visitors want. If a website is simply too complex or too difficult to use then the online traffic that heads there will leave or in some cases be pushed away. Using simple and effective user interface design however will help immensely when it comes to achieving the specific objectives of your website.

On top of this, it won’t just help to increase the actual usability of the website but can lead to much smoother completions of the tasks at hand such as completing a transaction or signing up to a newsletter. On top of this, your users will find everything much more enjoyable. Typography will also play a vital role when it comes to enhancing the usability of your website. It’s so important in fact that it actually forms a little over 90% of all website components and requires a lot of special attention during the design process. Textual content has a very important role to play when it comes to making your website appeal to online visitors and should, as a result of this, be optimised for readability as well as convenience and balance in terms of graphics.

Using tools like online chat, email and even e-brochures that highlight products and services can also enhance your websites interactivity however world class results need the mind of an expert designer. It doesn’t matter if your website has amazing graphics, complete with all the bells and whistles because if your website lacks proper functionality then that enhanced user experienced you wanted will be absent. For great examples of websites that draw in high volume traffic due to enhanced user experiences, take a look at Facebook and LinkedIn.

Characteristics of successful user interfaces

When it comes to what’s deemed to be good user interface, there’s a lot of information about various designs and techniques along with solutions to common problems and recommendations. To simplify for you, we’ve listed to a few basic characteristics of what makes a good user interface. Here are a few things that we think your user interface needs to be in order to reign supreme:

  • Clear – clarity is hugely important. The entire purpose of user interface is to enable people to interact with your website easily by communicating meaning and function. If people struggle to figure out how your website works or where to go in order to complete their desired task then they’ll get confused and no doubt frustrated. This will lead to a high bounce rate.
  • Concise – being clear with your user interface is great but you need to be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of suddenly over-clarifying things. It’s all too easy to add definitions and explanations to things but each time you do it, you start to add mass which can become a little too much for your users to wade through. Keep things clear by all means but make sure you keep things concise too. A great way to do this is to cut things down a little so if you can explain a feature in one sentence instead of three then do it. If you can label an item or graphic in one word instead of two then do that too. By doing this you’re saving time for your users and making things easy and less effort.
  • Familiar – a number of designers go out of their way to make their user interface “intuitive” but what does this actually mean? It’s something that can be naturally understood or instinctively understood but how do you make something intuitive? You can do it by making things familiar. Something is familiar when you feel like you’ve encountered it before so you feel you know how it behaves and you know what to expect. Identify what feels familiar to your users and integrate these things into your user interface.
  • Responsive – responsive can mean a few things. First up, it can refer to speed and mean something is fast. The interface and the software behind it should work quickly. Waiting for a page or image to load can be frustrating. Seeing things load quickly on the other hand will immediately improve your users experience. Responsive can also mean that the interface will provide some sort of feedback. This means that the interface should talk back to the user and literally tell them what’s happening. For instance, did your user press the button successfully? How do they know if they have? Does your button display a ‘pressed’ state to give your users an idea? Is the page stuck or is it loading? Could you perhaps display a spinning wheel to show your users that something is loading?
  • Consistent – adapting to any given context is a smart thing but this doesn’t mean your interface shouldn’t adhere to a certain amount of consistency. By making your interface consistent, you allow users to develop usage patterns allowing them to learn what different buttons and labels mean. This will help them to recognise them and know what to do in different contexts. They’ll also learn how certain things work and that means they’ll be able to operate new features in an instant.
  • Attractive – this can often become a little controversial but you’ll find a lot of designers agree that a good user interface needs to be attractive. By attractive we mean that it makes using the interface enjoyable. Yes, you can make your user interface simple and easy to use but if you go that extra step and make it attractive then you’ll make the whole experience truly satisfying. When your user interface is pleasant to use, your users won’t just come back, they’ll look forward to using it too. Obviously, what looks good to one person might not look good to someone else but this just means you should fashion the look of the interface toward your audience. Adding a level of polish to your interface is quite different to loading it with a ten tonne of extra eye-candy.
  • Efficient –the user interface is like the car that takes you places. The places are the different functions of the website and a good interface will allow you to perform the functions faster with much less effort. To make your interface efficient you need to figure out exactly what it is your users are wanting to do and then allow them to do it without any fuss. You need to identify just how your application should work by looking at functions it should have. What goals is it trying to achieve? Then once you’ve answered these questions, implement your interface that lets people easily accomplish what they want to do as opposed to implementing access to a list of different features.
  • Forgiving – no single person is perfect and people are bound to make mistakes when using your website but how you handle these mistakes will be a hugely important factor in determining whether people still achieve the wanted outcome. Don’t punish your user for a simple mistake. Build a forgiving interface and remedy the issues that arise. Examples of a forgiving interface could be allowing your users to retrieve information they’ve accidently deleted.

It should be noted however that working on achieving just some of these characteristics could clash with working on achieving others. An example of this would be trying to make your user interface clear with too many descriptions and explanations thus making it too bulky in the process. You may then cut things out to make it concise and as a result create ambiguity. Achieving a perfect balance will take time and skills. If you don’t think you have the necessary knowledge and time to really get involved then contact our experts as Wecan media today.

C. A. D’H Gough; R. Green; M. Billinghurst. “Accounting for user familiarity in user interfaces”. Retrieved 13 June 2014.

McCown, Frank. “History of the graphical user interface (GUI)”. Harding University.