So What is User Interface (UI) Design?
The goal for any user interface designer is to create interfaces (for software or machines – a good example being a website or app) which are easy to use, interfaces that in effect are a pleasure to use. UI design is not just about graphical user interfaces either as others, such as natural and voice user interfaces also need careful attention.
Making the interface in effect invisible
The very best user interfaces are so good that you don’t even recognise them at all, you just use them intuitively, just as you do a knife and fork. Designed correctly an interface will allow users to do what they need to do quickly and efficiently, this most often being the test that a new interface must pass.
It is worth remembering though that not all interfaces are the same, some are there just for fun, like the controls for a game.
The Dark Side of Interface Design
You might think that the design of an interface is all about doing good, but as ever there is a dark side to UI, this being all about ‘tricking’ users into buying or doing something that they do not want to do. This is normally achieved by ‘hiding’ things in an interface so that people do not notice them (exactly the opposite to what ‘good’ design is all about). This is more often than not done by including things in an order by default, for example a belt when ordering a pair of trousers.
Interfaces designed in this manner are said to use ‘dark patterns’ and can include any process that is made long and unnecessarily complicated with the aim of getting users to just go with the flow and not read them as well as they should, thus getting them to do something the designer wants them to do, that something not necessarily being in their best interests.
10 User Interface Design Guidelines
Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich’s are a great help here, their Ten User Interface Guidelines being something of a bible in the area of UI. They have been used in the design process of companies like Apple, Google, and Adobe with some little success..
So how can you use their ‘ten rules of thumb’ in your design work so you can improve their usability, utility, and desirability.
- Visibility of system status. Users should always be able to tell what the system / page is doing via a highly visible status output being displayed on the screen, this updating quickly.
- Make it like the real world. By understanding how people do things in the ‘real world’ you can make any interface much easier to use. So by presenting data in a logical order to users you can greatly reduce the cognitive load, thus making systems more natural.
- Allow users to go backwards as well as forwards. It is a well known fact that the Back button on the Browser is used more often than any other control, but this is ‘outside’ the actual window where the user interface (the web page in this instance) ’sits’. This means that when creating an interface it is necessary to provide that ‘Back’ button in the interface itself, this being where people really expect and want it.
- Keep it consistent. This is as important in interface designer as it is in Branding, it being vital that the graphic elements and the terminology used are the same across all the products / companies platforms.
- Make it hard for users to make an error. If you can design an interface that minimises the chances of a user making an error they will love you for it. Two ways of doing this is by removing or flagging actions that could result in an error in the first place.
- Make it easy by using recognition rather than recall. It is a fact that Humans do not have a great short term memory, something that UI designers really do have to keep in mind (and not forget). One great way here is to use icons etc that they instinctively recognise as doing something or another, whilst not having to ‘recall’ what it does. This minimizes cognitive load and thus makes the interface easier to use.
- Allow users to customise the interface. It is a fact that as users use an interface more and more frequently, they (a) of course become more familiar with it and (b) thus get frustrated about having to follow the ‘long winded’ process of achieving their goals. In essence these experienced users no longer require the slow, step by step process that was developed for the new user. The way around this is to allow experienced users to customize the interface to suit their own particular needs.
- Keep it simple and only show what is needed. Basically, this is all about following the KISS methodology. If you keep the clutter on a screen to the minimum you will make it easier to use.
- Don’t use technical terminology when pointing out errors. Designers should beware of using highly technical terminology when reporting errors. Instead error messages should always use plain language, thus ensuring nothing is misunderstood.
- Make sure help is easy to find. The best user interfaces / processes should not ideally, require a user to seek help, but if help is needed then the designer needs to ensure that it is easy to find
If you follow these rules when designing user interfaces then they will without doubt be faster, easier to use and thus more liked by your customers.
As you can imagine, at Rouge we understand all of this and can design interfaces that you will just love. Do contact us for more information on User interface and website design.