Being a web or app designer isn’t just about arranging content, it’s also about designing an interface that filters and organizes information fluidly and intuitively. A page might look beautiful, but if its interface is in shambles, it’s of little use to users.
This article will take a look at user interfaces and the laws that govern them. We hope to inspire you and help you create an amazing user interface experience but first, let’s get to the crux of what makes a good interface. Read more after the jump to find out about the concepts to have in mind when designing user interfaces.
Skim and Scan
The first concept we are going to discuss is about the amount of content that is to be displayed on a page. Think about the way someone looks for a very specific passage in a book; the reader will scan and skim through entire passages, skipping details but quickly locating the information she needs. Presenting web content is no different: Users tend to prefer to scan content rather than diligently reading top to bottom when searching for a specific bit of information. A persistent misconception is that online users simply don’t like to read, but when information is presented in digestible bites, highlighting the most sought-after content, users are far more likely to spend the time reading all the information on a page.
Certain elements, such as buttons, text boxes, and hyperlinks, simply don’t need to be creatively tweaked to perform better. In these cases, users often prefer to operate in familiar territory, where design elements are universally recognizable. Venturing into new territory when an existing control or element works well will simply confuse, as opposed to excite, users.
Among the most basic rules of user interface design (UID) is the presence of core controls; users need to be able to login, logoff, manage settings, and access tools instantly, and a good interface provides them the peace of mind that everything is within their reach.
When it comes to usability, consistency is the key! Website consistency isn’t just about design (in the form of color, font, and spacing), but it also applies to a site’s interface. Users should never have to guess where an element is located, or find a piece of content in a completely different location on one page than it was on another. Planning is the crux of consistency: Make sure to lay out all possible navigation paths before you start designing, double checking that each button or link will be treated in the same way.
Websites with successful UI always have one thing in common: They’re devoid of unnecessary elements. A great UID will only have elements that a user will need, and nothing more. Put yourself in the shoes of your user and you will come to know whether a particular element is required or not. Open a similar website and see if they are using that particular element.
One of the more important aspects when it comes to a UID, is simplicity or ease of understanding if you may. When a user is browsing through the interface, he should be able to get to the next step without any explanation or elongated thought processes.
A user should never have to memorize their way through a website, learning to find information through trial and error. User Interface comprehension is a bit like studying for a test: we are able to digest information far more efficiently if we logically understand it, as opposed to simply memorizing it. Us the following techniques to help users navigate logically:
- In-line Hints
- Visual Cues (icons)
Concise and simple is better: KISS is actually an acronym and it stands for ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’. In some variations, it also stands for ‘Keep It Simple and Straightforward’, and ‘Keep It Short and Simple’. In either of the aforementioned cases, the idea imparted is the same: UID works best when it’s straightforward and to the point.
Occam’s Razor is often spoken about as a Usability and User Interface principle, but its origins go back to the 14th century. Simply put, Occam’s Razor avers that, if you come across a problem with multiple solutions, go with the one that is the simplest. Like with KISS, UID has adopted Occam’s Razor as a mantra for keeping things simple. A simple interface is one that requires fewer actions on the part of the user to get to the desired area.
You can think of this principle as mistake-proofing. This principle aims to prevent mistakes committed by anticipating the mistakes before they happen (think of auto-correct in writing applications).
In theory, especially in context of computers, humans too have RAM. According to psychologist George Miller, the maximum number of objects that a human can hold in his working memory is 7. In the context of UID, this translates to the notion that no interface should have more than 7 active elements at any time. Less is of course better, but more than that will tend to confuse a user. Again, the concept emphasized here is simplicity over complexity.
With UID, “Signal” elements refer to content of basic importance (the information that will be of most crucial value to users), while “Noise” elements refer to everything else (superfluous information). A good UID focuses on emphasizing the Signal rather than the Noise.
While there are many theories when it comes to a User Interface Design, all of them primarily focus on the same concept. In fact, these concepts are employed in any design aspect you come across. The concepts we discussed, and thousands of others out there focus on the simplicity and clarity. These are the two key elements when it comes to a good UID, and that is what a successful designer will stick to. We hope the article proves helpful and informational.