Everyone has their own approach to User Interface Design (UID) and it can be very subjective. Technology, current trends, a targeted audience and more can have a strong influence on what the eventual design ends up being.

Many designers (let’s flippantly put everyone all in the same hat for a brief moment – in advance I ask for forgiveness!) however do follow a base set of User Experience (UX) principles that help to improve the experience for a user as they interact with a given designed User Interface.  The good one’s anyway. So in this post, I’ll be sharing a few of the principles that I have picked up over time and apply in my own work.

Simple Language – Appeal to the User

It’s easy to allow a programming framework to spit out it’s default values or to write a system notification that a developer would understand, however a user will not.

What this should encourage is that you speak the users language. If the design targets doctors or nurses (such as an emergency ward), they will have their own language so it is okay to speak that language to them, just not your own.  “Your own language” here is defined as either designer or developer jargon.

Using Computer Memory

Janne Jul Jensen had previously made this point perfectly in presentation she did several years ago. A computer is built to remember things, make use of it. As humans we are typically not great at remembering things.  However many a user journey on a website will force the user to remember things that the computer can conveniently and unobtrusively remember for them.

I’m sure we wish we were as good as the proverbial elephant, but sadly that is a rare thing these days. Enough said here for now.

“The computer is built to remember things, make use of it.”

Janne Jul Jensen

Humanise your Error Messages

This is a bug bearer that I have and relates to the first point in this post. Too often I’ve seen vague text being returned to the user on the screen, or the text field change colour without any clear messaging as to what the user did wrong or what needs to be changed to make it right. Don’t leave a user hanging by thinking they will love the experience of receiving a robot’s or the programming framework’s default messaging of “error“, “unauthorised“, “null value“, “unknown error” or something else.

Users quickly get frustrated and tend to exit the user journey completely, resulting in them never using your site again as they wander off surfing the big bad world of the internet looking for a better alternative.

Here are a few pointers which, should be obvious, but sadly are not:

  • Be explicit
  • Be humanly readable
  • Be polite
  • Be humble
  • Be constructive

The goal is the reduce the amount of effort that a user has to exert when errors do occur in their journey, not to make life harder for them.

“If you can’t make something self-evident, you at least need to make it self-explanatory”

Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug

There will be a future post on humanisation, so keep a lookout.

Optimise your user journey

This is where oversimplification can really mess up the users’ experience and journey on a website or application. Where there are bad experiences, the user typically ends up using the web browsers default back functionality, primarily because there is no obvious way out or back a step in their user journey.

There are still many companies out there that have more of a focus on outbound marketing instead of customer retention by creating a better user journey and experience.

Amazon have gone some ways to create a good user journey – tweaking their user journey over the years and mildly adjusting the Visual Design of their User Interface (UI).

Regardless of people’s opinions of their UI, Amazon have shown that you don’t have to have a truly outstanding UI to have a good user journey – albeit not perfect. (in all honesty the UI is okay, it’s clearly not aaawards.com from a visual standpoint, but it effectively keeps the focus on the products, one of many reasons why they are winning so to speak).

Their brand recognition has been a good contributor to overcoming any flaws in their journey but most importantly it doesn’t mean that their model will work for you. Hence why using the UX process to optimise your user journey with your own users is a necessity.

Quick links or Shortcuts can be Good

If designed properly the beginner to intermediate user will not notice that these exist until they reach an intermediate to advanced level, so their User Experience (UX) is not affected negatively.

An advanced user can take advantage of this feature and get whatever it is they need out of the website or application with minimised clicks. This helps to create a quicker more efficient user journey and experience for the user.

This also relates somewhat to Flexibility vs Usability tradeoff, which I’ve spoken about before on a previous post.

It’s certainly one way – but not the only way – to cater to a wider spectrum of users.

This list is by no means exhaustive, far from it in fact, so…

What is your approach to User Interface Design? What UX principles do you keep in mind?

It would be great to hear your thoughts.

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