Desktop UX: Software Installer Best Practices

Having been a UX designer for over 1.5 year, I spent most of time working on websites and mobile apps. I had never really thought about designing for desktop applications. This year, I am working at ANSYS UX Design Team. Every project I am working on is new to me and gives me a lot of opportunities to learn and digest desktop UX. Also, most UX designers focus on portable devices and touch-screens, and little thought is spent on non-touch oriented desktop applications. Since I’m working on desktop UX right now, I decided to write my thoughts here.

The project I’m working on right now is to simplify the installation process of ANSYS products. While still learning more about desktop UX and conducting usability studies on the prototypes I built, I summarized several recommendations to refine installation experience. Some of the following recommendations can also be extended to websites and mobile applications.

1. You should have a preloader

Have experienced the following situation? You double-clicked an application on your desktop, waited for 3 seconds and nothing happened, so you double-clicked it again… After several times of double-clicking, suddenly, five windows popped up at the same time so you had to close them one by one.

Some Windows applications are big and needs time to launch, that’s why you need a preloader. Basically, a preloader provides users feedback of the system status and prevents users from error. It tells users “Hi, it takes a bit of time, but I’m functioning fine. I heard your double-clicking!”

2. Default value works

In many scenarios, user input can be predicted. For example, you can predict a user’s preferred language by his system language. Whether the default value is what the user actually want, defaults have good value.

First, default value is representative. People don’t read things from left to right or from top to bottom; people read wherever it pops up. For instance, on the example given above, people read “English” before “Select a language” because the dropdown box catches users’ attention first. As soon as user read “English”, immediately the user knows it’s for language. Therefore, having a default value gives users immediate instruction of what should be filled into this field.

Second, default value represents a frequent value that potentially saves user time and effort. If it matches with the user’s choice, it tells the user “don’t worry about it. I’ve got this taken care.”

3. Progress tracker comforts users

Most of time, progress trackers don’t help simplify the installation process, but they comfort users well. People hate uncertainty. After giving some time or effort, users will start wondering “when is it going to end?”. What we can do, at least, is to let users know where they are at and how far they’ve gone. First, progress tracker provides a psychological comfort to let users know that they are moving forward. Just like bus trackers, it doesn’t make the bus any quicker, but it tells the riders where the bus is and how long they should expect to wait. Second, a progress tracker gives users a little sense of accomplishment. It tells users “I’ve been halfway through. I don’t want to give up now”.

4. Provide a shortcut because no one enjoys it

It’s common sense that users don’t like spending time on installation. They may enjoy using your product, but they will never enjoy the installation. To many users, the goal is to complete the installation as quickly and smoothly as possible so they can start to use the application. Not all users need 3rd-party plugins or add-ons, maybe they just want to use the core functions of your product. We can figure a most common way to configure the installation and allow users to skip several optional steps.

5. Try to place nested lists with Miller columns

Installation is not a website, often times, it has a specific window size. If you have a long nested list of options for users, you are making the users scroll up and down several times. Maybe Miller Columns is a better way for you to display the list.

6. The tooltip debate

You may argue that tooltip is a dangerous way to display information because users may miss the message. I agree with you and I think tooltips should only display secondary information such as explanation ofcertain terms. But if you let me choose between putting everything on the same page or using tooltips, I will choose tooltips without a thought. First, tooltips split the secondary information and display only one at a time, so users won’t be annoyed by a whole page of texts. Second, users can choose to ready or not. With tooltips, users will easily know what information is primary and what is secondary; without tooltips, all information is in parallel and equally important when users read it.

Read more: Being Picky: An Airbnb Usability Review