Response to Software UI Design

A written response to three different set of guidelines for creating a great UI Design in preparation for January 25ths Info 200 lecture by David Stearns at the University of Washington Seattle.

UI Design can be down horribly wrong. The entire concept of a user interface is very abstract, so if it is not designed in a recognizable way to the user, it is useless. Since there is so much that can go wrong in designing a UI there are many tips out there to try and help you out. We were asked to read three of these sets of tips and evaluate their commonalities. These three articles are: “Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design” by Ben Schneiderman, “Principles of User Interface Design” by Joshua Porter, and “Core Principles of UI Design” by Jane Portman.

These articles all have different ideas in them, Porter’s is a list of nineteen tips, Scheiderman’s has eight, and Portman narrows it down to five categories. All of these articles do share common theories though. One of which is that your UI needs to have clarity. As Porter puts it, “Clarity is the first and most important job of any interface.” If a user doesn’t know how the interface is suppose to work, what it is suppose to do, and why they care, the UI is pretty much useless. Another idea that they all agree on is a sense of consistency, or familiarity. The user needs to be able to recognize the prompts your are giving them, an easy way to do this is by using a uniform and familiar design. You might want to stand out and look different but, when done wrong, this just leaves users in the dark. The final thing I want to draw their commonality from is that they all say that you need to keep the UI efficient and reduce how much the user is having to look at. When it comes to UI’s, simpler is most likely better. Humans only have so much short-term memory, cognitive space, and attention. As a UI designer it is important to make sure that our user is going to see, read, and understand what you are trying to tell them. Keeping the vital information cleared of the excess is a great way to make sure that happens.

These principles can be used to evaluate websites that already exist today. For example, let’s look at a site that I personally can not go a day without using:

Google’s home screen.

Google is a master of the web. It is the go-to home site for anyone who wants to get somewhere else. The first thing that I see Google doing well is efficiency. They capture your attention with the purpose of the site. There is simply a search bar with two options: Google Search, or I’m Feeling Lucky. Now, even if you didn’t know what these did (though, by now who is left that doesn’t) it is clear by the blinking cursor that you are suppose to type and press on one of the two buttons. Now, if it is your first time it make take a second to conclude which button you would like to press, but all in all it gets you to where they want you to go. They could have crowded you with advertisements, made the sign in more prominent, added all their features on the screen instead of putting them in a menu, but all of that would have overwhelmed you. Google thrives on simplicity.

Google homepage in Italian.

They implore the next principle of consistency and familiarity by following conventions, both their own and universal. They use the universal blinking cursor, the sign in on the upper right corner, and a grid pattern button to signify a menu. These are all things a user can deduct from prior experience from elsewhere on the web. Google also uses its own standards, from the perfect blue (that is used in their logo, sign in button, and hyperlinks) to the subtle grey menu bar that follows you everywhere you go. They stay consistent. These features are the perfect combination of conventions and personal touches. It can be figured out by someone who has never used the site, or by a frequent user who stumbled on to the page in wrong language. For example, I do not know Italian, but I could easily navigate the page pictured above.

Part of the reason Google is so successful is because they focus so much on the user. This has lead them to keeping things simple, clear, and efficient. This multi-billion dollar business is successful for many reasons, but it was made possible by their simple consistent design (and vast database).

The original homepage.
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