Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Should We Expect Programmers to be User Interface Designers?

Back in December I had a conversation with a CEO from a software company. During of our conversation he said user interfaces tend to be a manifestation of what the programmers are coding. In other words, what the end-user sees is the programmer's vision of what they think the interface should be. When that happens, the interface becomes far too technical and doesn't take the end-user's needs, preferences or goals into account.

I certainly don't mean to stereotype and neither did this CEO. Programmers are good at what they do, which is implementing the requirements and architecture of an envisioned application. They also work hard to test and deploy the application upon completion. If they do all this work, is it fair to expect programmers to be user interface designers?

Designing interfaces encompasses a range of disciplines that I don't feel many programmers are all that interested in. It's the Someone, Someplace and Something model I revealed back in February. Taking this into account will help develop a good user interface. How one arrives there entails things such as user analysis (identifying needs, constraints and objectives) and information architecture (the flow or process of information that enables the end-user to accomplish their goals and tasks).

It's all about what's in front (the interface that the end-user sees and interacts with) and what's below the surface (the coding that makes the application do what it does). If an application is crucial to a business process, leave the programming to the programmers and let the interface designers have a crack at contributing to the production of a usable product.

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