Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keeping It Simple - Making User Interfaces Intuitive

Rik Catlow of Rikcat Industries posted to his blog 5 Ways to Make a User Interface Intuitive.

I completely agree with Rik and wish more developers of software, web applications and websites embrace simplicity in the design of user interfaces. I'm sure if you take stock of the applications you use on a daily basis or applications you have used in the past, you'll recall how most of them are confusing leaving you to fumble around just to accomplish a simple task.

Much of this is common sense and when simplicity is chosen over complexity it is not about compromise. It is about being targeted and precise in your intentions and purpose behind your application.

Here are Rik's suggestions on making a user interface intuitive along with some of my own commentary:

  1. Eliminate Redundancy: most applications have different ways to accomplish the same task. Reduce the redundancy and simplify the tasks to a select few.
  2. Nomenclature & Contextualization: I sum this up as a controlled vocabulary and proper labeling. Don't be cute with titles linking to other pages or sections in your website or web application. If you have a section with a list of links to other websites or links to e-books and presentations, don't call it "The Pit" or "Library". Call it what it is. Call it "Links". This is about knowing your audience and you must speak their language in your application's interface.
  3. Consistency: the overall look and navigation of your application must be the same throughout, no matter where a user is in the application.
  4. Protect Screen Real Estate: if you work with many people on a project, there is a tendency for others to jockey for position to take up space on the screen for their pet projects or areas of interest. Make it clear that it is about the end-users and what is relevant to them.
  5. Testing: make sure you test your application or website with actual end-users. Run a series of tests from paper-based, wire frame prototypes to functioning prototypes. Testing need not be complex, but it must be objective.

Along with these 5 suggestions, here are a few books and a link to a useful web article that will help you create a intuitive user interface:


Web Articles

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eliminate Redundancy?
I'm not sure I agree with that one. I think that may be an oversimplification of the issue. There is much research to the contrary saying that you should provide 'expert' modes of performing the same task. So that as people get more experienced in using your interface, they are able to use shortcuts to get their tasks done quicker. An example of this is Windows/Mac usage of Edit->Copy vs. the expert keypress of ctrl-c.

I do agree that providing the same method visually in the same interface may create visual clutter and make menus harder to use. However, the choice to create redundancies should be based on the tasks to be performed and not a hard & fast rule about providing only one method for performing a task.