What are the best practices in user interface (UI) design?
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It is certainly hard to disagree that whether the user interface is well designed and attractive, can strongly affect the success of an application or any other digital product. Of course, this should always go hand in hand with the flawless operation and functionality of the entire software. After all, you won’t like even the most beautifully decorated cake if the filling is tasteless and spoiled. Therefore, like with other steps in software development, the UI design process should be approached properly, with an emphasis on its high quality.
When designing user interfaces, it is also necessary to take care of the user experience. There is a reason why UI designers are also often UX experts – these are inseparable, complementary elements. Hence, the development team undertakes numerous behavioral research before starting the actual UI design process. After all, the most important thing is to create something useful just for your target group. A good UI should not disturb the user in using the application, it should even be in some sense, imperceptible. It is not about creating something boring, a bit of flair when designing is certainly advisable, but most of all, you should take care of intuitiveness and clarity. To increase the chances of success when creating user interfaces, designers often follow certain principles of interface design. They represent high-level concepts that are used to guide software design. Today we will focus on the principles proposed by Ben Shneiderman in Designing the User Interface – Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design.
What is UI?
Let’s start with what this user interface is. The general definition is that it is a certain space where human-machine interaction occurs. In the case of various types of applications, UI is the part of the software that deals with the handling of input/output devices intended for user interaction. UI is also the only part of the application visible to the general user. The goal of UI design is to make this interaction as simple and efficient as possible in terms of achieving user goals, and it is called the user-centred design.
UI design requires a good understanding of the user’s needs and the platform for which the application is being created. Therefore, the design process consists of many stages and processes, such as collecting functional requirements, analyzing users and their interactions with the system, developing the information flow architecture, prototyping, controlling and testing usability, and finally designing the graphical user interface. Each of these steps is, of course, quite complex, but today we will focus on good practices in UI design in general.
Eight golden rules of interface design – Ben Shneiderman’s way
Ben Shneiderman is an American computer scientist and distinguished university professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland. He conducted basic research in the field of human-computer interaction, developing new ideas, methods and tools. Shneiderman’s most famous work is Eight golden rules of interface design, discussed today, which he published in his book Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction. They are still used today in the field of user interface design and are also applicable to most interactive systems. These principles require verification and fine-tuning for specific areas of design, but are considered a useful guide and some kind of the foundation for the project.
1. Strive for consistency
The consistency of the user interface strongly influences the intuitiveness of navigation through the application or any software. Therefore, striving to achieve it means that in similar situations, consistent sequences of actions should be required. Hence, care should be taken to use the same terminology in tooltips, menus and help screens. Besides, consistent commands should be used throughout the text. Moreover, consistency should cover the entire ecosystem of elements that make up the design of the user interface: icons, fonts, colors, menus, buttons, etc. The use of common and familiar elements in the user interface makes users more comfortable using the application and performs actions faster in it. Do not try to impede your use by introducing confusing signs or patterns. Think about how you react to specific interface elements yourself and how you use them. If something is already coded in users’ behavior, don’t change it, just follow it.
2. Enable frequent users to use shortcuts
As users become more proficient and use the app more, they expect interactions to decline. It is also associated with an increase in the speed of interaction. Therefore, make sure that you recognize the needs of your users, and hence, the application is designed plastically enough to allow for content transformation. Take into account differences in tech-savviness, age ranges, disabilities, international and cultural differences. Each of them enriches the spectrum of requirements that will affect the project. For novice users, add facilitating features such as various explanations. Let your application also have shortcuts, function keys, and other hidden commands that experienced users will appreciate.
3. Offer informative feedback.
As they say, Feedback is a gift. It is the same with UI design. Each user action should include interface feedback. The response may be simple for frequent and minor actions, and more decisive for a bit serious operation. A visual representation of information about the status of a process, especially one that takes longer, is highly desirable. The use of progress indicators is one aspect of UI design that has a huge impact on user experience. Such information is especially important at the beginning of interaction with the application, freshly installed by the user. Proper introduction and guidance through its functioning is very important so that the user does not give up using the app at the beginning.
4. Design dialogs to yield closure.
Designing a sequence of activities should assume their orderly organization, and thus introduce some predictability. The point is that each operation should have its beginning, middle and end. Feedback after completing a group of activities is especially important. It gives users the satisfaction of performing the activity, confirmation of its performance and a sense of relief. An example would be a purchasing path on an e-commerce platform. First, the customer browses the store’s offer, decides on specific items and puts them in the basket, then goes to the checkout and makes a purchase, ending with a transparent confirmation page that completes the transaction. Such a group of activities without ending it with a summary screen would be confusing, confusing and uninformed. Hence, it is essential to design dialogs to yield closure.
5. Offer simple error handling.
The interface should be designed so that, if possible, users do not make serious mistakes. Try to eliminate error-prone conditions and user data loss. But if they do make a mistake, the interface should offer simple, constructive, and detailed instructions on how to deal with the error. Such erroneous actions should not change the state of the interface, or the interface should give instructions to restore the previous state. Make sure you create appropriate messages that will not cause frustration in the event of a malfunction and will inform you about details and give tips on how to solve the problem.
6. Permit easy reversal of actions.
Probably nothing upsets the users more than accidental confirmations of changes and the inability to undo them. Therefore, actions should be reversible whenever possible. This feature will have a positive effect on the use of the application and alleviate possible anxiety as users know that errors can be undone. It will also be a certain incentive to discover the application and its new features. After all, if the user has to be extremely careful with every action they take, it leads to a bad, stressful experience, and that’s what you want to avoid. An example of such an option can be, depending on the type of application, e.g. the Undo button, which allows you to go back one step back in the changes made.
7. Support internal locus of control.
Experienced users of your application are very keen to feel responsible for the system, and for the system to be responsive to their actions. This is related to the mentioned above reversal option, feedback, and additional advanced features for pro users. The idea is to design the system so that users are initiators of activities, not respondents. The transparency of the system and intuitive navigation will make the user very quickly proficient in using the application and, as a result, will want an even more sense of control. Remember about it and take care of the appropriate interface design tailored to the functions of the users. Let the application give the impression of having control over it, but at the same time prevent critical errors caused by misuse. Also take care of the possibility of personalizing the application, which will also make the impression that the user decides on many of its aspects.
8. Reduce short-term memory load.
As human beings, we have a limited ability to process information in our short-term memory. Designers should remember these limitations when designing user interfaces and strive to reduce the cognitive load. It comes down to avoiding forcing the user to remember large pieces of information, reducing the frequency of window movement, entering the same data multiple times, or placing forms that do not fit on one screen. In short, you must avoid designing interfaces where users have to remember information from one screen and then use that information on another screen. This rule is also one of Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics that says, recognition rather than recall. It indicates that users of your website or application should not be expected to remember the choices they made in the earlier stages of interaction with the website/app. If user interactions are interrupted by the necessity to remember something or return to a previously viewed subpage for something, it means that the interface design is not entirely successful.
What is the most important thing a designer should be concerned about when designing an interface?
The rules and compliance with them are, of course, important. Experience in designing and extensive knowledge is also essential, as it helps to see certain dependencies or problems, and helps to avoid them. That is why we asked our UX / UI Designer, Karolina Diłaj, what she thinks is the most important in the user interface design process, from the designer perspective itself:
“The very obvious thing that people tend to forget is the fact that they don’t design interfaces for themselves only. This means during designing there are a lot of aspects you have to take into account. Simple example – interface for someone who is young and likes playing around in apps shouldn’t look perfectly the same for mature users who are always in a hurry or seniors whose needs are even different. All of these targeted groups are potential users of your app? Then take into consideration the context of app usage – is it at home, in the office, on the web/desktop? Do they have to get things done quickly or they can take their time? The optimization process is crucial if we want users to stay with our app a little bit longer. “
This shows very well the essence of interface design, which is user orientation. A good understanding of the target group, their preferences, behavior, possible limitations, and habits is an absolute basis. Taking the time to thoroughly research this aspect and optimize it properly is the key to achieving a good user experience. It is also worth mentioning the KISS principle – Keep It Simple. Simplicity for today’s consumers who are constantly on the go and need quick actions is significant. Instead of overloading the interface, make it intuitive and reduce unnecessary complexity. Add features to speed up processes like remembering preferences, auto-complete forms, and smart search. Competition is awake and constantly lurking for the attention and time of users, so accelerate user adaptation in your application and, as the title of Steve Krug’s book, known to every UX designer, says, Don’t make them think.
There are many aspects to consider when it comes to designing user interfaces. The user experience itself is a pervasive topic, and it is guided by various principles, such as the above-mentioned Nielsen heuristics, the laws of cognitive-behavioral psychology, and others. Designing this graphical user interface, which is most often equated with UI, is one of the last steps, which is shorter than the research and determination of all other features. It is, of course, no less important element. It should be remembered, however, that what comes before the very drawing of the final application or page mockups is the core of the interface and it is from this that the visual representation is created.
Creating the user interface is one of the many steps in the application design process. Everything usually starts with an idea and a certain vision for it. If you are looking for specialists who will meet your expectations and create a great digital product with you, do not hesitate to contact us!