Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
An introduction to building a better user interface design that is totally user-centered.
The International Organization for Standardization defines user experience as:
[a] person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and or anticipated use of a product, system or service.
We can say that user experience comprises the feelings and behaviors a user has before interacting with your product, while interacting and after the interaction session is over. This is a holistic definition which also points to the fact that usability, which means being able to use a solution, is not only what user experience entails.
User Interface Design and its Impact on UX
User interface design is a term used to refer to the putting together of all the elements you can see while experiencing a service or using a product. This can mean screen designs, design of components like icons and buttons or even text and images, and everything else in between that the user interacts with.
These elements have to be designed with both the end user and the product or company’s brand in mind so that it provides a great experience for the user and also represents the product just as the manufacturers or builders want it to. This means that a designer is not just a user interface designer because they have to understand the brand, anticipate what the users will need to facilitate ease of use of said product, and design according to those.
While UI and UX are not the same thing, UI design often directly impacts a user’s experience. If the interface is bad, the experience will likely be bad.
Let’s take a look at some tips to improve user experience through careful UX design (which sometimes involve UI design).
Some User Experience Design Tips
Be Guided by Defaults
There are certain underlying ways of doing things that already exist and there is almost always no need to reinvent the wheel by changing them. A great example is how the back/cancel button on most iOS devices is at the top left. As you build your interface, you cannot change that already known concept to something like submit/send. This is way off the default behaviors people are used to.
When designing a user experience through an interface, remember to always create easy ways to reverse or undo actions. If a user knows that they are not being penalized, chances are they will be more creative and more open to try out novel features, knowing full well that they can always go back or hit the undo button. Most of the applications we use on a day-to-day basis have all included this ease-of-use concept in their applications.
As much as you can, keep your designs simple — simple to read and understand. The best designs are the ones that seem invisible but which the user totally resonates with and uses. After designing an interface for instance, take some time to ask yourself or your sponsored user about the unnecessary features or elements you might have added. Most of the time, the user just wants something they can easily understand and intuitively use.
Integrate Feedback Systems
In physics, Newton’s third law states simply that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Relating this concept to user experience design, it is expected that for any action or element that indicates a change in behavior (like a click or a hover), a visible or noticeable reaction should follow. For instance, in HTML links are underlined blue by default and they change color if clicked. A submit button should have a reaction that might range from an alert pop-up modal to a change of route to indicate that there has been a change in behavior.
Provision of Guides
Guides are indicators you can call visual cues that are placed strategically in an interface to ensure the users never feel lost. User interface elements like animations or even stationary ones, such as component titles and current page/option highlights, help to show the user where they are and where they can go back/next in the application.
Color and Contrasts
It is said that, in design, colors can serve as a source of direction and diversion of attention. It is important that designers harness the power of colors to ensure that the users are interacting with their user interface as closely as possible to how it was designed to be used. On the other hand, users usually end up surprising the experience builders, so do not be surprised if your interface is used in ways you did not earlier anticipate. But try to control the experience by using colors as simply and straightforwardly as you can. Color can reinforce understanding — like when an action button is the boldest, most noticeable color on the screen. Use that color consistently.
Graceful Exception Handling
A first look at exception handling might remind you of error reporting in the development side of things. But in user experience design it is very key to build a system that can give the user a sort of alert when things that are considered exceptions happen. A good example can be when someone is using your application and the WiFi goes off. Instead of keeping the user hanging, a simple ‘your internet connection is down’ prompt will be so helpful in guiding the user to check on the WiFi they are connected to.
This has a lot to do with defaults but in a deeper way. Being consistent involves implementing user interface elements that are common to the users in regards to defaults, but also maintaining the use of those elements as your brand evolves and the product iterates. Remember how Snapchat pulled out a total redesign of their interface and how you felt about it? Don’t be like Snapchat.
Ease of Navigation
This seems pretty obvious, but it is very important that the user of your interface knows where they are at any given time, where they have been and how to get to where they want to be intuitively. So navigation should be very clear to encourage freedom of exploration. This will reduce the chances of any form of intimidation while using your solution.
If you use an application for the very first time, often you will see that, as you interact with the interface, some first-time-user cues pop up in the display without disturbing the user flow. This is a great example of being accommodating of all levels of users on your product. So the app should be fast enough for a returning or “power user” and slow enough for a first timer to understand easily how things work without stress.
To Wrap it All up
This post has introduced user interface design and tried to show user experience designers a few ways to ensure that they are totally user-centered in the solutions or interfaces they build. Building from a place of empathy and totally understanding the user, what they do, how they feel and everything you can about them can help in designing really great experiences for them.