Designing a good user interface (UI) can often be a juggling contest, trying to succeed in every goal you have for the interface without there being a conflict of interest somewhere along the line. For example, by trying to make the interface pleasing to the eye, functionality and ease of use might be impaired.
So, how does one define a UI as being “good”? A good user interface is one that allows the user to carry out their intended actions efficiently and effectively, without causing too much of a distraction. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the best UIs aren’t the most in-your-face spectacular designs, but rather the ones that work subtly in the background to allow users to complete their tasks with ease, like a benevolent but nearly invisible presence.
So, without further ado, here are some of the most important aspects to consider when designing a user interface:
1) Intuitive and consistent design
For an interface to be easily useable and navigable, the controls and information must be laid out in an intuitive and consistent fashion. Your users are probably well acquainted with many other interfaces, and you should be too if you want to achieve a level of familiarity for your users. Coming out with an entirely new layout for your interface might sound like a highly rewarding, paradigm-breaking project, but for all practical purposes, if you want users to feel at home then follow the path of your predecessors! Logic of usability should play a big part in the design process: features that are the most frequently used should be the most prominent in the UI and controls should be consistent so that users know how to repeat their actions.
If a user is not able to understand his or her way around your interface, all the time you spent perfecting the software’s functionality is rendered useless. Both in terms of visual hierarchy and content, there should be absolutely no ambiguity over the way your interface operates. One of the difficulties in striving towards having a clear UI is knowing when to elaborate and when to be concise. As a general rule of thumb, the quicker and easier something can be explained without losing any of the semantic meaning or factual information, the better! While a UI should be designed so that users can easily run tasks without the help of a manual, it doesn’t hurt to implement some clearly labelled help documentation just in case.
3) High responsivity
For a user to enjoy using your interface, it cannot feel as if the interface is lagging to keep up with their mouse clicking and keyboard tapping. If the interface fails keep up with the demands of the user, this will significantly diminish their experience and can result in frustration, particularly when trying to perform basic tasks. Wherever possible, the interface should move swiftly in pace with the user, and where this isn’t possible, a loading sign or some other actively updated information should be presented to the user to stop them from feeling “disconnected” from the interface. A slow-running interface can give the impression of poor or faulty software, even if this is far from the truth!
Call it flexibility if you wish - a UI should have the capacity for updates to be installed and changes to be integrated without causing a conflict of interest. For instance, you may need to add an additional feature to the software, if your interface is so convoluted that there is no space to draw attention to this feature without compromising something else or appearing unaesthetic, then this signifies a flaw in design.
Aesthetics are by no means the most important part of an interface, and a pretty look cannot make up for a poor design. However, so long as you don’t get the sauce confused for the meal, some aesthetically pleasing typography and a pleasant colour scheme can go a long way in making the user feel more at home when using your interface. Again, the aesthetics you choose for your interface must be appropriate for the particular user - so perhaps some market research is required to determine exactly what your users are looking for.