Whether they’re designing a graphical or text-based interface, UI designers are always on the lookout for a better end product. This search most always leads them to one basic but far-reaching question: how can I make my design simpler?
Design simplicity seems like a straightforward process, but ask any developer or designer and they’ll tell you that it’s easier said than done. How can you best simplify your UI or GUI design? Follow our guide to get an idea of what you should and shouldn’t do for better simplicity success.
How to Make a Bad Design
Sometimes understanding the opposite result of your objective can help you better understand how to achieve it. Case-in-point: let’s use the example of Refrigerator X.
Today’s consumer-level appliances typically come with a UI console to program or configure. Here’s how the developers of the interface for Refrigerator X approached their design:
- Complex, Multi-Layered MenusThe designers here kept their options highly organized into layered menus that clearly outlined everything to their team. To the design team, the multi-layered menus made it easier to find and access every individual feature they needed to test.But from an end-user perspective, what does this menu system look like? For everyday users, complicated, multi-tiered menus make the UI confusing and frustrating to find features and then set preferred functionality.
- Industry-Specific Terminology & AbbreviationsTo a refrigerator designer, abbreviating a term like “Temperature Control System” to “TCS” makes perfect sense, but does it make the same amount of sense to an end-user unfamiliar with fridge terminology? To them, it’s nothing more than a confusing set of acronyms with no clear explanation.
- Easily Confused Commands & OptionsAmbiguous or repetitive commands probably look fine in their specific context – to a designer or programmer – but if similar commands are present in a UI, they’re probably highly confusing to an end-user. For instance, if the term “Change Temperature” is buried under two separate menus for the fridge and freezer sections of Refrigerator X, users might not differentiate one from the other – winding up with frozen ketchup and melted ice cream.
From a manufacturer standpoint, perhaps the argument could be made that this design was helpful to the UI programmers. After all, the approach made development a bit easier and faster for the team.
However, the critical point within any design is to recognize the end-user (no matter who that is). Are Refrigerator X programmers and designers going to be the only end-users for their product? Of course not – and that’s where they made a tremendous mistake.
The bottom-line here is to respect the “who” behind your design. And in nearly every circumstance, that means simpler is better.
3 Design Principles for a Better UI/GUI
Follow these 3 basic principles during your UI design and implementation for best results.
- Know Your Audience.Simplicity starts and stops with your end users. Look at the example of bad menu design discussed above. Your end-users don’t find a multi-layered menu system convenient or easier to understand and use. Instead, that complicated menu makes changing one refrigerator setting a huge hassle.By knowing your audience, you can begin to better understand how you can simplify your design. Keep these questions in mind as you pare down your UI:
How will people access or use this device/equipment?
Where are people installing or using the equipment?
What are the most commonly changed or accessed options?
Questions like these help you get in the mind of equipment or device owners. As a result, they can give you the knowledge you need to simplify your UI design.
- Listen to Your Users.In order to better understand your audience and their needs, you first have to actively listen to what they’re saying. Designers may not be able to see a menu design in the same way as a typical end-user. Who better to ask about features and usability than the users themselves.Getting real user feedback can give developers and designers much more insight into what’s best for their UIs. Make sure to include this aspect within development to add even better overall results to usability.
- Test, Test, Test for Usability (not just Functionality).Obviously programmers will spend an extensive amount of time testing their UI’s overall functionality. We all know that programming errors or problems are a major problem for devices, appliances and other equipment.The principle of design simplicity doesn’t rest only on functionality, however. It rests on usability too. If you generate graphics code for your UI and run on test hardware during development, you get the opportunity to test BOTH before the product goes to final hardware. This ultimately saves time and money and increases your final product usability. It’s a win-win-win!
Working Toward Simple, Effective UI Design
Ironically, UI developers need to work harder to make their UIs easier. It’s no simple task to incorporate all the necessary components of a device into a usable and convenient interface. However, for the sake of your customers and end-users, work toward that Holy Grail of simplified design.
By seeing what not to do and listening to your audience, you’ll make your way toward simpler and more accessible UIs. Never lose sight of these principles to ensure you’re staying on the right track throughout your development.