Are you a web designer? If so, then you’re an interface designer too, and soon that role will become increasingly important to you.
While websites nowadays have simple user interfaces that consist primarily of navigation and a contact form, new technologies and standards will bring demand for more dynamic and personalized experiences.
This inevitably means a more intense occupation with the topic interface. So let’s take a look at what you should be aware of:
- The law of clarity
The user will disregard interface elements without a clear sense from the outset.
Are you using Gmail? I do it. Until the last update, Gmail had a very clear text navigation at the top of the page – Calendar, Drive, Pages and other Google services were immediately available when clicking on the appropriate button.
Then Google decided to “simplify” everything and hide behind abstract buttons. The result? Most users did not even notice the icons, and Gmail was overwhelmed by a flood of support requests.
People usually avoid and ignore things they do not understand – that’s typical of human nature. Avoid developing interface elements that raise users’ questions about what to do, because no-one will take the time to find out.
- The law of the preferred action
The user will feel better if he understands which step is intended as a preferred action.
Take a look at the Twitter page shown above. Do you think that new users understand what they should do?
Obviously they should twitter a bit. However, the button with the statement “What’s new?” Is not very clear (see the law of clarity), and the input box tends to get lost in its optical environment. From a design point of view, it almost seems that Twitter either wants users to search for something or use one of the options in the navigation menu on the right, as these interface elements stand out the most.
Users should never ask themselves what they need to do next – the next step should be self-explanatory.
- The law of the context
The user expects the corresponding control elements in the vicinity of the respectively associated object.
How do you change your name on Facebook? You go to “Settings” in the upper right corner, click on “Account Settings”, find your name there and click on “Edit”. And how does exactly the same process work on LinkedIn? You click on the pencil next to your name.
Users always expect to find interface elements directly in the immediate context of the objects they want to control. It’s like in real life: If you want to make popcorn you go to your microwave and just press the switch on the device.
It would not be very practical if you ordered your microwave to go down the stairs to the basement, unlock the cellar door, go to the fuse box, and flip the counter numbered G-35 to the microwave popcorn program start (which would correspond to the example of the name change on Facebook).
Make things as easy as possible for your users – if something can be changed or otherwise controlled, place the appropriate controls in close proximity.
- The law of default settings
The user will hardly change certain standard settings.
Is the above linked ringtone somehow familiar? Of course – that was once the most popular ringtone in the world. Why? It was a standard ringtone, and most people have never changed it.
Default settings are useful:
- Most people have a standard background and ringtone on their phone.
- Most people (including you) never change the factory settings of their TVs.
- Most people never change the standard temperature of their refrigerator.
We barely notice certain standards, and yet they dominate the whole world. Make sure that all defaults are as useful and practical as possible – you can assume that most users will never change them.
- The law of the conducted action
The user will probably only do something when asked to do so.
There is a big difference between the expectation that users do something on their own and the specific instruction to do the appropriate action.
For example, when LinkedIn introduced its endorsement feature, users were not expected to find out how to use it. Instead, clearly visible call-to-action banners were created, which appeared directly above the corresponding profile pages. This was associated with the fact that people like to give affirmations about things that made this feature a huge success.
What do we learn from this? If you want your users to do anything, give them a direct order.
- The law of feedback
The user will feel more secure if you give him a clear and consistent feedback.
This is simple logic – the more the users feel that your interface is giving them an action, the safer they will feel.
Gmail is a great example of good feedback. Here you will receive a clear notification for each action taken, which also contains links to further information as well as the possibility to undo the corresponding action. This gives the user the feeling of having everything under control and feels safer in the further handling of the product.
- The law of simplification
The user will be more inclined to perform a complex action when it is divided into small steps.
Compare the form on the left with the one on the right. Both have a similar number of fields, and yet the right one is much easier to handle.
We all hate to fill out long and complicated forms as they seem boring, overwhelming and difficult to check. But if you divide these forms into different steps and display a progress bar, things suddenly seem a lot easier.
It’s the law of simplification – people will do 10 small steps rather than a huge step. Small tasks are less intimidating and give us a sense of affirmation every time we finish them.
Laws or guidelines?
It is not without reason that I have decided to use the word “law” in this article: I have never experienced a case in which the breaking of these laws would have produced a more favorable result than their observance.
There is a penalty for breaking these laws in the form of bad-tempered users complaining about your lousy user interface.
But joking aside: user-interface design is a sensitive and very responsible task. The above laws will help you to accomplish this task better, and if you decide to break these laws, make sure you have a very good reason for doing so.