The design of a user interface is not as simple and intuitive as many people may think. The most common mistake that designers and developers make is to start from the idea that users think like them. But this almost never happens. The designer is not the end user of the product. The person who created the product knows everything, knows it from inside and knew it even before creating it. That person needs to understand that users will see the product for the first time when, for example, they open a web page and if they cannot navigate or they don’t like the graphics, they may very well close that page and leave the site. This can happen with any product for which an appropriate user interface was not created.
We can conceive the most complex and advanced product possible, but if we do not think about how to present it and how to make it “usable”, it will never be possible to appreciate how good that product is.
The goal of user interface design is to make the experience of using a product fluid and not clumsy or complex. To attain this goal the creation of a user interface comes about through three components. The first is User Research, the need to know as much as possible about the people who will use the product. This includes understanding their technical competence, the tasks they need to perform, and the distractions they may have. The second component is the Design Plan, or how to go from an idea to the realization of a product. The third is how to improve the Usability Experience of the chosen solution. The most complex phase is understanding what the user wants and understanding what are his habits. Everything revolves around this: you have to simplify life for the user, not complicate it.
To achieve a good user interface you have to keep in mind first of all some human factors. People have limited short-term memory. Some psychological studies have reported that people can instantly recall up to seven pieces of information at a time. If a user is given more information there will be a greater possibility of generating confusion. People can make mistakes. If the system responds with messages that are too generic and unclear the user’s stress level can increase and can lead to abandoning the system. For this reason we must try to minimize the possibility of user error.
There exist some design principles that are always good to keep in mind:
- User familiarity – The interface should use terms and concepts that are familiar to users, rather than to programmers.
- Consistency – Consistency such as commands and menus should have the same format throughout the interface, and they should follow the same conventions.
- Minimal surprise – Users should be able to predict the operation of commands by recognizing their similarity to commands they already know.
- User guidance – Aids, constraints, and tips should help the user to better utilize the interface.
- User diversity – It must be possible to present the interface in different ways corresponding to the needs and preferences of different users
Paying attention to all these points will lead to the realization of an interface that is very fluid and above all usable.
Of course the eye also plays its part. A good interface is not enough, it must also be an attractive interface. This is of course very subjective. These days we are inclined to prefer a simple style, just reflect on the terms ”flat” and “material” design. In fact, it is actually their simplicity that makes them beautiful and above all enjoyable to use.
The user interface world is constantly evolving, just think of “augmented reality” and how it has developed over the last few years. The evolution of recent consumer electronics is actually searching to make our “virtual” experience more “natural”: from the multi-touch screens introduced by Steve Jobs, to the “gestures” of Kinect (the motion-sensing device created by Microsoft for the Xbox), and including Google Glass and the visors for virtual reality (like Oculus Rift). The input mechanisms in digital environments are becoming increasingly “frictionless”, i.e., they are increasingly fluid, continuous, and instantaneous.
We are going ever more toward what had already been imagined in the 2002 film Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg; to a future dominated by giant screens and multi-touch interfaces, with graphics cards that can be manipulated and moved with just gestures.