UI designers face the challenge of designing user interfaces that not only are functional but also are aesthetically pleasing and able to meet consumer expectations. Design a UI that is too confusing, and consumers or users won’t use the product. Design a UI that is too simplistic, and consumers will view your product as subpar. The key is for the UI designer to highlight elements to grab and hold a user’s attention while ensuring the user interface is intuitive and simple enough to use. That’s a hefty load for user interface designers, and that’s why we take a look at four must-follow user interface design principles:
- Focus on the elements that deliver value
- Design a frustration-free user interface
- Make the interaction as natural as possible
- Ensure clarity and usability
1. Focus on the Elements That Deliver Value
A beautiful user interface design is nothing if it’s not functional. As product designer and digital project manager Ray Sensenbach states, “Truly great designers never gild the lily – instead, they focus on the elements of their solutions that truly bring value.” As such, designers must be problem solvers above all else. Each of your UI design elements should have a purpose that positively impacts the overall product and delivers a solution to users.
One way to ensure your elements serve a purpose is to engage in playing what Sensenbach refers to as the Why Game. Always ask yourself or your design team why you are including each element in your design. If your answer boils down to nothing more than it looks good, you are not designing with a focus on delivering a valuable solution.
2. Design a Frustration-Free User Interface
Users expect your product or device to make their lives easier, rather than more difficult. Designing a frustration-free user interface is critical to helping users enjoy interacting with the product and want to continue using it. Thus, your UI design process must involve understanding your users and their goals if you are going to avoid causing them to become frustrated. The first experience your users will have with your product will occur while interacting with your UI, and you cannot design the UI as an afterthought if it will meet their goals.
Another way to design a frustration-free user interface is to test your UI design and make sure it is simple enough for users to navigate easily. Watch people use your product or device in a mock situation that is as true to life as possible. Determine how easily they can navigate your UI and achieve their goals. Ensure your interface is intuitive enough for both experienced and less experienced users.
3. Make the Interaction as Natural as Possible
Technological advancements in recent years have focused on making device control and interaction as natural as possible, and Berkeley startup Chirp Microsystems is looking at moving UI design forward with ultrasound. Their microelectromechanical systems-based time-of-flight (MEMS-based ToF) sensor uses ultrasound to give users touch-free control of their devices by enabling them to use hand and finger movements. While UI designers and engineers have worked with light and camera-based systems to create touch-free systems, Chirp is focusing on ultrasound to gain unparalleled accuracy and lower power consumption. The most advanced devices and products may soon enable users to wave their hand to scroll, move their hand to increase or lower volume, and make a finger movement to activate commands or click an element. If you’re going to beat the competition, your UI will have to make the interaction as natural as possible like Chirp is doing.
4. Ensure Clarity and Usability
UI designers must not lose sight of the fact that their interfaces are the link between their product or device and the user. Effective UI designs easily are recognized, understood, and used by consumers. The way to achieve an effective design is to design with clarity in mind. Users cannot be confused by your design or how to interact with it; they also must be able to predict what will happen when they press a button or interact with an element. Designing for clarity helps users feel as though they are in control of the product or device and gives them confidence to use it. The worst thing that can happen to a designer is realizing during testing that people don’t want to use their product or device because they don’t understand your UI design.
As with clarity, usability must be at the forefront of a designer’s mind when creating a user interface. User interfaces must help people interact with devices and products, and your design needs to include only those elements that are critical to usability. Do not add extraneous colors, elements, or buttons (remember the Why Game from principle #1). The user interface should enable usability rather than hinder it and make the user feel as though he is in complete control and directly manipulating the product.
UI designers will design much more effectively if they focus on the elements that deliver value, design a frustration-free UI, make the interaction as natural as possible, and ensure clarity and usability.