A website is not a static object that people simply read. It is an interactive environment that acts and reacts based on user input. This input is given in a variety of ways including, scrolling, clicking on links or buttons, and entering information via keyboard or touchpad. The methods used to enter input and the actions that result from that input are known as the user interface. If the user interface has been well designed, the user can intuitively take the correct actions and then receive the results that they are seeking. If the user interface is poorly designed, the user will often be confused as to what they need to do and will frequently receive results that are frustrating.
If you’ve received high praise for a website that you have designed, chances are that your success had much to do with creating a good user interface. If you’ve received criticism, it’s likely been related to a user interface that was less than stellar. In any case, every designer can benefit from a little help when it comes to creating better user interfaces.
Keep it Simple And Predictable
If you look at ten websites that perform similar functions, you will see a lot of differences. The engaging content, color schemes, logos, and other elements can vary greatly. Where you won’t see much difference is in layouts and in the interactive elements of the website. This is because over time, people have come to expect some predictability in user interfaces. This means creating familiarity in where things are located on your pages and how the user performs certain actions to get tasks done.
If you do go with a user interface that doesn’t use standardized layouts and interactions, make sure you have a solid reason for doing so. If your ‘thinking outside the box’ doesn’t result in an interface that is simpler or more intuitive, you aren’t going to have happy users.
Know Your Audience
If you aren’t using analytics to collect information about your visitors, it’s time to start. You can mine this data for information that you can use to understand your audience and their needs. For example, what pages are receiving the most meaningful visits, where are visitors bouncing, and what devices are they using to access your web pages? All of this information can be used to figure out which interfaces need to be repaired and which need to be emulated.
Don’t stop with collecting and analyzing raw data. You must also get to know your audience in human terms.
What is their demographic information?
- What are their values?
- Where do they spend their time on the internet?
- What are their preferred methods of interacting with websites?
- What do they need from you?
When you find the answers to these questions, you can create a truly personalized user interface that works for your audience.
Make Icons as Clear as Possible
Icons are a wonderful thing. They provide a visual representation of an action that usually takes up significantly less space than text. When used correctly, icons add to simple yet elegant user experience. The only drawback comes when it isn’t clear what a specific icon does. This creates confusion and can result in users taking actions in error.
To help users understand what your icons mean, consider attaching text labels to them. Make sure that each icon on a page is visually distinct in order to avoid confusion, and avoid icons that are ambiguous or too fancy/futuristic in their design.
Be Clear About Results
Good user interface comes without any unpleasant surprises. Let users know what is going to happen when they take a certain action. You can accomplish this by using text that is absolutely clear on buttons and links. You should also display a warning when a user is about to take an action that they cannot undo. Even the colors that you use can help users to understand what is going to happen if they do something. Using easily understood and widely used symbols such as a trash can for deleting an item or a magnifying glass to indicate a search function are also helpful.
Let Users Know What is Happening
One thing that is sadly missing in many interfaces is feedback. Imagine what it’s like to spend 10 minutes filling out a form on a website. Then, when you hit enter or click submit, the form clears out and nothing else happens. What happened? Did you just lose all of your information? Should you type it all in again? Wouldn’t it be nice if a simple acknowledgment popped up that your form had been submitted?
People appreciate feedback because it lets them know that their action has been noticed and that something has or will happen as a result. As a web designer, you can provide this feedback by giving users buttons that visually react when clicked, showing page loading animations, or sending confirmation messages to the screen when users take certain actions.
There are many design elements that influence overall user experience. The most important element of all is user interface. If your interface is confusing, and you leave your visitors wondering where to click or what other action to take in order to get what they need, you will lose them to websites that are more intuitive. Implement these tips in your design, and you can significantly reduce the risk of that happening.