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User Interface Rules That Should Never Be Overlooked

A user interface should be clear, attractive, and inherently intuitive. Many, unfortunately, are none of these things.

The perfect user interface is virtually invisible to users. Yet such perfection is rarely achieved. In the meantime, skilled designers are working hard to craft interfaces that are both logical and easy to use.

Yadu Singh, a digital platforms and solutions lead with global technology research and advisory firm ISG, claims that on the enterprise front, most application users crave access simplicity. “Our research and experience show almost all platforms have to be customized by adopters to some extent,” he states. This is particularly true when a product is upgraded. “The out-of-the-box user interface may be difficult, in particular, for users who have developed learned behaviors using older versions.”

Newer, more intuitive interfaces, such as those provided in recent SAP and Salesforce applications, allow users to click through easily to relevant screens, Singh observes. “This mitigates, but does not entirely eliminate, the need for customization,” he notes. “Most of our clients insist on some level of customization to meet their standard processes,” Singh says.

Younger users, meanwhile, typically have a limited attention span with little or no tolerance for lag time, as well as a strong need to multi-task, Singh states. For such users, productivity is paramount. “Anything that slows them down, such as systems that don’t add default values for missing data that can be corrected later, is not well tolerated.”

Clarity

The most important user interface design rule that should never be overlooked is the rule of clarity. Clarity is critical when it comes to user interfaces, says Zeeshan Arif, founder and CEO of Whizpool, a software and website development company.

“When you're designing an interface, you need to make sure your users understand what they can do at all times,” Arif advises. This means making sure that buttons are correctly labeled and that there aren't any unexpected changes or surprises that might confuse users. “If a button says ‘delete’, then it should delete whatever it's supposed to delete -- and only that thing,” he says. “If you have a button that does something else, then either make it a different color or label it differently, but don't put in something in that looks like a delete button but doesn't actually delete anything.”

Simplicity

Don't perplex users by designing a user interface crammed with superfluous options and/or features. “If you have too many buttons on one page, and none of them are labeled well enough for someone who isn't familiar with them, [users will] probably just give up before they even get started using your product, service, app, or website,” Arif says.

Proximity

The most important user interface rule, one that should never be ignored, is the rule of proximity, stresses Sarah Walters, a manager at The Whit Group, a web design, and digital marketing agency. “This rule states that the user should be able to find what they need easily and quickly,” she says. Walters believes that the best way to achieve proximity is by grouping items in a logical manner. “For example, if you have a list of items, and want users to know what each item does, you can group them by purpose,” she suggests. “This makes it easy for users to find what they need quickly and easily.”

Guided action

As its name suggests, the rule of guided action directs users into taking a specific action. Instead of being vague about what you expect users to do or leaving them to guess what to do next, guided action presents a clear idea about the next step so that users aren't frustrated or end up leaving an application or website out of confusion. “From creating banners and effective call-to-actions to incorporating elements that draw a user's attention to specific buttons, this isn't a law you should take for granted if you want to see tangible results,” says Harry Morton, founder of podcast production services company Lower Street.

Least Surprise

Yet another important user interface rule that should never be overlooked is the principle of least surprise. “This principle states that the user interface should behave in a way that's consistent with the user's expectations,” explains Farzad Rashidi, co-founder of Web backlink service provider Respona. “If the user interface behaves in a way that's unexpected or confusing, it will cause users to become frustrated and may cause them to give up.”

Consistency is critical, warns Leandro Cassa, head of user experience at Digibee, an enterprise integration platform. “Consistency enables a smoother interaction, and it brings familiarity and predictability,” he states. “Consistency also reduces friction and the time needed to complete a task.”

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