Make interfaces Useful, not featureful

Jun 19, 2007 misc-web
This post is more than 18 months old. Since technology changes too rapidly, this content may be out of date (but that's not always the case). Please remember to verify any technical or programming information with the current release.

There seem to be two schools of design lately: Feature rich, RIA designs and simplicity.

There seems to be confusion over what is the right way to design a website or… for that fact, a user interface. With the technological abilities we have for interface design, more options are available. Because of this, we tend to think that more is better. There are others who ignore the fact that we have these advances, and go as simplistic as possible: two buttons and a form. I advocate for a compromise… let me give examples:

Enter your date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy) {calendar}

Who in their right mind is going to load up the calendar, page back years upon years (and mind you, a lot of the calendars are month based, not year based scrollers) and find the exact month and location. A designer recently at (“the triangle”) put this field near a birth date field. This is a waste of resources. The feature needs to be tested and it takes up clutter. Think logically. My advice: Try the feature yourself - are you really going to use it?

Page 1: enter frequency (yearly, monthly). Page 2: enter frequency (annual, month)

Be consistent with your label and options. From time to time, the urge to change your wording may overcome - and you’ll have a new phrase or new corporate communications mandated label: be consistent!! If you are in control, don’t change the phrasing. Change it when the final project is done (note: the actual ‘values’ can still remain the same, we’re just talking about the ‘view’ layer here). If your communications department gives the order, use the ‘find and replace’ feature of your editor or IDE. Its very important to be consistent throughout the design and labeling of your items.

If they want that, they can do that later.

There is a danger with being too simplistic in your design. If the user has to remember about the additional things he has to do after the process is ‘complete’, you dramatically reduce the user experience. When the average Gen-Y can’t remember what they had for breakfast, how are they going to remember to modify their widget preferences later. Try to fit in logical steps in your addition and change process, streamlining the experience but giving enough of the most commonly used actions and details.

Most importantly: interface design is an art - use your best resources here!

There have been many times in my career that I’ve noticed the best resources were not being used to their potential: this is expressly important in user interface design. When I was bit a lil wee programmer, “big boy”, a coworker, designed great tables, interfaces, forms, layouts, etc. Every time I got assigned to do an interface, I shuddered knowing full well he was the better designer at the time. He should have been designing the interface and leaving me to do the menial coding. Recently, at (“the triangle”), I’ve noticed a few decisions being made that are very similar. Their best resource for user interface design now is me - but depending on schedules, other developers (and even non developers sometimes!) are chosen to make the interfaces. This not only frustrates the developers who know better, but also reduces user experience. The years of design expertise that web interface designers have is beneficial to the user - so its best to make best use of it! Use your resources to the best of their ability, not to their schedule.

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