Monday, October 22, 2007

7 Critical Considerations for Designing Effective Applications

The first threee of seven design tips ...

"Our user, a world-traveling executive with a fondness for the finer things in life, showed tremendous interest in WhiteTie's brand new personal concierge service. While visiting WhiteTie's web site, the executive carefully reviewed the content to learn more about how the service worked and what she'd get for her (very pricey) annual fee.

She was attracted to a section in the center of the page, appropriately labeled "What We Offer". Here, our executive found the encouragement to click on links with labels like "Northwest Airlines", "Restaurants", "Nightlife", and "Travel & Services". The site's copy promised her they could get exclusive restaurant reservations and tickets to local events, which, since she liked to impress her clients and guests, excited her.

Though the site told her to click on the links to learn more about their offerings, the site failed to actually tell her any more. She expected a full page for each service detailing, for example, which restaurants they could get reservations in, how it worked, how many days in advance she needed to make the reservations, how they handled last minute arrangements, and the dozens of other questions that had been populating her thoughts while exploring the service.

Instead, the site responded by replacing the picture on the screen and offering four bullet points with unhelpful phrases like "centralized concierge line" and "other special amenities." The designer's clever JavaScript to swap in the new picture and bullets was slick, yet the executive remained completely unimpressed, eventually giving up on the service altogether.
Remembering What's Important

The tools we have today to develop online applications are tremendously powerful. Whether working in a browser environment for web-based applications or using the power of today's powerful desktop environments, we can build applications that respond fast, provide high interactivity, and handle complex tasks and goals for the user. JavaScript, AJAX, Flash, Flex, AIR, WPF, Silverlight, and many other tools give today's developers amazing power to create applications that were quite unimaginable just a few years ago.

Yet, just because we can provide all these tools doesn't mean we'll automatically build applications users can use to achieve their goals. In fact, it's very easy to become distracted by the technology and forget the basics of interaction design, leaving the user with a slick application that doesn't meet their needs.

As we're designing our applications, it's important we remember these seven critical considerations for creating effective applications:

1. Design for Satisfactory Detail

While it's very likely our executive would enjoy the WhiteTie service, the site didn't provide enough detail to help her decide if they really did what they said they would do.

Almost every application requires the user to make choices. It's up to the designers to ensure they provide enough information to make the right choice, without overwhelming the user with too much information. They need to describe the information using language familiar to the user, not filling with jargon or technical terms the user can't understand.

When a design asks a user to make a choice, the user clearly needs to know what the differences are between them. If the application has further steps, the user often needs to know there are further important activities (such as determining shipping costs or entering payment information), so they can plan accordingly."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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