Saturday, December 29, 2007

Objectives in User Interface Design

Looking at some components of usability ...

"At work we are currently re-doing the architecture of our user interface (UI) layer. We sat down to discuss what our objectives should be in doing this initiative, and I found the objectives so compelling that I think it could apply to any user interface. Below are the major objectives in constructing a UI: consistency, usability, navigation, visual appeal, interoperability, performance, and accessibility.

I should first say that this list and its corresponding description are not intended to be exhaustive. I realize that there are many layers of complexity in this endeavor. Also, you’ll see how inter-dependent they are on one another. If you do one poorly it shows up in the others.

Two Levels of Architecture

Before I get into each of these points I want to talk about the two levels of architecture that are involved in the UI layer. The first is the information architecture (IA) of UI. Here is a great definition for IA.

“Information architecture is the design of the structure and navigation of an interactive product: software, a web-based application or a web site. An effective information architecture assessment bridges the gap between research and analysis and the visual design of your interactive product…The intent of an information architecture assessment and strategy is to properly define effective, goal-oriented interaction between your users and your application or web site.“

The second layer is the technical architecture. Technical architecture is basically how we choose to implement our information architecture programmatically. This would be decisions such as: what is our stylesheet architecture? How much abstraction do we want in our implementation? In summary, it would be how we design our presentation, structure, and behavior layers (what Jeffrey Zeldman called the “Trinity of Web Design”).

Consistency

If I were to say that there was a foundation to others it would be consistency. Without consistency such things as usability, navigation, etc. couldn’t exist. Consistency applies to every aspect of the user interface. Some things to keep in mind when thinking about this:

* Does the layout of our application stay the same with minimal aberrations?
* Is the navigation clear and consistent, or is every click a gamble?
* Do even small details such as the link color/behavior stay the same throughout?

Usability

Usability is the endeavor that is often skipped during development due to resources, which is a shame, because many errors could be discovered earlier. Usability brings the application to the people that will actually use it. How many requirements meetings have you been in that revolve around your end users? Most of the time, whether intentional or not, we tend to project our personal preferences onto this mythical “iUser” that doesn’t exist. If your application is not usable then guess what? No one’s going to use it.

* Have you brought in a sample of your demographic to test the application?
* Does your application adhere to common “best practices”?
* Have you read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think?

Navigation

Navigation is to an application as table of contents are to a book. At a glance I should be able to know where I’m at, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. In other words, navigation should answer the question: Where Am I? I see this as being the aspect that we tend to have the tendency of projecting our preferences onto a design. Navigation should also encompass the taxonomy you have for your site so I know the content of your site.

* What are sites that you find easy/hard to navigate, and do you consider that when designing?
* Does your navigation truly serve the purpose of navigation?
* Is your navigation hidden, or is it prominent, clear, and usable?"    (Continued via Siolon)    [Usability Resources]

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