Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Top-10 Application-Design Mistakes

Application design mistakes to avoid ...

"Application usability is enhanced when users know how to operate the UI and it guides them through the workflow. Violating common guidelines prevents both.

It's hard to write a general article about application design mistakes because the very worst mistakes are domain-specific and idiosyncratic. Usually, applications fail because they (a) solve the wrong problem, (b) have the wrong features for the right problem, or (c) make the right features too complicated for users to understand.

Any of these three mistakes will doom your app, and yet I still can't tell you what to do. What's the right problem? What are the right features? What complicating curlicues can be safely cut from those features? For each domain and user category, these questions have specific and very different answers.

The only generalizable advice is this: rather than rely on your own best guesses, base your decisions on user research:

* Conduct field studies and task analysis before deciding what your app should do.
* Paper prototype your initial ideas before doing any detailed design — and definitely before wasting resources implementing something you'd have to change as soon as you get user feedback.
* Design iteratively, conducting many rounds of quick user testing as you refine your features.

Of course, people don't want to hear me say that they need to test their UI. And they definitely don't want to hear that they have to actually move their precious butts to a customer location to watch real people do the work the application is supposed to support.

The general idea seems to be that real programmers can't be let out of their cages. My view is just the opposite: no one should be allowed to work on an application unless they've spent a day observing a few end users.

(Whatever you do, at least promise me this: Don't just implement feature requests from "user representatives" or "business analysts." The most common way to get usability wrong is to listen to what users say rather than actually watching what they do. Requirement specifications are always wrong. You must prototype the requirements quickly and show users something concrete to find out what they really need.)

All that said, there are still plenty of general guidelines for application UIs — so many, in fact, that we have a hard time cramming the most important into our two-day course. Here's my list of 10 usability violations that are both particularly egregious and often seen in a wide variety of applications."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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