"Many winners employ dashboards to give users a single overview of complex information and use lightboxes to ensure that users notice dialogs. Also, the Office 2007 ribbon showed surprisingly strong early adoption.
The winners of the first competition to identify the 10 best-designed application user interfaces are:
* Campaign Monitor by Eyeblaster (Israel): Integrated management of multiple advertising campaigns for media buyers.
* CMSBox by CMSBox (Switzerland): Content management system.
* FotoFlexer by Arbor Labs (USA): Photo editor.
* PRISMAprepare by Océ (The Netherlands): Print shop software.
* Seating Management by Magellan Network and DesignBox (USA): Hostess-stand reservation book for restaurants.
* SQL diagnostic manager by Idera (USA): Database performance monitoring and diagnostics.
* SugarSync by Sharpcast (USA): Synchronizing files across multiple computers.
* SuperSaaS by SuperSaaS (The Netherlands): Creating and hosting scheduling and reservation systems.
* Wufoo by Infinity Box, Inc. (USA): Online forms, surveys, invitations, and payments.
* Xero by Xero (New Zealand): Accounting for small businesses.
As with all our design competitions, winners came from around the world, covering 4 continents. In this competition, we had our first winner from the Middle East, as well as a strong showing from The Netherlands, given its size.
Of the winning applications, 70% are Web-based and 40% are locally hosted. Yes, this sums to 110% — we counted SugarSync twice because it's both Web-based and PC-/Mac-based. In fact, like several other winners, it also has a component for mobile devices.
Although dedicated mobile apps are not yet good enough to win in their own right, it was striking how many of this year's winners have a mobile component. Mobile is definitively the trend to watch for next year, and any application owner should think hard about whether and how to add mobile features in 2009.
You'd think that there would be little common ground between marketing managers overseeing advertising campaigns and database administrators overseeing SQL servers. And you'd be right, as indicated by the many differences in the detailed design of the 2 winning applications for these distinct business users.
You can't just plop a "dashboard" design pattern into your app and expect it to support business users; they have highly domain-specific needs.
Still, the similarities are amazing when comparing the Campaign Monitor and the SQL diagnostic manager. Both need alerts, and both must avoid issuing too many alerts because doing so could cause users to overlook the most-important emergencies. Both also need drilldowns. Finally, both display selected forms of current status in a single overview, which lets users see the health of their ads or servers in a glance.
The general challenges of managing large amounts of information and giving users a single view of complexity was addressed across many of the winning applications. Seating Management, for example, shows which tables are expected to be vacated (and when), as indicated by color-coding on a floor plan of the restaurant. A very different UI tied into a physical space, and yet one that also offers an overview-at-a-glance.
Most winners also use progressive disclosure to great effect. It's a simple idea that improves usability across a very broad range of contexts.
Freeform vs. Linear Task Flow
Many of the winning applications target a broader audience than similar apps have aimed for in the past. That's of course why they emphasized usability, and why they achieved an award-winning user experience.
A primary challenge in simplifying the initial experience for less-expert users is that you might create something that's too restrained for your traditional users. Many of our winners addressed this dilemma by emphasizing a linear task flow for the newbies, while also offering a more traditional open-ended set of commands for the experts.
Wizards abound this year as the preferred approach for guiding users through the application. But these wizards are more flexible and less dumbed-down than the restrictive wizards we've seen in the past. So, having witnessed this improved user experience, we now declare that it's time for a wizard renaissance. (Still, in most cases, you should also provide a non-wizard UI for expert users or people who prefer a freeform task flow.)" (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) [Usability Resources]