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Visually beautiful, clear and forgiving user interfaces

UI Design Effective User InterfacesEffective interfaces are visually beautiful, clear and forgiving. Users quickly see their options, grasp how to use the application, and can settle down to do their work. The overall experience should be aesthetically pleasing, fun and effective. It should never leave a user guessing.

As an user interface designer, I want my work to be as usable as possible for the end-user.

On the web and in apps, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If an application is difficult to use, people leave. If the website fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on in an app, they leave. If app's information is hard to read or doesn't answer users' key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here?

There's no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. Leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty.

So how do I ensure this doesn't happen?

My four design principles for friendly user interfaces.

1. Learnability
How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks when they first enter the app or website? This is probably one of the most important principles for me. I think designers can get off track here quickly and focus on designing the "cool" factor rather than focusing on usability and purpose. Don't leave the user guessing when they first enter the app or website. Be clear and provide direction.

2. Efficiency
How quickly can you guide users to perform their tasks? Closely tied to learnability, you don't want to leave a user guessing as to what to do next. Each screen or page should have a purpose, have a clear call to action (CTA) and provide the user with the information they were looking for. Keep the user occupied and do not distract them. Any distraction will take a user to unintended places. Resist it as much as possible and keep it simple.

3. Memorability
When users return to the app or website after some time, how quickly can they re-connect? This is especially important for apps since most web browers allow users to bookmark their places for easy return and users have access to their browsing history. When building a custom mobile app or web app, give users the ability to save their location or have the app do it automatically. Users will appreciate this!

4. Satisfaction
How pleasant is it to use the app or website? A user should leave an app or website satisfied! This satisfaction is closely related to the purpose of the app and website. Satisfaction is all about knowing your user, their needs, wants and desires and providing them with the tools or content that helps them. Be clear about the intended purpose and get the know your user.

Usability is a necessary condition for survival. The best way to get it right is to connect with your user as soon as possible in the design process.

Develop a heuristic evaluation process so you can identify usability problems quickly. Get hold of some representative users, such as customers or friends that match your user personas. The best way to get results quickly is to ask the users to perform representative tasks with the interface. Have a list of questions ready to go and observe what these users do, where they succeed, and where they fail. Most importantly, let the users do the talking.

John Kosner from ESPN explained that after truly listening to their community and incorporating suggestions into their homepage redesign, ESPN.com revenues jumped 35% last year! Just by simply asking your customers and simplifying your web experience, you too could save your company millions of dollars a year. (Source)

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