On the Importance of Good User Interface Design
It seems obvious, but itís often ignored. A good user interface design can spell the difference between acceptance of a software product and its failure in the marketplace. If the end-users find the software to be too cumbersome or difficult to understand, then an otherwise excellent product could be doomed to failure. The developerís goal should be to make the software as professional-looking and easy to use as possible.
Sadly, Iíve found that a great many companiesóespecially small or highly specialized software firmsópay little attention to the mechanics of good user interface style. ďAs long as it works, thatís what matters!Ē seems to be their mantra, with little regard for the inconvenience that this imposes on the user.
Thankfully, thatís not how we operate at our company. Our team of developers invests considerable effort into making out user interfaces as intuitive and foolproof as possible, since we know that this is something our customers would appreciate. Iíve often commended my teammates for recognizing that excellence is worth pursuing.
Going back to the topicÖ I canít remember how many times Iíve encountered software that was designed to work, but with little regard for ease of use. If the software forces the operator to constantly consult a manual or a cheat sheet, then thatís a pretty good indication that the user interface needs improvement. Similarly, the software should allow the user to perform tasks quickly and efficiently, without sacrificing power and flexibility. This seems intuitive, and yet these considerations are so often lacking.
The sad part is that these shortcomings can often be cured using a few simple guidelines. For example, it helps if the user can enter data using buttons and list boxes, instead of typing it in by hand. It helps if the software provides pop-up dialog boxes, to guide the user along the way. Even the judicious choice of icons and other graphics can turn a steep learning curve into a short and gentle slope.
For that matter, even such trivial matters as spelling and grammar deserve attention. Poorly phrased instructions can severely hinder an operatoróand even if they donít, they do reflect poorly on the developers of that application.
There is much more that can be said about the mechanics of good user interface design, but thatís a topic on which entire book can be (and have been) written. Suffice to say that a company that strives for excellence should pay close attention to the elements of software usability and flexibility. These are critical elements of software excellence, and they are worth pursuing.
This article was posted on November 03, 2004
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