User interfaces form a critical component of many products that we use: Mobile phones, household electronics, computer software, websites – these are but just a few common categories. In this discussion, we will focus on the user interface for computer-based systems, which we will call the GUI (graphical user interface) from here. Users interact heavily with and control the computer-based systems via the GUI, and thus it is important to note that the success of the user (as well as your product) depends not just on how powerful the hardware is, but also how easy the users perceive it is to use the software to (effect the entire system and) accomplish their task.
This is not meant to be a be a technical UI/UX (User Experience) run-down, but I will present 4 quick tips on a high-level view of product design for you to consider when you are starting off with your product’s GUI design. This will hopefully let you see the GUI from your customer’s (the user) perspective, and observe how an effective GUI can provide excellent value for the user, and boost user perception for your product.
1. Keep it simple
Yes, this is not a new concept. Simplicity is one of the most advocated traits for many product designs, as well as GUI design. A simpler GUI makes it easier for users to learn and pick up, and subsequently, less tendency to make unexpected errors. And this will ultimately lead to the user being able to use the GUI to accomplish his or her task with relatively less pain and in a shorter amount of time. By ensuring your customers are successful, this can then allow them to focus more energy on other aspects of their jobs. Often this last point is overlooked, as product designers are centered around their creation and how their users will interact with their creation only.
2. Provide Feedback
Humans err, and a simple GUI will help to reduce the number of mistakes that your human users could make. In addition to keeping it simple, an effective GUI will always provide some form of feedback as an acknowledgement to action made by the user. In this way, the user can reaffirm that his or her action is correct as it draws the right response from the system, which then positively reinforces learning and helps build trust towards the system. For instance, a pop-up notification window can be used to tell users that their action has been captured by the system. An LED on the GUI lights up when an option is selected. Instead of having the users memorize their selection, this feedback mechanism is more obvious at a single glance. It also makes it very convenient for the users to refer to.
3. Know your users and their workflow
Some new products do not get adopted very well by their intended target market, even if they are disruptive technologies and hold enormous potential as compared to their competitors. One of the key possible reasons is that the product does not fit in well with the users’ existing workflow processes. Humans are creatures of habit, and there could be significant resistance if your new product requires a large amount of effort to adjust into the current workflow.
In addition, once you understand your users’ workflow, you can design a GUI in which program flows and terminologies are familiar to the users, which will reinforce learning and make them more comfortable using your product. This will help lead to easier adoption.
4. Intuitiveness (Colors and Symbols)
This builds upon the previous point on user workflow. Besides understanding terminologies of your users, consider using colors and symbols that are commonly used in their industry. These help to build familiarity and confidence when using the GUI. For example, physical “Emergency Stop” buttons in the industry are usually bright red. By implementing your GUI “Emergency Stop” button in the same color scheme, users will be able to associate with their industry standard easily. Do be careful of using too many colors though – this can have the effect of distracting the user!
As an engineer or scientist, we are always drawn into the technical aspects of our GUI and product. It is as important to put ourselves in our target market users’ shoes, and design a GUI that is able to accomplish their task easily and in a relatively painless way. This will allow them to be successful on their job, and make them confident of your product. This positive perception gives plenty of value to your product, and ultimately aids in more effective product adoption and market penetration.