4 Keys to a Good (Even Great) User Interface
“A good user interface is very important,” we’re often told. But what is a good user interface design, and what makes a good user interface a great user interface?
This post breaks down the 4 key components of a great UI:
It’s incredibly important for an application to be consistent in terms of how it approaches its styling and user experience (UX) patterns. Consistency allows users to learn as they go, and this knowledge in turn helps ease the cognitive load while the user is in the app.
From a styling perspective, a consistent style contributes to a more cohesive visual feel, which leads to an overall more professional and polished user experience. This kind of user-friendly consistency builds trust. A user is more likely to stay engaged with and delighted by a product when they know what to expect, and those expectations are then consistently met.
How to establish consistency
To establish consistency, establish a design system. Whether you're just starting out or you're already shipping to customers, adopting a design system will enable your organization to scale its best design decisions across every customer touchpoint.
Check out this list of all of the great companies—big and small—that have captured their brand and interaction design patterns in one place for every team and department to use whenever they need to design something.
Another great resource is The Component Gallery, which is a collection of interface components from real-world design systems.
Design with Users First and Foremost in Mind
The user should always be your first concern when creating an interface. Digging into their problems is key and should always be the first thing that is understood before an artboard is opened.
Creating a clear, transparent, focused experience for the user should always be front and center. The last thing you want is your user to become confused when using your interface.
How to implement good design principles
Even if you don't have a formal research team at your company, you can adopt lightweight tactics to stay in touch with your ideal customers:
- Start a Discord community
- Create a customer panel of 10-1000 people that you can recruit for customer discovery interviews and usability testing
- Learn effective customer discovery interview techniques by reading Talking to Humans by Giff Constable
Always opt for the simple solution in a good UI design. Simplicity is key. When creating your project, always opt for the simple approach. If you're becoming overwhelmed with designing a feature or functionality, you can bet your user will become overwhelmed using that feature.
Keep things simple to begin with, then iterate when the wheels start moving.
How to establish simplicity
We know it when we see it, but making something simple to use is a journey. There are three keys to driving out a simple user interface:
- Know the platform – If you're designing for the web, learn about web design best practices by reading the book Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewsky. If you're designing for mobile, start with the UX guidelines published by the platform provider. Google and Apple both have excellent documentation for how to create an application appropriate for their platforms.
- Become versed in the Usability Heuristics published and maintained through empirical research by the Neilson/Norman Group (NN/g).
- Test and iterate – Use tools like Figma (mockups) and Maze (testing) to quickly verify that what you think is simple and intuitive is the same for others as well.
The visual appearance of your UI design is always important. A clean, modern, well considered user interface is key. Once you've decided that the application aligns with your visual brand values, make sure the visual appearance is consistent, is designed for the user, and is simple.
How to establish good aesthetics
What might be attractive to you and your peers might look strange or even childish to others. Here are three easy steps for landing on, or iterating on, an aesthetic that will resonate with your ideal customers:
- Create a moodboard of all of the other brands in your space. This could be snapshots of billboards, website pages, or application screenshots. What elements do you see that they have in common? What are the outlier elements? What could your brand aesthetic adopt or reinvent in order to stand out, but also retain that element of familiarity and trust?
- Create mockups that include typography, imagery, and copywriting. Then, take some samples from your top competitors (or similar companies in your space) and put them in a slide deck. Schedule brand perception interviews with people who represent your ideal customer and walk them through the deck. Ask them what attributes they would use to describe your brand and your competitors' brand. Ask them which attributes are desirable, neutral, or undesirable. How does your brand stack up against the other brands?
- Accessibility: Websites and applications often think that aesthetically pleasing designs have nuances that set a specific tone or mood. In order to ensure a balance of creative expression and usefulness, look to accessibility guidelines to make sure you’re striking the right balance between what looks trendy and what can actually be usable in a combination of circumstances.
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