RE: User Interface Design

Subject: RE: User Interface Design
From: "Lisa Wright" <liwright -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2002 21:28:35 -0800

Hi Bonita, it's very cool that your company is including you up front in
the user interface design! I think this is a really fun activity.

This is a good opportunity to check for jargon that slips into the
interface, especially if you're talking about more advanced programs. I
find this happens a lot with query tools. Look for the same term used to
mean two different things. Consistency is huge, as is helping the
developers to avoid klunky sequences. I don't know if it's a "forest for
the trees" syndrome, but sometimes developers think that convoluted
steps are perfectly reasonable. BTW, they might push back if you DO run
into that situation. I found this to be a helpful phrase: "The goal is
to help the user do x." If it ends up being complex, try to get them to
program the complexity instead of making the user deal with it (though
recognize that some things simply ARE complex). Developers are
frequently lazy. (So are tech writers sometimes!)

I'd also recommend looking at some innovative designs that maybe appear
to go against so-called "conventions" or "gurus" but get the job done in
a great way that's easy to use. Gives you ideas. Web sites are super for
this. Whatever "authority" you go with, make sure you test the
recommendations in your environment. I think this is very similar to the
whole "standards/style" debate we always engage in here. There's more
than one way to do most things, so pick the way that works for you. Once
you make the decision, apply the rule consistently and move on to the
next thing.

Try to get the developers to come up with standards early on. No, this
isn't the "you have to have standards before you can write a lick of
code (or a line of online help!)." But if you know that you want to
include embedded help in the interface, plan it a bit. Like I said,
consistency is important: it helps set the user's expectations and then
they can learn the software more easily because they have a stable
mental model of how the application is supposed to work.

Example: Does the close button go at the bottom right? Many UI books say
yes, but if it's a web interface maybe not or it could get lost
depending on the user's screen resolution. Once you pick, make sure your
UI engineer places it consistently and then worry about something else!

Will users of the new product be carry-overs from the others? Are there
any rules in the other products? If so, some judicious interface
consistency between them might be helpful, while avoiding those things
that then require your tech writing skills to smooth over later! The
marketing people would like this too because it's good branding.

Plus what everybody else said. :-) Good luck!

Lisa


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References:
User Interface Design: From: White, Bonita

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