The latest generation web technologies make it possible to design outstandingly beautiful User Interfaces (UI), chock-full of features, interactivity, animation, notifications and integrated communication channels thanks to sophisticated technologies like HTML5, CSS3, XAML, jQuery, etc… For developers, though, the great challenge is to skillfully condense the power of these rich elements neatly behind a UI designed for humans that is both simple in construction and visually stimulating; an interface that is intuitively navigable and layered but that still manages to highlight brand-new features and tools.
Every year for at least the past five has been declared “The year of mobile!” Research shows – and end users are proving – that mobile has fast become the new face of engagement. With the rise of remote working, BYOD and radical advances in mobile technology, the use of mobile devices for business has skyrocketed.
When you stop and think about all that is possible with a tablet or smartphone touch screen, designing your user experience around mobile first suddenly makes a lot of sense. While certainly vast in possibility, mobile limitations (size, computing capabilities, connection issues, offline user experience) make development challenging. Understanding and simplifying what users are trying to accomplish from a mobile phone or tablet in their moment of need is crucial. That’s why a straightforward interface and task-based operations are important.
Developers and designers have intelligently forgone fanciness for function, minimizing the use of shadows, hidden buttons, varying color schemes, 3D effects and other multifaceted motifs. Today we’re seeing more rudimentary interfaces (think Windows 8 navigation blocks) with straightforward content organization.
In the name of efficiency, a deep focus is placed on ease-of-use when it comes to software front-end design, which is the key factor in user adoption. Microsoft, Apple and Android for years have been touting ‘simplicity’ in their software layouts, progressively scaling back complexities and focusing more and more on an intuitive user experience rather than a beautiful one.
Despite initial user reticence, Microsoft is aiming to take simplification of the user experience to an entirely new level, unifying the tablet experience with the PC experience in one tactile interface accessible from both devices – an incredibly difficult feat. Today, most software applications – mostly cloud-based – have simplified their interface navigation so that users find themselves in roughly the same environment regardless of the device they’re looking at. Dropbox mobile apps, for example, look and feel enough like the Dropbox desktop app that users can jump right in without additional instructions.
Five key tips to designing a simple interface
1. Be intuitive and consistent
2. Always consider the context and adapt to natural user behavior
3. Focus on only a few main features and deliver value
4. Be smart and logical, putting the user first
5. Be interactive and provide feedback
Start by drawing your intended mobile UI on a sheet of paper. If it becomes too complex to sketch, it’s probably too complex to use.
Consistency is key
Consistency = familiarity = consumption = increased user adoption. Don’t underestimate the importance of consistency, particularly for those users who aren’t technophiles and might be struggling to even understand the device they’re using. Don’t make these users guess or chase information. That will surely put them off of the tool altogether. Buttons should look like buttons, links should be obvious, and interface navigation should seem familiar and logical.
When it comes to the user experience, complexity is not merely a barrier to adoption; it’s a veritable stone wall. Interface designs must be consistent across-the-board, offering little variation between computers, tablets and mobile phones. For many end users, new technology concepts like Unified Communications and social media are difficult enough to grasp on their own without an added hurdle of having to learn multiple, thorny UIs.
“Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler.” –Albert Einstein
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