Let’s begin by helping you gain a clearer understanding of what user interfaces really are and then we’ll delve into user interface design. For starters, the term Interface can be a little complex, so you might need a moment to wrap your head around what it entails. Try not to think of it as just pixels, buttons or screens.
Quick Tip: As a Designer, It Might Be Tempting for You to Do So, Therefore Try to See Interfaces as a Collection of Tasks that Include the Beginning, Middle and End.
To help you understand better, let’s pretend that you need to do the user interface design for Facebook’s homepage. The first thought that comes to mind should pertain to the tasks that people want to do here. Since we’re referring to Facebook, it will be messaging, sharing pictures, sharing news as well as receiving and sending invitations and etc.
As mentioned, each of these tasks needs a beginning, middle and an end.
- If users wish to post news about their recent graduation, they must first click Update Status (the beginning).
- This action will expand a message window and allow them to type in their message (the middle).
- When they are done, they will click Post and a new status update will appear on their timeline so that they know the post is official and live (the end).
Now that you have a clearer picture on how a user interacts with a website, let’s go through the various UI elements as well as their purpose:
Good Navigation is a Must-Have in Any User Interface Design
When a user gets lost before finding what he or she needs from the website, they will quickly lose interest and find it hard to appreciate the website. With that said, there are two cardinal rules of navigation:
- There must be consistency in a navigation system, thus don’t move your menu bar around unless it’s really necessary. Just imagine how frustrating it would be if you were lost in a foreign location and the street signs are switched between posts.
- The next thing is orientation. The user should always know their current location in the site. This is instrumental in streamlining the site on their end, and making them feel comfortable. There are many ways to orient a potential user which includes using headings, breadcrumb trails and highlighted menu items.
User Interface Design – What You Should Know When Working with Input Controls
Without interaction, an interface will only be a visual representation of various elements. Input controls are the important things that facilitate interaction. However, there’s a paradox with these controls, because some users demand for more options, but every new control will complicate the user interface and clutter their screen.
The ideal way to strike a perfect balance is to implement controls on demand. What we mean is that you should hide your controls until it’s needed.
This way, you can save on screen space without sacrificing any part of the user options. For instance, you can hide a control until it is revealed by a hovering mouse cursor. In fact, this practice is a win-win solution that has been adopted by many high profile websites.
Animations can Add to a Site’s User Interface Design
Animations are much like unsung heroes and they surreptitiously heighten the quality of a user interface. There are a number of reasons why animations are imperative for a great user interface.
First, they establish connections and make using the site more coherent, especially where there are a lot of things happening at the same time. For instance, an icon will expand to open instead of opening a new window. These small details unknowingly allow the user to establish an emotional connection with the site.
Next, our eyes are naturally drawn to movement. Many sites that take advantage of this scientifically-proven fact, can notify the user of an impending change much more effectively (with the help of an animated icon. An animation can also act as a clear indication that a certain task is completed. Think of it like clues and cues that draw a connection between two tasks.
Recommended Reading: Will Animation be the Big UI Trend of 2015?
User Guided Actions to Encourage or Suggest Deeper Involvement
Users, in general, are open to suggestions. This is actually good news as you can get them to interact better with the site and even provide feedback that may help improve your user interface design.
LinkedIn is a good example for this matter as they’ve been able to use guided actions properly. Users can be prompted to actions when they open a page, for example, endorsing their connections’ skills.
Guided actions are mostly things that people want to do but have not thought of it on their own. Again, this is one of the aspects of a great UI that engages with the user on a deeper level.
Some Types of UI Kits to be Aware of
Did you know that there are free mobile and web GUI sets available for download? Most of the time, they are free too! Here are some of the GUI sets you can expect to find on the net:
- Rainbow UI kits basically contain all the fundamental elements you will need for your web design. For instance, they can provide a file upload interface.
- Web GUI kits are designed with users in mind and they come as layered vector shapes. These elements can be resized at any time without any loss of quality!
- If you want your web user interface design to appear slick and clean, Beige Web Elements will provide a slight retro feel.
- If you want to implement infinite scalability in your web design, Blue Milk is what you’re looking for. It has a fresh design that really pops and comes in 100% vector.
All in all, user interfaces are more than just a pretty face. They have to be considered as a medium which users can take advantage of to accomplish their goals on a certain website. When web UI elements are used correctly, it can add interaction and fun to a boring process. Guided actions will help you read a user’s mind without them feeling invasive, and great navigation will help guide users to their destination in a smooth manner. And these are the things that keep them coming back!