The importance of a simple UI

They say in a job interview, the interviewer makes up their mind about the candidate within the first ten seconds. I think it’s the same with websites/apps. Within a few clicks your users will form their opinion, and if it’s a negative one you’ve got an uphill struggle to win them back.

Any kind of consumer product, whether it’s a car, an iPod or a carton of milk will have a great deal of time and effort invested to make sure it’s easy to use. So why should websites be any different? You may have the most elegant and robust code, but all your customer sees and interacts with is the UI, so it’s likely to form the basis of their opinion.

Even some of the leading software providers (naming no names) are guilty of providing unintelligible UIs that remind me of those old 80s ghetto blasters, where every inch is occupied with buttons, nobs and dials on it. I prefer the simplicity of an iPod.

And before you think it, the ‘captive audience’ attitude doesn’t wash – just because your users have been mandated to use a tool within a company, doesn’t mean the UI can be neglected. As my mum says, manners cost nothing, and neither should an easy to use UI. Even if you don’t engage with a UX consultant or design agency, there’s nothing stopping you making the UI as simple and easy to use as possible from the ground up.

I’m pleased to say there’s been a shift of late to very minimalist interfaces in the ECM world, encapsulated best perhaps by SharePoint 2013.

I’d argue perhaps this is almost too minimalist, but I’m certainly not complaining. What surprises me most about SharePoint is the initiative UI continues back to the administrative side of the application, which is quite rare.

Oracle are also following suit with their upcoming 12c release.

Thanks to Andrejus Baranovskis for the image

Spot the difference between this and SharePoint 2013 UI? No, me neither, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

So, what can you do to keep your UIs user-friendly? The first port of call would be to engage with a creative agency to design your screens with you. If budget or time doesn’t allow this, there are some general principles you can keep in mind:

1. Get in the mind-set of your users, and keep this in mind throughout design. Some questions to ask yourself: Who are you users? Why are they using the website? What do they want to get out of it? With these in mind your site should be geared as clearly as possible to address their needs in as few clicks as possible. Remember, not all of your users will be power users like you, so try and see things from their perspective.

2. Keep it simple and try and abide by the principle that every pixel counts! Before putting a button on the page, ask yourself if it really needs to be there. It’s easier said than done, but try and keep the layout minimalist and clean.

3. Get inspiration from other sites. There’s no shame in this, everyone does it. If I’m stuck on how to do something, my philosophy is often ‘how do John Lewis do it’? John Lewis is a wonderfully clean and simple site, which is a must as it’s aimed at all different types of users. Getting inspiration from existing sites is all part of it. Think about what your favourite sites are to use. What makes them a pleasure to use? Try and employ some of these principles when doing your UI design.

4. Get feedback from impartial users before releasing to your main user-base. First time round, you may not want this to be project stakeholders so aim to get feedback from impartial people. If you’re building an app, you’ll be lucky if half the users read the user guide, so ask your testers to try using it without reading it first.

5. Use a CSS framework, like Bootstrap. If you’re new to it, it may take a bit of time to get used to, but will probably make the development quicker in the long run, and provide an excellent framework for mobile development. There are tons of great templates out there you can use (for a small fee), but remember to put your own stamp on them.

About Darren Johnson

Darren is a consultant at ECS and, in addition to his great development work, he’s our UI enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>