Thursday, February 3, 2011

Best UI Is One That Attracts User Then Gets Out Of User's Way

These days one design trend that I hear often is minimalism. In my book, this translates to putting the absolute minimum design elements while providing functional software. Minimalism is a good guideline for designer to force themselves to think carefully about each design element. If something is not absolutely needed, then chances are it will do more harm than good to overall product usability.

That's because great product UI/UX should do following:

1. It should make target users want to use the product
2. Once the users get their hands on, it should disappear in the background

I think the first point is obvious. Product UI should appeal to target audience. Remember when you first saw Apple iPod and iPhone. Even though you may already had a MP3 player or smartphone, they made you want to play around with the product. All great products have aesthetic appeal to the users.

Second point takes some explaining. What do I mean by disappearing?

In my earlier blog post, I talked about the importance of designing UI for the target audience, and ended the post with creating 'invisible' UI. Great UI/UX should get rid of clutters so that users can focus on the task. And by removing clutters and focusing on the task, UI should fade to background when the user starts to use the product. Hence disappearing UI.

Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, agrees. During his interview with Charlie Rose, he talks about his experience of using iPad. When he picks up an iPad to consume a content, he feels iPad disappearing. Because he can focus on interacting with the content, iPad becomes 'invisible' to him.

Below Q&A Starts Around 15 Mins Into It

CHARLIE ROSE: And do most people you know who are — have the same affinity for technology follow that rule [writing more text message than email], follow that practice?

JACK DORSEY: I think so. As we go to a younger generation that’s definitely through because it’s more instantaneous. I use e-mail as a reference. E-mail is a great reference. It has a subject line. It titles what the e-mail is about and I can refer to it, I can search.

But it’s not great for communication because it’s not focused on the most important thing. The subject is the message, and that’s the message. The subject is in the message in the IM. It’s bringing the content to you right away.

One of the things I love about the iPad, for instance, is when you’re using the iPad, the iPad disappears, it goes away. You’re reading a book. You’re viewing a website, you’re touching a web site. That’s amazing and that’s what SMS is for me. The technology goes away and with Twitter the technology goes away. It’s so easy to follow anything you’re interested in. It’s so easy to tweet from wherever you are. And the same is true with Square. We want the technology to fade away so that you can focus on enjoying the cappuccino that you just purchased.

Let's See...  Which Tool Should I Use?
One subtle but important ingredient to making great UI is focus. There has to be ruthless feature sharpening to distill the absolute critical set of use cases and support them really well. That's because as number of features grow, UI/UX will start to be cluttered and before you realize the entire product will force the user to think about the tool, not the task.

Dmitry Dragilev wrote a blog on how Dropbox was able to win over competitors by focusing their energy in building really simple yet robust functionality. Because Dropbox was able to hold down the temptation of adding non-essential features, they were able to make users focus on their task: synchronizing one of your desktop folders with the cloud.

Doing too many things can actually hurt you. Think before you expand your feature set and UI/UX design so that your customers don't have to think when they pick up your tool.

What do you think? Share your best UI/UX design criteria. Better yet, give us some examples of good or bad UI/UX design.

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