A good UI should be easy to use
As designers, our common goal is to create products that make work easier. After all, one of the most important features of good design is ease-of-use and understanding. We have to build tools that are easy to use from the start.
In John Maeda’s book, The Laws of Simplicity, he writes,
“Good design relies to some extent on the ability to instill a sense of instant familiarity.”
Users very likely already have some knowledge about how to use something, so why not take advantage of that knowledge and give them a sense of instant familiarity “for free” without making them learn a new way of interacting. Users dislike having to learn how to do something in a way that is different from what they are used to.
Set the right expectations
A user interface (UI) helps us to interact with a system and get us to the content that we want to see. There are established patterns and behaviors for the desired outcome each user wants to achieve, and there are consequences of every interaction with the UI. Users are very likely to already have expectations about these interactions based on previous experiences. Using shortcuts, dragging & dropping, saving… all of these actions are very familiar to the user. Capitalizing on those expectations will smooth the usage of a new UI.
Microinteractions and the power of their feedback
People love feedback. Imagine using a software application that does not communicate back to you – it doesn’t alert you when a process is completed, it doesn’t indicate when you have new messages, nor if your battery is running low – it would certainly feel like the system is dumb.
Microinteractions are interactive details of a system that provide useful feedback to the user. By designing microinteractions, we are actually making the system feel more human and more connected to the user. For example, asking for confirmation on a certain action and informing the user when some action was performed is a good way to prevent the user from making undesired changes. Deleting an item without asking for confirmation, or even without informing the user that the item was deleted would for sure be a bad thing. Yes, eventually the users will learn how it works and know how to use it, but I would still call that a bad design.
Established patterns are good, but shouldn’t limit
Speaking the user’s language and using well-known UI patterns is a good way to save users’ time and shorten the learning curve. However, as technology is changing and evolving, users’ expectations are also evolving. We are now designing interactions for touchscreens, UIs that adapt from huge screens to smartwatches, and even virtual reality. That’s the paradox of design and innovation. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to tried and true interactions in every case. Our designs have to be intuitive, but also bring new experiences to users. Otherwise we’d better be prepared to “design” a faster horse instead.