Usability and user experience have become important keywords over the past few years. The goal is to provide your users with applications and programs they can operate intuitively and without restrictions. They should guide the users towards a satisfying result and make interacting with them as enjoyable as possible. That’s why today, I’ve got a few pointers for you on how to achieve this.
Of course, the trend towards intuitive and easy to use applications is not lost on us developers. Which is why we should not only be at the (as we like to call it) bleeding-edge when it comes to technology. A basic knowledge about usability and UX design is also highly important.
The following tips are mainly addressed to developers, but they should also help anyone interested in UX, when it comes to creating clear and comprehensible interactions between software and its users.
1. Don’t make me think
Steve Krug is a trailblazer in the area of usability. In his books, he asserts that “Don’t make me think” is usability’s first law. It means that a product should be as self-explanatory as possible. You, as its user, should be able to understand it without having to think about it much.
2. Use clear and simple navigation
Provide your users with a simple system for navigation, which enables them to delve deeper into your application but, likewise, allows them to go back a couple steps should they need to. In order to make the users feel like they can freely navigate through the application without getting lost, the navigation provided should always be consistent. Simply put, the various navigational elements should look the same, have the same design and have the same name or description on every single page.
3. Use relatable icons and phrases
Using icons which relate to the actual world around us is always a good idea. But more than that, you should not invest too much time trying to re-invent them. Use known visual concepts, such as the floppy disc symbol everyone associates with saving something. Thus, the users can apply their existing knowledge and intuitively interact with your product.
Additionally, your choice of words and phrasing is also important. To give an example, when you skim a web page looking for job offers, the right naming of the area will make a huge difference. A name or description that could possibly confuse the user is, of course, counter-productive and should be avoided wherever possible.
(Source: 2014: Steven Krug, Don’t Make Me Think! A Common-Sense Approach to Web Usability; 3rd edition)
4. Give out informative error messages
It is definitely worthwhile trying to keep the number of potential errors in any application as low as possible. One way of making sure of this is good design. Instead of having the users enter free text, you can have them select between default values. This way, you can eliminate input errors which might otherwise frustrate users or, in the worst case, cause the entire program to crash. If using this method is not feasible, you should at least inform your users about faulty entries.
If an error does occur, the user should get a clear and highly visible error message, otherwise they will get frustrated also. When a program crashes and the error message simply reads “System failed”, that’s not exactly helpful for your users. That’s why error messages must be informative as well as easy to understand. Ideally, they should also offer a solution on how to solve the problem.
5. Performance is as important as functionality and design
UX is a very important aspect, but it won’t guarantee success, if the software doesn’t lead the user towards the desired outcome fast enough. If the software takes too long to load, your users will uninstall it immediately. Therefore, it’s important to test your product in a realistic environment. You should, for example, check how well the software can handle loading huge amounts of data on a slow internet connection.
Of course, there are many more UX rules you should keep in mind. But I think that with these few tips, you can take some steps in making your software more user-friendly and creating a positive user experience.
If you want to read some more on the topic, you can check out our “usability” and “ux” categories by selecting the keywords below the headline above or read Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think!” for a more in-depth look.