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5 Tips for User-Friendly Software

August 31, 2017

Whether developing a major database system or a simple mobile app, user interface and user experience (UI/UX) design is a key consideration for every Resource Data project.

Matt Johnson, a senior designer and project manager at Resource Data, says he likes to keep in mind common design principles such as Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. Even if clients don’t have a large budget for design, simple guidelines such as these, go a long way in building intuitive and attractive systems. According to Matt, the following five recommendations are worth highlighting for designers and developers on any project:

A phone, tablet, and desktop computer displaying the same, responsive website scaled for each device.

Resource Data redesigned Trailboss’s website, www.trailbossinc.com, using Microsoft technologies. The new site contains the same content and key functionality as the old site, but is more attractive, easier to navigate, and can be easily maintained by Trailboss.

1. Make the system status visible

We all hate the “spinning wheel of death,” but without progress indicators such as these, users do not know whether the system is processing information behind the scenes. Software and websites should respond as expected, and when lengthier processing time is required—anything longer than one second—users need to be kept informed with progress indicators. “This ensures the user knows the app is processing their request and progress is being made,” Johnson said. A progress indicator such as a progress bar, spinning wheel, cursor changing to an hourglass, or a pop-up message, informs the user the system is properly working.

2. Align the system with the real world

Users should see words and concepts that are familiar, rather than IT-oriented. Processes should also follow logical orders. A good example, according to Johnson, is a virtual shopping cart. He said, “The contents of the cart are always visible to the shopper. You can freely add or remove items from it, and the purchasing process is easy and straightforward, just like the real world.”

3. Use familiar and consistent language

Following a set of conventions or standards ensures consistency and makes it easy for users to navigate websites and apps. Users should not have to wonder what various vocabulary and terminology mean on particular pages and across systems. Standard and consistent language ensures users will understand terms when they see them.

4. Don’t make users think too hard

Just because a user understands the terms you’ve used doesn’t guarantee a user-friendly site. Users should not have to remember information they previously saw or work too hard to successfully navigate a system. This is the “Don’t Make Me Think” rule as described in the influential book of the same title written by Steven Krug. The cognitive load required to access information should be as light as possible.

Designers can help users easily accomplish their intended tasks with recognition-based user interfaces that rely on universal interface elements and concise and meaningful content. Examples include a logical menu system, tool tips, search fields in the menu bar, progress bars, and more. Using universal locations for these common elements also makes users feel more comfortable and accomplish tasks quickly. Examples of common locations include shopping carts and search bars in the top right corner, logos and links to the home page in the header, and contact information in the main navigation links and footer.

5. Follow a simple and minimalist design

Apps and websites should minimize irrelevant or unneeded content, even extra words or images, and include only what is necessary. Johnson said this is also called the “signal-to-noise” rule. “It is important to boost the signal and reduce the noise by ruthlessly editing the text and visuals such that they convey only the most relevant and useful information.”

Usability is a critical element of a system or website’s success. These tips are just a handful of the many UI/UX best practices. If you found these tips useful and would like assistance improving the usability of your system or website, contact us today.