UI is Communication
eBook - ePub

UI is Communication

How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication

Everett N McKay

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  1. 378 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

UI is Communication

How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication

Everett N McKay

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About This Book

User interface design is a challenging, multi-disciplinary activity that requires understanding a wide range of concepts and techniques that are often subjective and even conflicting. Imagine how much it would help if there were a single perspective that you could use to simplify these complex issues down to a small set of objective principles. In UI is Communication, Everett McKay explains how to design intuitive user interfaces by focusing on effective human communication. A user interface is ultimately a conversation between users and technology. Well-designed user interfaces use the language of UI to communicate to users efficiently and naturally. They also recognize that there is an emotional human being at the other end of the interaction, so good user interfaces strive to make an emotional connection. Applying what you learn from UI is Communication will remove much of the mystic, subjectiveness, and complexity from user interface design, and help you make better design decisions with confidence. It's the perfect introduction to user interface design.

  • Approachable, practical communication-based guide to interaction and visual design that you can immediately apply to projects to make solid design decisions quickly and confidently
  • Includes design makeovers so you can see the concepts in practice with real examples
  • Communication-based design process ties everything from interaction to visual design together

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Chapter 1

Communication Design Principles

“One cannot not communicate. Because every behavior is a kind of communication, people who are aware of each other are constantly communicating. Any perceivable behavior, including the absence of action, has the potential to be interpreted by other people as having some meaning.”
The concept behind UI is Communication is that a user interface (UI) is essentially a conversation between users and a product to perform tasks that achieve users’ goals. A user interface differs from human conversation primarily in that it uses the language of UI instead of natural language. A well-designed UI boils down to communicating to users in a way that is natural, professional and friendly, easy to understand, and efficient. By contrast, a poorly designed UI is unnatural, is technological and mechanical, and requires users to apply thought, experimentation, memorization, and training to translate it into something meaningful. Effective communication is often what makes the difference.
The goal of this chapter is to establish baseline principles of intuitive UI design as a form of effective human communication, which I will use throughout the book. In doing so, I will present the attributes of intuitive UI for both individual interactions and entire tasks. Many UIs involve asking users questions, so I will present principles for doing this common pattern intuitively. Finally, I will present a model for typical user behavior to help determine how well your designs communicate.
FIGURE 1.1 A user interface is essentially a conversation between users and a product.

Imagine this typical UI design situation...

Imagine this: You are working in a small team developing a new software product, and you realize that having a great user experience is crucial for its success. Everyone on the team is a manager, developer, business analyst, or tester, but unfortunately, nobody on the team has a UI design background or any experience designing “user-friendly” UI. You can’t hire any design talent or one of those user experience (UX) design consultants—the budget is too tight—so you are on our own. (If you are like most readers, you shouldn’t have to imagine too hard, because this situation is quite typical.)
But not to worry—Bob and Alice are our best developers and have been assigned to the UI design. Although they don’t have any UI design experience, they are smart and articulate, they have a strong command of the technology, and everyone on the team loves working with them. They have an excellent track record for getting things done.
You have watched Bob and Alice from a distance for the past few weeks and you are cautiously optimistic. After all, they have taken time to talk to everyone on the team, they have talked to customers and key stakeholders, they even did some site visits, and they have done lots of UI sketching on their white boards. You have heard them constantly use terms like user experience, user friendly, usability, intuitive, and simple. They frequently talk about having user empathy.
Right now, Bob and Alice are about to present their initial UI design proposal to the team for the first time. What do you expect to happen? I have two questions:
1. How good do you think their initial UI design will be?
2. How well do you think the meeting will go?
Please think these questions through before turning the page. Base your answers on your personal experience.
FIGURE 1.2 Bob and Alice presenting their UI design proposal to the team for the first time.
This is a purely hypothetical situation and there are no right or wrong answers, but here are my expectations based on my experience:
1. Their initial UI design won’t be very good. Even though Bob and Alice have gone through the motions, they will make the classic mistakes that everyone else makes, such as designing for themselves, considering only one solution, and ultimately focusing on technology and features instead of user goals and tasks. Their page designs will be confusing, overly complicated, and nonstandard. Frankly, the pages will look like they were designed by programmers—because they were.
2. The meeting itself will go quite well. Bob and Alice are smart and articulate, they have a strong command of the technology, and everyone on the team loves working with them. Their talent will show up in the meeting. They will do an excellent job of explaining (and defending) the design to the team, and their designs will make much more sense after they explain them. If anyone on the team objects to a questionable design decision, Bob and Alice will have a technology-based defense as to why it has to be that way.
Neither of these likely outcomes should be very surprising. After all, UI design is challenging, and Bob and Alice don’t have any training or experience. But they have plenty of experience explaining their ideas in person—a lifetime of experience, in fact—so that skill comes naturally.
What is surprising is that these two results are so different! If Bob and Alice can communicate the tasks to us effectively using English, why can’t they communicate those tasks equally well using the language of UI? Aren’t they ultimately communicating exactly the same thing—just using a slightly different language? During the design review, you might have thought, “If they just put what they said in the meeting directly in the UI, it would all make sense!” Good question—why didn’t they?
As humans, we are extraordinarily skilled at communicating to other people, because this is a skill that we have continuously developed throughout human civilization. Communication between people tends to:
Be natural and friendly and use plain language.
Be goal-oriented, results-oriented, and very purposeful; we carefully explain why people need to do things.
Follow the person’s mental models and natural workflows (where the mental model is their interpretation of how a program works or how the task should be performed).
Be very simple, getting right to the point.
When we communicate direc...

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