How To Balance User Interface And Functionality

By | 2017-10-17T19:32:59+00:00 October 17th, 2017|Design|

Balancing the fine principles that govern user interface with superior functionality is an art form in itself. Just like a writer must trim the fat off sentences for clarity, so too must a web developer remove clunky visual elements and confusing protocols that obstruct usability and consistency.

As the CEO and President of UM Technologies, I’ve been involved in software and application development for years and have collaborated with developers to create functional and visually pleasing websites.

Consider the best websites and applications that have propelled garage startups into major brands. Themes from Microsoft Office 365 are consistent, familiar and simplistic. Navigating around an Apple website or mobile iPhone canvas is incredibly adaptable and easily done by virtually anyone.

Remember the following to balance functionality with user interactivity that creates a striking website with universal appeal:

Be Consistent

The ultimate rule of thumb for web design lies in promoting consistency throughout your site. Always consider the principle of least astonishment in software design. An unexpected action translates to an unwanted or negative action associated with your UX.

The principles of good user interface (UI) design include ease of use and understanding. Good design and efficient functionality should serve both novice and advanced computer/mobile users.

Your UI’s functionality should conform to the average laymen’s expectations without overwhelming them. Ensure it is interactive enough to keep all users engaged.

Meet user expectations by promoting consistent UI elements throughout your design. This includes:

  • Language (includes author “voice”)
  • Fonts
  • Brand color schemes
  • Input controls
  • Information components
  • Navigation (drop-down menus, navigation bars, etc.)

There are plenty of style guides, UI kits and customizable themes you can select on websites like WordPress to promote consistency throughout your website. Consider using HTML5 and CSS3 to promote consistency and ease of use throughout your site.

Software engineers should visually segment UI elements that contain different functions. This includes adding a sidebar for navigation elements, creating focal points to display a cogent call-to-action, hosting a toolbar for editing, chunking social share buttons together and clearly separating a canvas to display a project’s current state.

Sometimes Less Is More

Following on our principles of effective UI design, it’s important to eliminate a learning curve to promote ease of use and understanding. A complex UI is also complicated to use, which results in lost dwell time on your website or application.

Consistency eliminates the number of actions necessary to complete an end-task and the number of representations users must learn to complete an end-task.

Think of the Uber app. When using it, users are presented with a clear CTA (hail an Uber) and are given a fee based on the expected travel time and distance. There are no drop-down menus where you select from a list of drivers, yet there is still a fair amount of sociability involved in the app.

Remove any clutter that may be distracting to users and consider employing minimalism in your design. Sometimes less is more. If your website employs a sophisticated drop-down or search menu, consider breaking them down into simpler touch points for ease of use.

A complex UI may result in technical problems on your website if not properly optimized. This includes slower load times and a higher probability of misused expressions.

In terms of UX, consider researching gestalt principlesto create visual cues that represent similar content and group them appropriately.

Iterative Changes

Always consider the costs to regular users that are associated with changing design or functional elements across your web application. These can be temporary while they become familiarized with the new elements, or totally change the psychographic boundaries of how users interact with your application.

This is why I recommend always conducting iterative changes that increase your developmental velocity. Maintain ease of use while promoting learning representations at each touchpoint throughout the developmental process.

Fortunately, software design still adheres to established paradigms, which limits the effect that a major UI update will have on users.

Consider testing the effects functional changes may have by experimenting with different UI elements, such as the sizing and placement of buttons across your application for easier end-use. Always conduct user tests early to discover problems within the developmental life cycle.

Experimenting with new functionality in your design is fine, but it’s important to maintain consistency throughout your website for a positive UX. One tip to accomplish this is to leverage established elements of web design for familiarity.

Stick With Familiar Paradigms

Being original is a valued trait within our society, but not within web design. Creating new visual representations for tasks will require consumers to learn new visual representations, which can produce two results:

  • Increased time between tasks toward end-product use.
  • Failure to complete desired tasks that results in a bounce.

Completing tasks with new visual representations is inherently uncomfortable for users. Consider some of the common web design elements that make up a majority of UI:

  • Logo at the top left of a page.
  • Search bar at the top right of the page.
  • Drop-down bars visually segmented from the rest of the page at the top.
  • Social share buttons beneath content.

Your software application will benefit from pre-established UI elements that comfortably guide users toward desired actions.

Know Your Device

Finally, the greatest example of UI discomfort can be found in users who try to operate similar tasks across different operating systems. Remember, many Apple users strictly use Apple products.

Really, this principle is simple and only requires that you familiarize yourself with your OS or device. When optimizing a web application for mobile, always take into account the tiny screen and touchscreen buttons. Leverage gestalt principles and the principles of good UI design to make your applications universally accessible across all devices and operating systems.

Final Thoughts

Promote consistency, familiarity, interactivity and accessibility to create a truly efficient web application. Sometimes less is more and no greater examples of this principle can be found than Apple’s website and Microsoft’s Office 365.