We may all be well aware of the benefits of setting user interface standards – ease of use, lower costs, and higher customer engagement – but how do you know which user interface standards you need to set and which ones are superfluous?
What do you want the standards to do?
The first step is to decide what your user interface standards are for. Are they, for example, designed to power software that enables new employees to quickly get up to speed with company systems and services? Are the standards needed to improve the productivity of third party developers, or access to your services by the public?
By approaching the problem of which user interface standards you need from the opposite side – the side of the end user – you can quickly decide which specifications you need to use to meet your users requirements, regardless of whether they are a new employee, third party contractor, or an external customer.
Another useful approach to deciding on which user interface standards your company needs is to think about the user interfaces you use on a daily basis. The ‘quirks’ of any system that bug you are likely to also annoy other people using the system, and so are perhaps best ironed out using the appropriate UI standards.
User Interface Standards You Need to Set
The design of user interfaces are usually based on ‘principles’ covering the degree of user control the interface enables; the amount of memory required on a user’s computer; and consistency of the user interface. While this article makes the design of a user interface sound simple in theory, in reality the principles described can clash with one another, and also the product or service you are trying to open access to.
As a result, the design principles listed are typically used more as a guide towards establishing which user interface standards you need to set rather than a cast in stone approach to UI development.
Broadly speaking, you will need to utilize standards that enable you to produce a well-structured user interface that is stable, simple to use, informative, and tolerant of variances to user inputs and responses.
When designing a standards-based user interface, it is also useful to explore specifications that enable you to re-use the interface for internal or external use. The consistency of your user interface becomes an important element here, as standards deployed for an internal solution could be redeployed for external interfaces, thus reducing the time to develop new user interfaces and any associated costs.
Another useful tool for deciding which UI standards your business needs is prototyping. This is a development technique that allows users to work on a mock version of the required user interface. Benefits of the approach include ironing out any problems users find in your initial UI design and ensuring the system is as usable as you need it to be. Read more about User Interface design tools.
Prototype user interfaces can form a foundation for development of future interfaces, reducing the time and cost of producing later interfaces and increasing the consistency of all user interfaces.
This approach to deciding on which UI standards works best when end-users and stakeholders are included from the outset. No-one knows what an end-user needs better than they do, and allowing them to test a user interface before it goes live may flag up that you need to include additional standards to deliver a particular function, or solve a particular problem.
Sometimes the old ways are the best, and modeling your user interface is one of those times.
Put simply, the process of deciding which UI standards you need can be simplified by working out exactly what you want the interface to do. Drawing out a broad, simple, diagram of the processes involved in your user interface – either on paper or a black/whiteboard – allows you to quickly identify the main user interface standards you will need to achieve your end goal.
Setting out a simple diagram of the core elements of the user interface also means end-users and other stakeholders can have a chance to comment before you set to work designing and prototyping the interface. This approach adds another layer to your pre-build error detection, while reducing the risk of errors making it into the user interface in the first place.
As with prototyping, these simple designs can form the foundation for development of future user interfaces, again helping to ensure that future changes remain consistent with your current interfaces, and that no interface contains unnecessary features and functions.
While the approaches outlined above can help any business decide which user interface standards to deploy, there are other aspects to consider.
First, standards alone cannot produce an easy to use interface. If the problem you are using the specifications to solve is difficult, the chances are those difficulties will be reflected in your finished user interface. The goal in this case is to design an interface that is as easy to use as possible, without over-simplifying the functions it covers.
The overlapping design principles may also distract user interface developers, by providing too many options of their interface. A good rule of thumb is to only include standards that cover the core functionality of the interface, rather than incorporating specifications that deliver unnecessary features, or functionality that your software cannot support.
A final point worth considering when deciding which user interface standards you need are the finer details of the interface. Small errors or annoying features can quickly turn end-users off and, in the case of interfaces for public-facing software, send them straight to your competitor’s door.
For any business, deciding which user interface standards you need to set is a job that begins at home. Companies must first work out what functions they need the interface to handle before exploring potential user interface specifications to meet those needs. End-users and other people who will be using the interface should be consulted as part of the process of identifying the core functions of the interface. Once you have an idea of the required functions, you can then begin designing your user interface, using the modeling and prototyping methods described above.