Interaction Design Best Practices

Interaction design is something that you need to get right. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how capable, efficient and technically savvy your software is under the hood, this isn’t what the user sees. Your interface, the interaction methodologies present, and the overall tangible design are what the user sees. To the user, what they see is the shiny casing – the program at work-  not the technical mechanisms happening behind the scenes.

This means that if your interaction design goes wrong, it can be a disaster. Once upon a time, computers weren’t daily-used consumer product, and only trained individuals interacted with them. During this era, software was difficult, complex and very intricate to operate, which reinforced the rift between users and non-users of computers.

With the advent of easier to use GUI design (and better computers to support a wider range of tasks) computers saturated the market; everything from schools to private use. In response, the design philosophy for interacting with software had to change rapidly.

Interaction design is still an evolving, ever-changing science and it always will be; as new technologies, new platforms and new software is developed, the GUI must adapt.

But, the past and the future are not of consequence here. We’re going to briefly touch upon three best practices when it comes to interaction principles – right now.

#1 – Design for Learnability

Successfully penetrating a market is a major hurdle. When it comes to designing how your software will interact, a design that is not easy and logical to use, will be frustrating to learn.  A lot of very powerful, well-designed software have not succeeded (to the levels it could have) because learning the software was so cumbersome. People gave up. If it requires tutorials, research and a lot of practice to become ‘a natural,’ the design is ineffective.

Adobe’s software has a reputation for being somewhat hard to learn, as once did Microsoft’s Office software. You will notice that recent revisions have changed th interaction, presentation and layout of their software – so that it’s easy to learn by experience.

#2 – Design for Familiarity

I’ve said this before, but this is something I have to reinforce every opportunity I get; familiar designs work. By this point, I mean that certain types of controls, forms and layout patterns have become familiar to users. Scroll bars, text boxes, buttons, combo boxes, and other features are common examples. Users instantly recognize their purpose, and can figure out the functions on their own.

This brings us back to the learnability I mentioned above, and it also achieves interaction by instinct; Simply put – if you use standard components that users recognize, (and don’t overdo custom controls or designs just to look pretty and unique) then your design will work.

#3 – Be Gentle with Navigation

‘Navigation’ is kind of hard to put into words, but I’m going to do my best. Whenever your design calls for a procedural set of steps to complete an overall task, your navigation is the key.  It’s a common mistake to make each step too complicated. A loser will lose sight of the task if they must go through a series of forms and dialogs to get the task completed. Taking the user on a long journey through a lot of input and output is a navigation nightmare.

This is not only exhausting and tiresome to a user; it looks bad on your end. It’s much better to centralize and consolidate the components of a task using less navigation tools. (But remember, there’s a balance, avoid crowding the UI).

Interaction design best practices are always changing. It is important to spend a lot of time testing, retesting and studying your demographics, so that your interface and usability create the most successful outcome for both the user and the software developers.

Check out graphical user interface examples.