Apparently UI design is more than just picking colours for you controls – who would have guessed it. Now if the Senior Director of Design @ Infragistics is telling you this then I guess it’s time to listen. I’m all for a good UI design – but in our world sometimes it’s just too easy to take the “take what we have and make do” approach. If you have a cell-based or even a UI Toolkit screen cluttered with fields, drop-downs, lists etc. then surely that’s what the users want to see in your shiny new app right? Well maybe, but then you struggle with new prospects because your UI looks, well, wrong. The functionality of the application beats the competition hands-down, but often it’s not good enough to even get your foot in the door. And for all you in-house developers who don’t have a system to “sell” – don’t look away now as your users are just as important to keep happy as the next sales prospect. Imagine if you had to write that cool new app using “notepad” – no intellisence, drag and drop didn’t exist, only one edit buffer available, the list is endless – but in a nutshell you’d leave and go program somewhere where they provided the best tools for you to do your job. And so it is the same for your users – give them the tools to perform at their best.
And then we come back to the age old problem – ten-key. You just can’t beat data entry on a cell based system. While this is generally accepted as true, there are ways to improve the process. Reduce or in many cases eliminate the chrome around the application (I think the cool term today is “flatten”). Does every other field have to be a comb-box – why not let the user enter the “known only to them” code and provide the newbies with a clickable button to “find” the one they want – you’ll soon find them entering the code! Choose a colour scheme that matches the environment. If you application is for office based people then make the screen light and bright – it’s easier on the eyes in a bright open office. Or maybe your application is being used in a dark control room – no windows or natural sunlight, so make the application darker and milder to reflect this. Align your controls, prompts and buttons to a gird like structure. Don’t overdo the font types and sizes. And of course there is the 1.617 rule!
It’s interesting that many of the sessions this year are more about making your apps look right and not actually making you aps.